Property

Inside Ginger Hill, A Design-Centric Family's Tropical Getaway in Batangas

At Ginger Hill, the Rodriguezes create an idyllic garden getaway that brings generations of their family together.
IMAGE FRANCISCO GUERRERO
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One space connects with another: The beams in the pool house pick up the French blue of the lounge chairs in the garden.

Luyahan—literally, where ginger grows. It is also the name of a barrio on the western coast of Batangas, a precious spot chosen by Alfredo Santos and his wife Anastacia Lejano to build the foundations of their family life. The couple had eight children. That was several generations ago, when Alfredo worked at the famed sugar mill, Central Azucarera Don Pedro, as its chief engineer. Valuing the family togetherness espoused by Alfredo and Anastacia, their descendants purchased pockets of land around the original house to make room for the next generation to run and play. Today, the property is named Ginger Hill, a homage to the barrio and the land’s rolling topography.

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Living up to its name, Ginger Hill blooms with flowering and nonflowering varieties of ginger like ginger lily, red ginger, pink ginger, yellow ginger, and torch ginger. The gardens abound with the giant Pandanus and Talisay found along the rocky Batangas coast. Shrubs from Talim Point, a 15-minute boat ride away, were harvested and replanted here so that Ginger Hill would have a relationship with its surroundings.

Consciously or not, its owners have made Ginger Hill a place that is about relationships, beginning with the landscaping, which is in harmony with the botany of the coast, to the family ties and friendships nurtured by this hideaway.

The Santos house still stands, dignified from the ground up, and exuding Filipino elegance with its capiz doors that open to balconies fashioned from bakawan wood. Daughter Fe and her husband Cesar Rodriguez built and designed the rest of the property with their son Junie. The additions include a two-story house, bought from an old neighbor and given new life; a pool house; two pavilions and lush gardens complete with chirping frogs and rich detail like slabs of coral, unearthed and recycled from an old landfill, embedded in retaining walls.

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The gazebo on a tranquil afternoon.

Sunday lunches are held at the rear pavilion overlooking a lagoon. On this particular Sunday, Junie Rodriguez has decorated the dining table artfully with eggplant, sigadilyas and bougainvillea. A cinnamon Retriever named Bruno rests in the shade of a nearby tree. A feast of grilled tangingue, bought from local fishermen, ginataang sugpo (prawns simmered in coconut milk) and kare-kare (oxtail and vegetables in peanut sauce) is prepared in a charming outdoor kitchen next to the pavilion.

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Over a scrumptious lunch, Fe Rodriguez fills us in on how Ginger Hill came to be. “Junie is the designer. My husband executes and implements. He’s the foreman!” jokes this lady with impeccable poise. “But I pay for everything,” says her husband. “That makes me the financier!” he chuckles. “My dad likes keeping my mom and family happy,” says Rodriguez. “He is an inventor. He designed the irrigation system so that all downspouts from the main house lead to the lagoon, which is a reservoir.” His mom he describes simply as “The Client.” “It’s wonderful that we have her aesthetic standards to live up to.


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A native feast served artfully on fresh banana leaves.


The outdoor kitchen is well stocked with chilled drinks.


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Straight from the garden to the table to flavor the meal.

His mother’s discerning eye and sophisticated taste can be seen in the living room, which houses the early works of Ang Kiukok, Onib Olmedo, Sanso, Bencab, Soler and her uncle Malang. “She made good investments,” says Cesar Rodriguez. “She has a good eye, she really does. She found me!”

From his mother, Rodriguez inherited an appreciation for fine art. He also picked up his mother’s fondness for rearranging furniture. It’s his way of unwinding from long days balancing duties in the family business and as an interior designer.


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Shells from the nearby beach and leaves from the garden create a charming table setting.

“Sometimes you need a fix. It’s an outlet,” says Rodriguez, who studied two years at the University of the Philippines before transferring to Otis Fine Arts in Los Angeles, where he graduated with a degree in environmental design. “You get so stressed out from duties and responsibilities in life. I need to zone out.” Rodriguez has helped a few friends decorate their homes. His style, in the words of his best friend Rico Sison, might be described “as a combination of rusticity and refinement.”

That style is in full view in Ginger Hill. A few Junie Rodriguez trademarks: a soft spot for Philippine heritage pieces, like a giant kaing transformed into a coffee table; a passion for ceramic stools from Vietnam; a fascination with fabric and a knack for mixing eclectic pillows; an eye for spotting art in everyday objects; and a fondness for the soft glow of all manner of lamps—floor, antique oil and table—with shades done in unexpected materials like batik. Rodriguez also has a way of making one space connect with another. For instance, the beams and lounge chairs in the pool house are painted French blue, like the tables and chairs and iron candelabra under an old narra tree in another corner of the property.

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A bedroom pavilion opens up to the lush tropical garden.

For the gardens, Rodriguez sought the talents of his childhood friend Sison, a landscape designer. Friends since their school days in the Ateneo, the pair met while skipping swimming training. They turned out to have a lot in common: both were in Grade Five, on the swim team, and blessed at a young age with an appreciation of art and interiors. Sison was a natural choice, having spent time in Batangas with the Rodriguezes growing up. Says Rodriguez: “The way my dad introduces him is, ‘He is like a son to me.’”

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Rusticity and refinement: the living room combines Philippine heritage pieces and found objects with paintings by Kiukok, Olmedo, Sansó, Soler and Bencab.


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A map of the Batangas coastline sits above a mesa altar.


Built for relaxation: a cozy corner of the poolhouse.

“My forte is putting plants together but there are always colors and elements that can be related to interior design,” says Sison. “There’s that idiom we understand.” The friends have a symbiotic relationship. “He’s experimental,” Sison says of Rodriguez. “He likes to refresh things. He believes in the charm of putting highs and lows together. He’s a very open person. He has his preference, but he’s pretty much welcoming to anything that’s new. I feel like those are qualities I’m working on for myself.”

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“He’s very precise and very particular,” says Rodriguez of Sison. “He’s a classicist. He’s perceptive. He’s also so intuitive. He is able to deliver more than my own expectation of myself on an intuitive level. He forces me to be more disciplined.” Together, they worked on the overall scheme of Ginger Hill.


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Junie Rodriguez collaborated with landscape designer Rico Sison to plan Ginger Hill’s magnificent garden.


A gardener clearing pandanus leaves.

The third person in the equation, as the friends put it, is none other than Junie’s mom Fe. “I felt her comments were very constructive,” says Sison, whose biggest dream is to work on public parks. For Ginger Hill, Sison chose colors with uplifting qualities, and foliage that was out of fashion, like the red-and-yellow San Francisco plant. “Color brings out emotions,” says Sison, a consultant for landscape design with Belle Corporation and Tagaytay Highlands International Golf Club. “I felt since it was an out-of-town place, [I liked the] idea of remembering it as vibrant and welcoming, and generally happy.”

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Both decorative and practical: a reservoir provides water for the property’s irrigation system.


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“An escape” is how Cesar Rodriguez describes their home by the sea. It is a home with history, as his wife’s family, the Lejanos, trace their roots to the nearby town of Lian. Now nearly four hectares, Ginger Hill was accumulated bit by bit, as parcels of land came up for sale. The family patriarch says he looks forward to weekends in Ginger Hill with his children and grandchildren. “We come here on vacation and everything is okay,” says youngest daughter Stacy, who is a fashion designer. “It’s a way to make things okay.” Secondborn Mary Faye brings her husband, Jarie Garcia and their children. The larger family, like Fe’s siblings and their children, can be counted on for all the major holidays. And yes, in keeping with Filipino tradition, the children’s song and dance numbers are integral to the bonding and enjoyment.


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Traditional forms reinterpreted: the bahay kubo inspired both the pool house and the main house.

“Ginger Hill represents my mother’s interest in art, my brother’s artistry and my father’s creativity,” says Stacy. Junie Rodriguez sums up his relationship with his parents beautifully. “Our closeness is borne of common interests.” Would that more families were bonded by art and design. Already, they are looking for the next space they will create together.


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Tropical splendor by night.

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

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Karla P. Delgado
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