A Re­turn to Roots

The in­te­rior designer Rene Orosa’s home in Cavite is more than just a week­end home, as Cristina Mo­rales dis­cov­ers

Philippine Tatler Homes - - LUXE HOMES - photography al­bert labrador styling mia bor­romeo

seven kilo­me­tres from the Ta­gay­tay Ridge in Cavite sits the quiet mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Al­fonso. This is where Rene Orosa’s fa­ther was born and raised, and where Orosa spent most of the week­ends of his child­hood. He still cher­ishes mem­o­ries of com­ing home from rid­ing his bi­cy­cle around town all day, his bas­ket filled with things for his fa­ther, who was well-loved by all.

It was here that his par­ents had planned to re­tire one day. His fa­ther had bought seven hectares of land (even­tu­ally sell­ing all but one) in the heart of town, and had even built a house, but be­fore he could en­joy it in his re­tire­ment, he passed away, and the house fell into ne­glect. The house his fa­ther built is now gone, but not com­pletely. A new house sits where it used to be—this is where Orosa lives to­day.

When the re­ces­sion hit the United States, Orosa’s busi­ness—like many oth­ers—suf­fered a huge blow. Back when he was on top of his game, the

designer would have eight si­mul­ta­ne­ous projects, but in 2008, for the first time, he found him­self with­out work. It was then that he de­cided to come to the Philip­pines to weigh his op­tions. Here, he found that the Asian mar­ket was boom­ing, and that his Filipino clients from the States who had homes in Manila were in­ter­ested in work­ing with him again. And so, Orosa de­cided to close shop in San Fran­cisco and cre­ate a new life.

But be­fore he could do this, he had

Aside from the foun­da­tions, there are a few things from the old house that have sur­vived. His fa­ther’s brick oven still stands out­side, and is still used to this day

to cre­ate his world. The house that he had grown up in was in­fested by ter­mites and had fallen into such dis­re­pair that noth­ing was sal­vage­able. Orosa had the house torn down, raised the ex­ist­ing foun­da­tions by a me­tre, and started build­ing on the foun­da­tions of their old home.

Orosa shares the 350-square-me­tre bun­ga­low with one of his two sis­ters. The two bed­rooms are quite small in com­par­i­son to the rest of the house. “I made sure that the com­mon spa­ces—the living room, dining room, lanai, and kitchen—were big­ger,” he ex­plains. Built around the land­scape, it is open to na­ture, unim­pos­ing yet re­fined. “I didn’t want an op­u­lent, pala­tial home,” Orosa says. “I wanted it re­ally rustic, but with a mod­ern feel, bring­ing the out­side in.” The house sits on a hill, and is sur­rounded by lush green­ery that shields it from the hus­tle and bus­tle of the town.

It’s easy to see Orosa’s knack for com­bin­ing the old and the new. He only had to buy about 30 per cent of the pieces in the house. The rest are from the old house (like the wrought iron pa­tio set

Each piece in the house has a story. Many of them came from Orosa’s trav­els—from Paris flea mar­kets to the shops of Aca­pulco

in the lanai) and Orosa’s things from the U.S. “When I got older, I started to re­ally ex­am­ine my pos­ses­sions,” he says. “I keep what is worth keep­ing, get rid of the things that I don’t feel are nec­es­sary, and cre­ate a place for spe­cial things. What­ever I have left, I use. That’s how this all started.”

Each piece in the house has a story. Many of them came from Orosa’s trav­els— from Paris flea mar­kets to the shops of Aca­pulco. His col­lec­tion of re­li­gious icons is a re­flec­tion of how far he has trav­elled, span­ning di­verse places from Mex­ico to Rus­sia. “Now that I’ve moved back to Manila I don’t travel as much as I used to,” he says, “but back when I lived in the States I would travel at least once a year. Florence is one of my favourite places to visit. I re­ally like its his­tory. My next favourite would be Mex­ico. It’s so rich in cul­ture and artistry.”

There are many pieces from the old house that he re­cy­cled, giv­ing them new in­car­na­tions. His buf­fet ta­ble used to be his fa­ther’s old head­board. The balus­ters from what had been the gazebo

were turned into wall art in one of the pow­der rooms, and an old hat rack of his grand­mother was sal­vaged and re­stored to serve as an ac­cent piece in the same room. The other old pieces in the house are ei­ther from an­tique stores or from places that he had chanced upon quite ran­domly. “I found that many homes in Al­fonso have a lot of old fur­ni­ture,” Orosa says, “and if you ap­proach the own­ers and show in­ter­est, they’d be happy to let them go to some­one who re­ally ap­pre­ci­ates them.”

Aside from the foun­da­tions, there are a few things from the old house that have sur­vived. His fa­ther’s brick oven still stands out­side, and is still used to this day. “When some­thing calls for roast­ing for hours, in­stead of elec­tric­ity, I use this oven with char­coal,” Orosa says. “It works very well.” Around the yard are balus­ters from the old prop­erty that had once been painted or­ange, but through­out the years had been dis­tressed to their cur­rent rustic ap­pear­ance.

It’s a house made for en­ter­tain­ing. Spread out around the gar­den, un­der

the trees’ thick shade, are seat­ing ar­eas. “A lot of the ac­tiv­ity of the house takes place out­doors,” he ex­plains. “And in a party, peo­ple typ­i­cally break into dif­fer­ent groups, so I put th­ese vignettes all around.”

It’s not un­usual for Orosa to have friends over on week­ends, and come Holy Week, the house will be at its busiest. This is be­cause Orosa’s fam­ily takes care of the Mater Dolorosa (Our Lady of Sor­rows), a holy icon that has been in the fam­ily for three gen­er­a­tions. When she came into Orosa’s fa­ther’s pos­ses­sion, her parts were scat­tered all over the place—her head on a shelf, her hands in a drawer, and so forth. To­day, the life-size im­age stands in a glass case in the dining room, and is brought out ev­ery year for Holy Week.

“She’s very pow­er­ful to us,” Orosa says. “When I re­turned to the Philip­pines, it was my turn to spon­sor the Lady for Holy Week—to fix her car­riage, the flow­ers, and pre­pare food for the devo­tees. But I came back to a run­down house, and it just didn’t seem fea­si­ble. I told her that I would leave it in her hands, and a year later, my gar­den was full with 400 peo­ple cater­ing to her.”

Though his fa­ther had not been able to en­joy re­tire­ment in Al­fonso, Orosa and his sib­lings are do­ing what his par­ents had set out to do. Orosa spends the ma­jor­ity of the week in his Makati con­do­minium, but his heart lies in Al­fonso, where he plans to spend the rest of his years en­joy­ing. “I al­ways knew that I’d come back here even­tu­ally, but I didn’t know that it would be this soon,” he says. “And now, I’m here to stay.”

“I didn’t want an op­u­lent, pala­tial home. I wanted it re­ally rustic, but with a mod­ern feel, bring­ing the out­side in,” says Orosa

FROM LEFT A ta­ble set for lunch in the pa­tio. The plate

charg­ers are made by lo­cal ar­ti­sans from Aca­pulco; a brick oven built by Orosa’s fa­ther

in the ‘70s

PRE­VI­OUS PAGE A lounge chair and

a large chunk of cac­ahu­ate wood used as a cof­fee ta­ble make

for a re­lax­ing spot in the gar­den full of vi­brant bromeli­ads

THIS PAGE A rustic old lamp made

of narra and plush pil­lows cre­ate a cosy

guest room.


Paint­ings ac­quired from an an­tique shop in San Fran­cisco hang

at the living room and com­ple­ment the arm­chair made of molave and wo­ven rat­tan

THIS PAGE An out­door dining set made of langka (jack­fruit) wood and a capiz chime from an an­tique shop in Ta­gay­tay are the high­lights in the man­i­cured gar­den

OP­PO­SITE PAGE Ex­otic pink ba­nana blos­soms and green ce­ram­ics add a pop of colour against a rustic ta­ble and lamp stand that are both made of

langka wood

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