Exclusive peek into architect Tessie Javier’s mountaintop escape
How architect Tessie Javier built her private retreat from recycled materials
Although just 20 minutes away from the foot of the city, architect Tessie Javier’s home on Busay Hills can be accessed only through a long, winding road, which starts out wide then grows narrower until it reaches a modest house with a fence made of old window railings. Inside, there is a towering street lamp. “I own the property all the way up. The front yard used to be the road, but I slowly pushed [it back],” Javier says.
Her home boasts a clean design that doesn’t resist nature. As it is perched on a cliff that’s at 2,194 ft. above sea level, it’s almost too easy to expect flora taking over concrete, Grey Gardens style. The front yard doesn’t boast a well-maintained lawn, but rather, showcases plants naturally found on a forest floor. “I hardly cut any tree down since I don’t want a manicured lawn. I’d rather keep it like a jungle, like a real bukid,” Javier says. “I just had to go with the slope.”
Javier leads us to a huge wooden door. “Eighty percent of the house is recycled,” she announces as soon as we enter her home. At almost every corner, she can point out something recycled: Recycled
tugas were used for the stairs, old glass panels were repurposed as windows, and old windows were turned into closet doors. Javier culled most of the wood from old houses and the old Victor theater. “I wouldn’t be proud of this [ home] if [ most of its parts weren’t] recycled.”
Her living room is devoid of television and other inorganic sources of entertainment, but it doesn’t scrimp on scenery. With the house’s elevated location, she gets a panoramic view of the whole city. In her room, instead of a mirror in front of the sink, there’s a big window. In fact, she can watch ants marching up the nearby tree whenever she brushes her teeth. “I feel like if you don’t have [too much] walls, you’ll have a bigger breathing space and you’ll be more oriented with where you are,” she explains.
Javier only spends one day at her mountain home every week. Whenever she’s here, she spends most of her time in the garden. “I like to work there, touch the soil,” she says. While there are plenty of fruit trees and soil dwellers to look after, it is the epiphytic orchids that she favors most. “I grew up with orchids since my grandmother is a collector,” Javier says. She calls her orchids the “loves of her life,” and the temperature and humidity in her garden is ideal for their growth—the reason why she chose to build her home in the mountains instead of at the beach. “I still want to be by the sea, but the biggest consolation in living in my bukid is that the orchids thrive here naturally,” she says.
The pathway in her garden is recycled asphalt, laid out like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. In fact, putting a puzzle together is an apt metaphor for how Javier’s abode rose from the ground—slowly but with certainty. “I wouldn’t even know how much I’ve spent because I only bought what I could afford at a time,” she says. And though her home seems complete already, she admits, “It will never be done, since building is a dynamic process and there’s no stopping.”
It’s already noon, but the naturally cool air constantly finds its way into Javier’s home. As the mountains remain still, the birds chirp, and we gather at her dining area, it seems her vision for her place has been realized already. “Dolce far niente— [sweetness in] doing nothing. That should be our aim.”
THIS PAGE: A LOVER OF BLOOMS, JAVIER, NICKNAMED “TIKAY” BY FRIENDS, TENDS TO HER ORNAMENTALS LIKE CHILDREN. OPPOSITE PAGE (CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP): THE SINGLE AIRY BEDROOM IS MADE FROM SALVAGED MATERIALS FROM HER BUILDING PROJECTS, AND BUILT AGAINST AN INCLINE; THE STAIRWELL IS ALSO MADE FROM RECYCLED WOOD, AND FEATURES A PHOTOGRAPH OF JAVIER’S STORIED PAST AS A DANCER; HER LIVING ROOM OFFERS A VIEW
OF THE FOREST OUTSIDE