This is the third house for this family of six, but unlike their first house, which the couple had lived in before the children arrived, or their second house, which had been good and fine until the brood got bigger, this new home was expressly built to accommodate—apart from the needs of four growing boys—the 50-piece art collection of the husband, a stock market wizard. More specifically, this home tucked away in a village in Makati was built around a piece by Elmer Borlongan entitled Pag-ahon.
Borlongan’s artwork, a large-scale piece that depicts the drama of 10 men pulling a boat back to shore, had previously been rolled up and kept in storage for the simple reason that there was no space to hang the 7.5-foot-tall, 15-foot-wide painting. Pag-ahon waited in sleep for two years. Every so often, the gallery from where it was purchased sent workers to unroll the canvas, stretch it out a bit, and let it breathe before rolling it up again. Today it is given pride of place on its own wall set at the center of the house, facing the living room and viewable from most of the ground floor. Seeing it from the modular couch across is like watching a movie: Here they are coming at you. The white boat slices through the dimpled sand. It reflects its weight through the straining faces of the men. The painting is impressive, and becomes even more so when considered in the context of the 49 other art works that hang, stand, or in some cases, lie on walls, floors, or corners of the home.
A recent acquisition, Prayer before Meal by Manansala, and a wooden sculpture by Napoleon Abueva entitled Three Graces, from 1979.
When some people look at Pag-ahon, they think it was specially commissioned for the house when it is really the opposite. “That’s the advantage of having the art first. The house can be designed to hold it,” says the collector. “While we wanted a house with big windows, we also wanted enough walls.” The house was designed by Ramon Antonio, the master architect who also worked on the couple’s second home over a decade ago and has since become good friends with them. It was his unimpeachable sense of order that appealed to the homeowners. Naturally, the hallmarks of Antonio’s style appear throughout the home: Voluminous spaces, definite lines, meticulous details. “Ramon’s lines are so clean that you get the impression that everything is just space,” says the husband about the architect, who is known for his high degree of particularity regarding every bend on every wall, the invisibility of posts, and the placement of all things. nowhere is this more evident than in the series of open spaces on the main floor: a living room, a lanai where breakfast is served, and the adjacent dining room. Though rooms unto themselves, they appear as one, held together by that breathy quality, a monochromatic palette, and of course the art that appears everywhere.
The pale gray color used throughout the house is a deviation from the formula (Antonio houses are usually dressed in beige and brown). While the couple traveled across Europe, particularly in Milan, they noticed gray everywhere, fell in love with the tone, and carried the color into their new home.
A Solomon Saprid sculpture and Kariton Katedral, a larger-than-life installation by Jose Tence Ruiz
For a house meant to showcase art, the choice is perfect. It allows the husband to rotate the paintings on display (there are more in storage and housed in other locations such as his office and even in his mother-in-law’s home) without worrying about how a wall’s color might affect a new set. “Because if the color of a wall was too strong, the art that you place on it would not work. You might have to change the color, and not everything is red,” he says, in reference to the practice of auction houses such Sotheby’s and Christie’s of painting their walls a bright color like red in order to highlight paintings. It is a curious practice that enhances an artwork, but that formula is perhaps not for this home, he says.
Figuring out how to arrange the many pieces in his personal collection throughout the house was not as difficult as it seemed. Sometimes the collector knew exactly where a painting should go, such as the rare, figurative work of Fernando Zobel that hangs in the middle of the foyer. Other times it proved to be a matter of placing notable pieces together, such as a set of large works by Ronald Ventura that hold court like a triptych on one side of the living room. The husband gathered three pieces from 2005, 2006, and 2007 from the Filipino painter, whom he regards as “the most successful emerging artist in southeast Asia.” By placing the paintings side by side, he chronicles Ventura’s evolution, from the period in which Ventura painted in all grays to including a bit of color like yellow to adding even more colors via a donkey-eared Pinocchio. “That was the piece that launched him internationally. He put color in and the world saw him,” he notes.
Works by Geraldine Javier, Ronald Ventura, and Louie Cordero add playful character to the children’s audiovisual room; A Batangas II altar table in the foyer below an untitled Manansala painting from 1954; Daang Ligid Krus by Alfredo Esquillo in the family room.
The collector also consulted with curator Nilo Ilarde in sorting out works that he didn’t know what to do with, such as a collection of Ang Kiukok pieces found in the den. Among the works in this arrangement is a small painting that the late national Artist for Visual Arts made especially for the collector. In the frame, a clown bows, as if in gratitude. The collector purchased Kiukok’s Blind Musicians at a record price in 1998. “Ang was so happy and grateful that he said he would paint me something, and it was this clown,” he shares.
Three memories led to husband’s affinity for art. On a modest government salary, his father slowly built a small collection of watercolor paintings by Vicente Manansala, and today the son remembers how his father’s face lit up with enthusiasm whenever he acquired a new piece. “I would look at them every day when I came home from school,” he remembers. Though there were nine siblings in his family, these moments of joy fueled by art resonated only with him.
An early work by Fernando Zobel, and a Fabian dela rosa
from 1910 entitled El Borracho, on an easel in the audiovisual room on the first floor.
Later, his grandmother bought her own Manansala for a new house. Looming large on a wall, the Chismosa was beautiful and captivating. “When I was young, I thought it was as big as a wall. I looked up and, my gosh, I thought it was so massive,” he says. “That got me really interested in art.” When his father brought him to an art show and the young man realized that art was not so expensive, he bought his first piece, a Cordova watercolor that now resides in his office.
As he continued to immerse himself in galleries and museums, and especially when he moved to his own apartment and found success in the stock market, buying became a habit. He was a bachelor who could do as he pleased. “I had the space to fill, and that was the beauty of it all. I could collect more earnestly and without much influence from my parents,” he says. But he stresses he did not have the intention to build a collection. “Never ever,” he says. “Back then, I was just buying art and enjoying it for myself— not for an audience.” It was only when he built his own homes that he realized that people, who saw the mostly figurative and Filipino works of modern, contemporary, and emerging art all in one place, considered him an art collector.
The husband’s personal space includes an Eames chair and ottoman, a painting by Lyle Buencamino, and his favorite books; and works by Kawayan de Guia, Jose Joya, and Oscar Zalameda are among the exquisite art objects on the second floor.
His four sons, aged between 7 to 14, possess an appreciation for art, too. In fact, the children chose the paintings in their rooms—one of them a rose-print teddy bear by Geraldine Javier. “So they know what appeals to them,” he concludes. His 10-year-old even asked which pieces they are forbidden to sell. “They don’t know the value of the artworks—that’s for sure—but they do know that they’ll inherit them,” says the father. “Maybe it will prevent them from damaging them. So far the art has survived despite the four boys.”
His wife, an entrepreneur, concurs. “They’ve never done anything to the art. They’re conscious,” she says. The children are aware of the delicate nature of the couple’s art collection, but they are free to run around the house just like normal kids, assures the mother. And they do play with Nerf blasters and Star Wars lightsabers—in their rooms. Despite their interest in art, the father does not force it on his sons. In fact, he discourages anything more than an admiration. “[Collecting art] is something that comes later on in life. Stay focused, get the best grades you can, build your career, and then you can do it, but not earlier,” he says.
As for his wife, whose domain is more of the mix of modern and antique furnishings of the home? Sometimes they have discussions about where pieces should go, as in the case of the Kariton Katedral, a 64-piece wooden sculpture by Jose Tence Ruiz, the Filipino artist who was featured at last year’s Venice Biennale. Occupying a corner of the lanai, its massive boat-like body (the cathedral atop a wheelbarrow), supported by movable ladders of various lengths (it is a commentary of how each person has their own path toward heaven) is a lordly presence. Though the wife loves the piece, she feels it may be too big here.
An Ah Tay bed in the guest bedroom and more art on the second floor
Like any couple, the husband and wife go through a thorough discussion, and whoever feels more strongly about the subject wins. Right now, Kariton remains here. But there have been times when artwork, pieces that were acquired during the husband’s bachelor days, were sold or donated because she felt they were not appropriate for a family home. In the end, it all works out: “I tell my wife, every time I come home, even if I had a rough day, I’m happy in this house,” the collector says. “It’s really something to see all these in a beautiful home.”