The pursuit of perfection. These are big words, ambitious words, and despite being hopelessly unachievable, they still serve as words of inspiration and determination. They are not the words usually spoken, however, when discussing one’s own body of work, and they are certainly not the chosen words of renowned architect Ramon Antonio when talking about himself. Yet perfection is exactly what many see when they look beyond the doors of one of his bespoke homes. As one of the country’s most sought-after architects, Ramon has crafted an enviable blueprint for the modern tropical Asian home and his award-winning designs have inspired many others in their own pursuit of architectural perfection. The homes he has built for his clients over the past four decades offer a cohesive visual statement, incorporating his signature rhythm created by a powerful play of proportion, scale, composition, color, light, and texture.
Ramon with his two standard poodles, the guardians of the home.
Ramon’s own home, tucked away in one of the city’s private enclaves, is his strongest personal statement and exemplifies his distinct philosophy. Originally built in 1993 and refurbished in 2011, the two-level house and garden exude a sense of privacy, gentility, and calm, much like the designer himself. While all of the homes he works on possess the tranquil qualities that he holds dear, nowhere else can his personal narrative of seeking beauty always and everywhere, and his innate ability to create and enjoy it, be more evident than in his own sanctuary.
And just like all homes that possess ample amounts of beauty, there are still singular ideas that define and capture the essence of the space. In Ramon’s world, it is his garden where we find the closest we will come to perfection. “I have such fond memories of growing up in Pasay,” he says. “We had a large garden that my mother loved to tend to and that passion was passed on to me and my siblings. When we were young, we were all taught to embrace nature. We grew our own vegetables and I remember that all of us five brothers used to fight for the hose! To this day, I still have my own gardening gloves and teach my staff how to cut the plants properly and cultivate the soil, and even how to rotate the fertilizers.”
Similar to the rooms found inside the house, the outdoor landscape is a study in color, texture, and light, and it is only by walking through the lush, green corridors that one can fully appreciate the pleasure and nuances of its “outdoor rooms.” Amid the center colony of thick Burmese bamboo, towering mountain palms, flowering champaca, kalachuchi, santol, duhat, kamias, bignay, and makopa trees, and the heavy branches of neighboring star apple trees are a series of intimate spaces: A dining room used frequently for entertaining, a prayer area adorned with his mother’s statue of Our Lady of the Poor, and where he prays each morning, and an outdoor living space lined with stone sculptures and a trickling water feature that provides movement and sound. Add to that butterflies, birds, and the soft, gentle sound of classical music coming through the speakers, and it is not difficult to understand why Ramon is set on recreating this oasis of calm in every home he designs.
“I love the environment, and my simple pleasures in life are to walk in the gardens when I am traveling. I literally stop and smell the roses! From Hyde Park and Berkeley Square in London to the many parks in Scandinavia, and even in the parks of Bangkok, I can sit down and relax and enjoy all that nature has to offer. I really wish we could have parks like these in Manila,” he continues.
“I keep telling my clients to preserve nature when building their homes. You don’t have to make houses so big with so many rooms. What we all need are more open spaces and gardens filled with plants and trees. Our world is so chaotic and people need to be able to sit outside where they can relax and de-stress.”
Indoors, the garden still maintains its star status and its influence can be felt from every room. Large windows provide vistas of the picturesque greenery at every angle while all ground-floor rooms open up into the garden. Leaf cuttings are used throughout the house and pots of grass are placed in sterling silver vessels, adding an unexpected crackle to their polished finish. During the day natural light transforms and energizes the rooms while at dusk and daybreak layers of light and shadows create mood and atmosphere.
In his home, Ramon has achieved the simple elegance and sophistication that we all desire. The assemblage of his multifaceted vignettes is both instinctive and analytical, academic and thoughtful in process at once. Years of collecting everything from Régence period chairs, signed sterling by Mario Buccellati and other fine artisans, to books and magazines that date back to the 1970s and 1980s, reveal him to be both an unconscious and deliberate collector. Style seems to stem freely from his carefully chosen pieces to subtlest of his details—the white marble surfaces that allow his collection of silver to shine bright, touches of gilded gold, the simplicity of rich textiles, and the continued use of symmetry, as he has definitely perfected the art of combining in pairs.
With his trained eye, Ramon knows that creating the desired tension between objects, considered a hallmark of eclectic interiors, is not really about daring to pair sharply opposed objects, but by actually recognizing their subtle relationships and understanding the hidden chemistry that exists between them. It is because of this intuitive talent and his astute sense of balance that he is able to successfully establish a dialogue between vestiges of the past: 18th- and 19th-century French commodes and Italian mirrors, Khmer period and Philippine antiquities with the modern masterpieces of Paolo Piva, Antonio Citterio, Piero Lissoni, Rodolfo Dordoni, and Jaime Hayon.
Yet despite the harmonious language of cross cultures he has already created, like a true visual artist, Ramon cannot live in a static world. “I am constantly mixing things up and rotating pieces,” he whispers with a grin. “If you come back in a few months, things will have changed.”