Inside A Majestic Family Home in Cebu
Hers is a very personal space, the way one’s signature or manner of speech or style of dress is personal. As you approach the vestibule and catch a glimpse of exquisite memorabilia, you know you are entering a private world. You feel that every fabric is woven with a story, every color traced with a memory. And you are held by the textures of this world.
“I never had a decorator,” Annabelle Osmeña-Aboitiz says of her classic residence in Cebu. “I designed everything. And as I traveled, I added pieces that caught my fancy, slowly, one at a time. When my husband Louie would ask me, ‘Where are you going to put that?’ I’d answer, ‘I’ll find a place.’ He never believed much in my antique collection, and yet the most beautiful and valuable pieces I own, the cinnabar screen and the cobalt blue jar, were his gifts.” The stunning screen is the focal point of the living room.
When the house was being planned some four decades ago, Annie Aboitiz was a young mother who had only one request of her architect: that except for the guest room and the service area, everything should be on one level. “I was designing wedding gowns then, and working from the house. All I wanted was that if I heard the cry of my baby, I was just across the hall, near enough to check on my child. That was very important to me.”
In this very personal house, the piece closest to her heart is a solid Narra bar in the veranda, a gift of Luis Mendezona. Every evening, from the time their children were little, they have gathered around it to share with affection and candor their pleasures and pursuits, the events that came their way. “If the bar could talk... it’s been with us from the very beginning and has heard every story of our lives.” Today grandchildren have become part of the tradition, expressing their own flights of fantasy.
A visual delight at one end of the bar is a cluster of glorious white bougainvilleas with blossoms so profuse that they seem to be flowers upon flowers with barely any leaves. The lush arrangement leans on a graceful cut of driftwood. Annie points out, “My husband brought it from one of his fishing expeditions. He didn’t catch any fish, but the driftwood was worth the trip!” She converses lightheartedly, punctuating words with laughter.
Like rhythms of loveliness, white bougainvilleas are refreshing accents everywhere: in the living room, the dining room, the study, and the patio, which all open to a lawn that is unadorned and natural. Every facet of this space is an expression of beauty at once spontaneous and precise.
Every corner in the Aboitiz home is abloom with plants.
There was a time when Louie was CEO of Aboitiz and Co. and the company was seriously thinking of moving the head office to Manila. One evening, they discussed the possibility as a family. Listening intently, the children, who were very young then, chorused, “Can we bring our house?” Even then, their little hearts knew that home was not about toys and things, but the haven of happy memories.
For Annie, family is the essence of her existence. “My family is my life,” she says, radiant with emotion. But as her children grew older, they were sent abroad to study “so that they would know how it feels to be a nobody, just a number. In Cebu, the names Aboitiz and Osmeña are too well known. Out there, they would be like everyone else.”
Then indicating some wedding pictures framed in silver, she glows, “My son Luis Miguel is married to Barbara Lichauco Bradner; Mary Anne is married to Derek Arculli and Melissa is married to Carlos Elizalde.
The solid Narra bar, a favorite family corner
“The lawn you see was created for Melissa’s wedding reception. My husband had this great idea of extending the original garden by 500 square meters and holding the reception here. Two weeks before the wedding we were still installing the grass, but we made it!
“At that time, catering was not very common in Cebu. So we had to do everything: construct tables, sew tablecloths, cook, bake, decorate, make all the arrangements. But with our wealth of fabulous friends, it was a grand success! Lulu Aboitiz served her famous bacalao and Hazel Gonzalez, her exceptional cake. Rosebud Sala and Batching Unson made the church incredibly beautiful. And Teresin Mendezona created a venue that was simply magical!
The elegant dining room.
“The other children also held their receptions here. For Mary Anne’s wedding, 200 guests flew in from Hong Kong. We had 600 people in our garden. The whole place was a wonderland! Now it’s the favorite playground of our grandchildren.” Perched on a hill, the lawn has a sweeping sense of openness and an extraordinary view of the city.
A magnificent view of the city from the trellised lanai
While weekends are exclusively for family, Annie’s weekdays are spent on a career of such creative fulfillment. She manages a real estate company inherited from her mother, the illustrious Maria Luisa “Mary” Renner-Osmeña, an elegant lady of German and Spanish descent. A legend in her own lifetime, she thoroughly enjoyed constructing, landscaping, and developing raw land. Annie says, “My mother loved to build, and I’m the same way. I love it! I guess the feel for this work is innate because it has passed on to the next generation.” Mary Anne and Derek are actively engaged in Maria Luisa Properties, designing and marketing luxury homes.
If Annie is devoted to family and career, her compassion is deeply poignant. “We do charity work. I’ve recently completed a building for the Cebu Hope Center, a shelter for abused women that was pioneered by my mother-in-law, Maria Montenegro-Aboitiz. I gave the land while my husband, his brother, and sisters provided the structure.
The charm is in the details of the table setting.
“We also help the Don Bosco School, which teaches students how to weld. They’re so well trained that as soon as they graduate, they’re employed immediately. Surprisingly, the best welders are women because they go into all the details. I love it when I see young people growing up to be good citizens.”
Mary Anne speaks tenderly of her mother, “She thinks of everyone’s needs, be it medical care, rice, fish, a refrigerator or a parcel of land. She gives with real concern. Before food is delivered, she even checks that the fish is fresh. Everyone goes to her for help, so I call her ‘the 911 of Cebu!’ She has such a big heart.”
Clusters of Annie’s famous white bougainvilleas and ornamental plants fill this home
And home is where the heart is. By simply wandering through the jewel of a house that Annabelle Osmeña-Aboitiz has created, you have a visceral sense that the antiquities and works of art, the fine furniture, the fresh flowers, the charming frieze in the lanai, and the many gems of fineness were all gathered for no other reason than to welcome you. A private world, it is a very personal place of gladness.
*This story was originally published in the July 2008 issue of Town&Country Philippines
*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors