Many great spaces are not typical of their time. They are confident departures from the norm that somehow manage to simultaneously look backward and forward, stirring a sense of curiosity from their onlookers. They are magical places that awaken the imagination, leave vivid impressions, and, most importantly, speak eloquently of their owners. Stepping off the elevator into the entry vestibule of a private apartment, situated in a W.V. Coscolluela-designed building, we are transported to one of these special places. As the gold-leafed elevator doors close, the dramatic black and white checkerboard floor and malachite-finished parlor chairs of the foyer welcome. Instantly the eye is charmed.
A magical spell is cast over this grand apartment, where character and soul are revealed in every corner.
Many of the homeowners' antiques were passed down through generations. Photographed in 1950.
While many young, stylish couples are marching to the beat of Asian modernism and devouring the beauty and charms of mid-20th century design, the owners of this spacious flat have successfully juxtaposed cultures and centuries, combining their artistic interests and enthusiasms with an accretion of past generations. Together with their interior designer, Jonathan Matti, they have achieved a seamless balance between decoration, atmosphere, and comfort, while maintaining their strong individual point of view.
The process between the owner and decorator was collaborative. “Working with the couple was most enjoyable, since all three of us were always on the same page,” says Matti. “When they spoke, I knew exactly what they meant, and likewise. I would throw out ideas and they would instantly understand me.”
The living room is a cozy salon with overstuffed upholstery adorned with passementerie.
Through the double doors of the residence, a second impressive foyer receives visitors and is anchored by an altar table from Batangas, characteristically accented with Olympic round carvings. A rich, silk drape made by renowned curtain maker Inday Aurelio is held in place by elaborate passementerie, and acts as a divider between the formal living area and its anteroom. The quiet elegance of the space rouses a sense of timelessness and grandeur. “I grew up with my grandparents and inherited many beautiful things from them,” reveals the lady of the home. “My sister and I call each other ‘grams’ because we love everything old and ‘granny’ looking.”
Within its walls, traces of its occupants are found all around. Silver frames hold portraits of family, sets of keys rest in old ashtrays, personal talismans collected from global travels, and the dog-eared books that have been read over and over again, all breathe life into the space.
Within its walls, traces of its occupants are found all around. Silver frames hold portraits of family, sets of keys rest in old ashtrays, personal talismans collected from global travels.
Some of vintage pieces in the grandparents’ home still find their place in the modern iteration of the grand apartment. Photographed in 1950.
Deploying a wealth of color, fabrics, and patterns judiciously, it is clear that the couple’s refined eye, the carefully made decisions and conscientious edits by Matti, and their combined attention to extra layers of details are what give this home its soul. “We don’t follow trends or particular styles,” say the owners. “But we do admire the panache of decorators like Billy Baldwin, David Hicks, Tony Duquette, and the surroundings captured by the great society photographer Slim Aarons.”
The homeowner’s gimlet eye has led to the curation of art and antiques of historical significance.
Indeed there is a certain elan that inhabits this household. Here, one can easily imagine a vanished world of cocktail shakers and sophisticated glamour. It is the perfect setting for droll and cultivated conversation or for listening to engaging repartee.
The living room is an elegant chandeliered salon with an ensemble of heirloom furniture and objet d’art that is rooted in tradition. The soft, yielding sofa from British maker George Smith is upholstered in Lelievre fabric, as are the reworked antique bergeres from the famed Baluyot workshop in Pampanga. Throughout the home, Aubusson carpets are used to warm the rooms. A whisper of the modern and the exotic is found in the brass ottomans upholstered in faux leopard and the natural shagreen covered coffee table.
A collection of paintings of historical interest by Philippine masters and modernists such as Fabian de la Rosa, Fernando Amorsolo, Jorge Pineda, and H.R. Ocampo, rest on the paneled beige walls that are punctuated with gold leaf rosettes. “We used seven shades of beige to achieve the right tone for the room,” explains Matti. “After all, beige is not a color but an atmosphere.”
Beyond the living room is the stately dining area where a pale shade of pink covers the walls and is highlighted by a densely hand-painted flora et fauna surface from artist Tats Manahan. The low-lying crystal chandelier illuminates an elaborately carved dining table from the atelier of the late physician turned decorator Arturo de Santos, a piece the homeowner inherited from her grandmother. The coordinating chairs have been updated in plush velvet stripes from the French fabric house nobilis. At opposite ends of the room, a 19th century philippine sheraton table, a French gilt mirror, and a wooden sculpture by Arturo Luz accentuate the space.
Handpainted walls by Tats Manahan envelop the stately dining room where a reworked Arturo de Santos dining table and chairs take center stage.
The dining table then, photographed in 1950 and first published in The Manila Times.
As you move through the grand apartment, character and individual style are revealed at every turn. Doors leading to the powder room and linen closet are paneled with a chinese chippendale lattice pattern and antiqued mirrors. The well-planned layout of the apartment has the private rooms located in their own wing while the more public areas are found at the other end.
The den, a masculine book-lined retreat, is reminiscent of a private english drawing room, elegantly furnished with a chocolate leather chesterfield sofa and a classic wingback chair covered in a Ralph Lauren paisley print. A colorful kilim-covered ottoman serves as the room’s center table and lies above a zebra skin. all of the pieces play off the peacock blue walls and brass trim of the Biedermeier-style bookshelves. The focal point of the room, however, is the accent wall that displays a profusion of precious maps collected over the past two decades and is interspersed with taxidermy, skulls, and shells. “We love anything rare and extinct,” shares the owner.
A collection of maps adorns the den that is furnished as a gentleman’s sitting room.
Perfection of domestic detail is echoed in the polished theme of the guestroom. Outfitted with chinoiserie furniture, the black-lacquered secretaire, faux bamboo bed, and Ming side tables add a strong counterpoint to the lovely Toile de Jouy upholstery and soft wall of pleated silk. Once again, each decorative object used in the room has a backstory that establishes personal context.
Painted in powder blue, the master suite is decidedly feminine. The couple’s fascination with pan-Asian motifs continues with the use of his and hers chinoiserie bamboo desks that flank the silk upholstered bed, and antique chinese celadon pieces used to accentuate the room. A heavily inlaid Bulacan chest of drawers functions both as storage and as an entertainment center. In the dressing room, the vanity, another piece passed down through generations, has been refinished and its chair is now covered in a modern geometric fabric from Jim Thompson.
Fringed table lamps and pillows, ornate mirrors, cane furniture, and inlaid Bulacan chairs lend the master suite Old World glamour.
The bedroom, photographed in 1950.
Despite its formality and sophistication, this chic home manages to be intimate and warm, and, like many great spaces, continues to evolve, for its occupants are in no hurry to pronounce it complete. “We derive much pleasure assembling, procuring, and arranging our collections,” she says. “You can always find something beautiful, as long as it is lasting.”