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