Sitting at his bespoke kitchen table crafted from steel and white marble, Conrad Onglao can count his koi, and, if he wants to, a number of visiting birds and butterflies as well. From his vantage point, overlooking a verdant oasis of cool and calm, sunlight spills through the panes of sliding glass that divide the indoor and outdoor living areas in his recently built contemporary home.
Architect Conrad Onglao sits at thefoot of his staircase in his home
A modern-day bachelor pad designed by Onglao for himself and his two sons in their early 20s, it may come as a surprise that the kitchen sees the most action of all the rooms in the house these days. “Everyone seems comfortable hanging out here,” he says of the all-white space that is defined by its high-gloss cabinetry and warmed by a glamorous silver-leaf ceiling. “I have a spacious living and dining room a few feet away, and a sprawling roof garden on the top floor, but still my guests like to sit in here when they come over.”
The family's hangout spot is the kitchen
Equipped with state-of-the-art appliances from Sub- Zero and Miele, and a dumbwaiter that services all the floors in the home, the real reason for the shift in the family’s domestic focus, however, isn’t because of the kitchen’s bells and whistles. Without question, the not-so-secret charm and allure of the room are the relaxing outdoor views offered from every angle and the tropical breeze that accompanies them.
Onglao, a Philippine-schooled and U.S.- trained architect, moved back to the Philippines purely by accident in 1996 after 15 years of living and working in Los Angeles. He shares, “I was working with Japanese clients and they requested that I open an office in Manila so that I would be closer to them, but I think they really just wanted an excuse to play golf. While I was in town, I took on some local commissions, and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Showcasing a lifetime of connoisseurship and achieving just the right balance of casual elegance with an interplay of the contemporary and the traditional, Onglao’s personal story unfolds from room to room, floor to floor, in his home. “We were living in a condominium and I thought would be empty nesting soon, then my son said to me, ‘You are always building everybody else a house but never one for us.’ Well, I was the sucker that thought they wanted to live with me forever at that point, so I obliged," he says, chuckling.
A mastery of scale is a hallmark of Onglao’s work, and through each window a unique perspective of the property is offered
True to the renowned Onglao vernacular that has made him one of the country’s most sought-after design professionals, the four-story home reflects his mastery of scale and proportion. To the unknowing eye, it would be difficult to ascertain the actual size of his Makati property as he has created an illusion of expansive space by minimizing walls and by using large windows that reveal ample natural light in their place. “It is a modest size,” he says, “but I made use of reflective surfaces and high ceilings throughout the house, something that I do with all the spaces I design when possible.”
The house also makes use of a neutral and versatile black and white palette. “It is very modern so to make the house more livable, I decided to decorate eclectically,” he continues. “I used most, if not all, of my furniture from my past homes, but if I remove all the pieces, I can always easily transform the interiors to something else later on.”
Conrad made use of neutral tones for his color scheme
Through a large black door, the serene entrance foyer is accessed. To the left, an intimate sitting area decorated in soft, muted neutral fabrics and punctuated with a collection of Onglao’s cultural interests that include Asian antiques and artifacts. An antique wooden Buddhist spirit house is the highlight of the space. “It reminded me of a model house and being an architect I thought it was apropos that I buy it and have it in my home.” From the ground floor, a zigzag of seemingly floating staircases snakes its way up to the top floor’s outdoor roof garden, used for entertaining both short and long-term guests.
The antique Buddhist spirit house gives the entrance foyer its character
“I designed the roof garden area for the kids so that they would be able to entertain in the privacy and safety of our home, and, at the same time, so I could be in my room on the second floor and give them their own space when they have friends over,” explains Onglao. Embracing modern materials and technology, the sky garden also serves a greener purpose. The circulating pond on the roof deck is not only decorative, but it also helps to absorb heat as does the solar powered ceiling vent that removes all the hot air in between the ceiling and the roof.
Like the pocket garden on the ground floor, the landscaping of the roof garden was carefully planned with the help of master designer Ponce Veridiano. Onglao explains, “Ponce and I worked around existing trees and used many of the Balinese items I had in storage, including several huge doors, chairs, and tables. Finally I have a use for all of these pieces.” Consisting of about six varieties of greens, all with mostly large leaves, there are no flowering plants outdoors.
An outdoor lounge chair was a housewarming gift from industrial designer Anne Pamintuan
Other pieces of interest that adorn the residence are gifts from longtime friends and associates. A lone, oversize black lounge chair sits by the pool and was a housewarming gift from furniture designer, Anne Pamintuan, while a sketch from Anita Magsaysay-Ho hangs on the first floor with a personal inscription that reads “From one artist to another.”
His next project for his home is the completion of the large entertainment space that houses a formal living and dining area. Anchored by a baby grand piano and a crystal chandelier in the center of the room, the black and white palette continues with a white sofa lining the side of the room and patiently waiting for other pieces. “I am taking my time,” he says. “With this house, I don’t have to satisfy anybody else but myself.”