Property
This Family Relocated Its 100-Year-Old Ancestral Mansion From Navotas to Antipolo
Experience the gracious life of a bygone era in the celebrated ancestral home of the Santos family.
IMAGE AT MACULANGAN
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Count Mike Santos and his family among those people who understand the innate advantages of living in a historic house. As many articles in newspapers and magazines have already reported, the Santoses have lovingly transported their early 20th-century ancestral home from Navotas to Antipolo.


View from the top of the grand staircase—the matrimonial portrait of Roman Santos and his bride, Juliana, a painting full of the promise of a new life, is a fitting welcome to the house's visitors.

As one enters the residence at its splendid new location, one immediately understands the wisdom of the architectural lore that generations of Filipino builders and dwellers perfected. One sees how the house interacts with its environment, protecting its inhabitants while allowing them to communicate with the world outside.


Mike Santos, the man of the manse.

It has been said that the traditional Philippine house is really just a series of temporary partitions which can easily be set aside so that humans are integrated with their context. Windows are large and even the lower panels of walls slide open for additional ventilation. In the Santos mansion, the caida (drawing room) is marked off from the sala (living room) only by a decoratively carved arko. The walls have beautifully incised upper sections which allow sound and air to travel freely. Privacy is permeable because Filipinos’ personal spaces are broad, inviting intermingling.


A large cluster of chairs in the outer sala is huddled around the piano—music being a big passion for many Filipino clans.

This sense of permeability may actually be linked with the aesthetics of translucence, another characteristic much loved by Filipinos. This is the quality that best describes piña and other delicate fabrics. They hide even while they reveal; the skin is on display even as it remains covered. Often decorated with fine embroidery, clothes made from these piña fabrics assure that the wearer may be alluring and daring while maintaining a show of modesty. Not everything is made obvious. Filipinos are said to shy away from direct confrontations. If something is lantaran or out in the open, it is seen to be in bad taste.

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Another example of this preference for translucency would be capiz-shell windows with their shell insets. The light that comes through is soft, for capiz is not transparent, not opaque. In fact, it exemplifies that quality of being “in-between.” In the case of the Santos house, louvers take the place of shell, indicating that a premium is still placed on circulation rather than on absolute privacy.

Interestingly, this concern for circulation extends to the kitchen. This is seen in cabinets for food storage called pamingganan, with their slatted sides guaranteeing the passage of air. Filipinos insist that food must be allowed to breathe or it will spoil (makulob). By the same token, plates and drinking glasses are best dried by exposure to breezes and the sun rather than wiped. For this reason, an important feature of the Philippine kitchen was the banggera, a kind of wooden rack. Plates were inserted in grooves while spokes held glasses.


Interspersed with the furniture in the inner sala are devotional statues which were cherished by many families.

The Santoses definitely understood the importance this wonderful Filipino innovation for they did not neglect to transport and restore the banggera along with the rest of the house. The example in their kitchen is huge. It evidently held the paraphernalia for enormous meals.

All around the Santos residence, one sees beautiful patterns and decorations on the walls, in the furniture. In fact, it can be pointed out that traditional Philippine houses are treasure troves of interesting designs and images which may be adapted for contemporary use. The exquisite woodwork which frames the windows, as well as the incised floral bouquets on the arches and the lintels, can easily be the inspirations for fashion accessories.


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The pair of richly decorated doors lead to the dining room.

Yet perhaps, the greatest treasure that old houses conserve are the many stories of their inhabitants. Very often one cannot separate one’s memory of an important event from the backdrop of the room in which it took place. One of the more poignant images in the book which Mike Santos and Ronnie Alejandro produced about the Santos house (Tahanan: A House Reborn, Duende Publishing, 2003) is that of the daughter of the house as she prepares to attend the funeral of her father, Roman, the mansion’s builder. The caption of the photograph says it all: "Young Alicia mastered the art of gliding up and down the staircase with a book perfectly balanced on her head. Yet she lost all her composure as she descended these four low steps escorted by Horacio for Roman’s funeral in 1959. ‘He Is leaving, never again to return,’ she wailed."


The dining table is a prized find. It can be adjusted to fit different configurations of guests.

Restoring a grand house implies many things. One is signaling not only a respect for the past but also the understanding that the past still has much to say to the present. Mike Santos likes to point out that, with its new setting amidst the verdant hills of Antipolo, the building feels like it is in its true element. As he explains, “It feels more like a home in the probinsya now than it did in Navotas.”

It seems that Antipolo is truly a more fitting setting for this lovely remnant of a more gracious time.


Glass epergne decked with bright bougainvillea garlands as well as the plate of just-plucked caimito are typical of Mike Santos' decorative touches.

When the house was still on its original site, Santos says, it was surrounded by the urban squalor now characteristic of much of Navotas and Malabon, towns which have become sadly synonymous with crowdedness and floods. Yet, in the past, his mother had recounted that there were still vegetable patches beside the streets and the air was so fresh.

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Restoring an ancient residence is a vote for the environment. It is a commitment to leaving a smaller footprint by recycling used materials and giving them new life. Heritage houses used organic materials like stone, wood, banig, and bamboo. Restoration means that one is giving employment to traditional craftspeople even while preserving local knowledge and the stories of the past.


Taking the trouble to care for an old home is a signal that there is still much to learn from the ways of living that have been so carefully devised by ancestors who understood their world. One can even say that the past should inform a new urbanidad for Filipinos. Urbanidad is a word that evokes the courtesies and pleasantries of a bygone period, yet it could just as well be used to apply to innovative ways for Filipinos to live fuller lives in concert with their changing settings. The new urbanidad builds from the lessons of the past for a richer, more nuanced present, in keeping with the values of a nurturing global consciousness.


For Mike Santos and his family, dwelling in a house that their ancestors built and to which they have now given a glorious new life means that they are part of the vanguard of this new urbanidad, this new way for Filipinos to live as Filipinos always have: graciously.

This story was originally published in the May 2009 issue of Town&Country.

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