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Design Inspiration: An Elegant and Art-Filled Home in Manila

Entertaining is approached with casual grace in this artfully designed home.
IMAGE ALBERT LABRADOR
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The home of Denise Weldon envelopes its residents with the soothing spirit of white. Here, the Filipina, American, photographer, mother, artist and yoga student has set home with Manny Miñana, architect, art and music lover, photo hobbyist and fitness enthusiast and their two children: Alejandro and Carolina.


On the dining room wall: two paintings by Betsy Westendorp de Brias and a landscape by the other artist-in-residence, Manny Miñana.

The walls are reminiscent of this talented photographer’s love for black-and-white images. Photography, which she discovered in a ninth-grade elective class, has been the one constant companion in Denise’s life. In different variations on the theme of “capturing,” Denise has played the role of photographer’s assistant, copywriter, assistant to the creative director and fashion and commercial photographer. “What was once a hobby became a profession,” is her simple explanation. Fated or accidental, capturing life in black and white remains her passion.

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Perhaps because of the absence of color, the various well-chosen pieces found in her home are allowed to shine on their own so that one feels welcome to touch them—a framed picture, a shell, a book. The last two items, in particular, abound in this space. Denise and her family have traveled quite a bit and the editing she and Manny have done speaks of a keen and disciplined eye. The various spaces are “framed” methodically so that at different angles the pieces within the frame reveal not only a picture but a mood as well.


The main living room with the blank frame from Florence, two paintings by Charlie Co, a Serran-Pagan flag and a doodle by John Lennon.

The overall layout hints of a family that is comfortable with sharing both the public and private spaces in their lives. (You can almost imagine guests feeling free to recline on a daybed.) The center of the home is a sprawling sala where sofas are positioned towards each other so that conversations can flow freely. In this house, one can tell that entertaining is joyful, almost transcendental. 

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Speaking of framing, on another white wall, a blank gold canvas hangs empty. Manny had bought the gold-leafed frame in Florence, and hung the piece to lend a relaxed atmosphere to their art-filled home.


A quartet of black-and-white photographs from Denise’s exhibits frames an Albor abstract in a sitting area with Filipino heirloom furniture.

The blank canvas seems a metaphor for the creative expression of entertaining in the Weldon-Miñana home, no matter the occasion. Every meal is a blank canvas, an opportunity to share or experiment with the joy and beauty of a new dish or food find. The whimsical canvas is a natural picture of the warmth and artful joie de vivre that pervades this simple yet understated, elegant home.

Her dining room, which seats 12, sometimes 14 and at most 18, expands or cocoons for extended family and friends. Lunches and dinners are often informal buffet settings, where guests move easily around the dining table. The loftiness of the room opens further with a view of the lush garden outside, lit softly in the evenings. A beautiful wrought-iron chandelier hangs overhead, and from it dangles Carolina’s school project—a pink heart made of yarn. Its presence seems to convey the subtle expression that a party should always be relaxed and easy.

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“I love having the house full of family or friends who savor one another’s good company,” says Denise. Indeed, on this day, she serves food punctuated with story or memory. The oatmeal chocolate chip cookies are from an old bakeshop in Quezon City; the mini-ensaymadas, introduced to her by a friend, are in her opinion more intense and flavorful because of their “tinyness”; and the cool lemongrass tea is light, healthy and perfect on this hot day.


Other favorite entertaining nooks in the house are the sitting corner by the piano with the Keith Harring print and the outdoor garden terrace.

Denise entertains at least once a month but is self-deprecating about her hostess skills, saying she doesn’t live and breathe the art of entertaining. "There is a lot of adventure and surprise that came forth from the kitchen,” she says, “much of which becomes rich memory meal moments for each and every one of us.” Perhaps Denise does not breathe the art of entertaining, but she is most definitely artful in the endeavor.

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When preparing for a lunch or dinner for a group of any size, Denise finds it easier to begin with what is available rather than to set a menu in stone. Although she does have preferences—“usually Asian, or an Italian menu with lots of vegetables accompanying seafood”—she is not always bound by that choice, opting to be surprised by and adventurous about what she might find at the supermarket or specialty stores.

While some of her favorite haunts are the Farmers Market, Salcedo Market, Market! Market! and Divisoria, she considers Santi’s, Landmark, and Rustan’s Supermarkets staples. Typical of her spontaneity, Denise buys cookbooks and enjoys reading them but tends not to use them in her actual cooking, preferring to go by instinct and experience. She loves an elegant table with flowers that enhance the china, table linens or the theme of the lunch or dinner. “I love going to Dangwa or flower wholesalers to see what’s available.” If there were no flowers, it is easy to imagine that Denise would use fresh foliage from her garden.


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“Ours is a kitchen where we learn by trial and error, and we encourage the error so that we can learn not to be afraid to make mistakes,” she says. “The other day, we tried making whole-wheat Swedish pancakes with almond milk that had reached its time and had become ‘butter almond milk’ instead. It was an interesting twist that worked nicely, and we’d do it again.”

The freedom to make mistakes in entertaining is counter-intuitive and maybe that’s why it works. Perfection is never appealing and makes guests feel on edge, as if they need to perform and be on their best behavior. A good recipe for a board meeting, but not for a dinner party. Entertaining should be about people—relations, conversations, a moment between friends who have the time and space to catch up. What better way to celebrate the moment?

There are “the what-ifs and the quiet stresses whenever I do not find what I intended to buy in the market, but I have learned to wing it many a time,” Denise says. “So you can’t find the lime the recipe called for; well just try calamansi, lemon or dalandan, and come what may.”

This confidence finds its roots in the knowledge of the world Denise has been exposed to, having lived in different parts of Asia for over 40 years: in Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Hong Kong, and the Philippines. Naturally adaptable, she is adept at knowing substitutions for ingredients and how to save a meal by twisting a recipe.

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“Winging it is a lesson unto itself,” she says, “for it breaks away from this need for constant perfection, the constant need to please others and to be validated by things external. One can invite real pleasure into one’s life by just being in the moment.”

At the heart of bringing people together, Denise and Manny share the desire to “freeze moments.” As in photography, architecture or its well-loved relation, the theater, the moment is to be captured by the sensory and tactile, but is also made unique by being natural.


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“There is always room at our dining table for every point of view,” Manny shares, “for humor, wit or wackiness. Flashes of joy, a fresh perspective and contentment are the loot bags of entertaining at home.” And because it happens only once, the moment requires an elongation or exaggeration of time that is enhanced by a few atmospheric details: music, lighting, beautiful table settings, fine china, and silverware.

“We freeze moments in time through images, but we also freeze moments in time through meals we prepare for the people we love,” Denise says, adding: “What I love most about coming together is when everyone is truly present to share a real appreciation of one another, or to learn more about and appreciate new friendships, where heart and mind are cultivated.”

This story was originally published in the November 2008 issue of Town & Country Philippines.

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Rica Bolipata Santos
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