The Eclectic Feel Of This Cozy Manila Home
When Maritess Tantoco-Enriquez and her husband Renato returned to the Philippines after living in Morocco for several years, they first stayed in an apartment and then a rented house. Their original plan was to live there for two years before building something permanent in Manila—but it would take nearly a decade and a half before that happened.
Meantime, the couple dreamed up a spectacular weekend home in the countryside. Known to family and friends as Kasbah Habibi (The House of Love), the interiors celebrated their time in Morocco. It was during the creation of that home that they were introduced to the interior designer Andrew Laurel, who previously worked on the homes of her nephew Donnie Tantoco and his wife Crickette. “[Laurel] did such a wonderful job there, that I asked if I could meet him,” Maritess says. “Kasbah Habibi was our very first project together.”
After that Maritess was sure that Laurel would be able to accomplish the same great things for their home in Manila when the time came—and timing was everything when it came to choosing a haven for the long haul.
Two weeks before the couple were due to sign with their contractor, Maritess heard that a 10-month-old house had become available in one of Makati’s exclusive communities. “We had everything ready, but the thought of going through three more years of stress frightened me,” she explains. “It was difficult living in a house that wasn’t ours.” Instead of building from scratch, the couple decided to buy the fully-built property instead.
There were many upsides to this decision, chief among which was the luxury of immediately being able to renovate and decorate. “My husband and I agreed that he would take care of construction and I would do the interiors,” Maritess shares. While Kasbah Habibi was heavily inspired by Moroccan art and culture, she wanted their Manila home to have a more eclectic atmosphere, combining the old-world charm of European influences with a wide range of predominantly Filipino art pieces.
“It was a tough task for [Laurel] because I had a mix of things: French, Italian, Filipino, and other vintage pieces from my parents,” she shares. “Plus, the house came with some existing furniture.” Laurel agrees that while this presented a challenge in the beginning, not rushing became their way of doing things. “Decorating the house was really a matter of waiting for the right pieces to come,” he says. “The creative process had more to do with getting to know the owners more deeply, instead of finding items that matched perfectly.”
With Maritess’ collection of beautiful Moroccan carpets as a point of reference, Laurel went about intuitively sourcing pieces that would complement them. “That was my thought process,” he explains. “I wanted what they wanted.”
The house has an open two-storey layout where the upstairs can be seen completely from the first floor. It’s the perfect backdrop for the couple’s treasured assemblage of paintings, sculptures, carpets and other precious objects. “I don’t like storing art,” says Maritess. “I like seeing things hanging on the walls.” Describing herself as a lover of art rather than a hard-core collector, she buys primarily from artists whose styles appeal heavily to her. “My most recent purchase is from Mona Santos,” she shares. “I love how she paints her flowers and the piece now hangs in our bedroom.”
Instantly recognisable works by iconic Filipino artists can be found throughout the house. Above the main staircase are framed plates featuring paintings by BenCab and Fernando Amorsolo, from special collaborations done for Rustan’s department store in 2016 and 2018, respectively. In the living room, a legendary bird sculpture by National Artist for Sculpture Abdulmari Imao rests on the baby grand piano. A portrait by the contemporary painter Andres Barrioquinto is just behind it.
Upstairs, an Arturo Luz art piece marks the entry to Maritess’ private prayer room and coffee nook. The latter is filled with specially framed rosaries collected by her mother, the Tantoco clan’s late matriarch and Rustan’s co-founder Glecy Tantoco. In the guest bedroom a pair of Anita Magsaysay-Ho lithographs hangs over the bed.
Equally important to Maritess is the furniture she inherited from her parents. “I actually didn’t need to buy new furniture,” she admits. “[Laurel] reupholstered what I had; now everything looks good as new.” One of her cherished possessions is a settee covered in Aubusson tapestry that originally occupied the office of her father, Rustan’s co-founder and former ambassador Bienvenido Tantoco Sr, at the Sta. Elena Golf and Country Club. “I asked him if I could have it,” says Maritess. “My mum loved Aubussons and now it always reminds me of her.”
Maritess identifies the living room as her favourite spot in the house. “The emerald green colour chosen for the sofa is perfect,” she says. “It makes the room so elegant and welcoming.” In the living room Maritess is surrounded by mementos of her family and the travels of her youth: a Moroccan carpet, bird print pillows, framed Vietnamese paintings bought on different visits to the country, even side tables purchased at auction in Paris in the 90s. All these are just a few symbols of the wonderfully vibrant life she and Renato continue to live.
But it is the dining room that most accurately captures the spirit of the new house. With its mix of tropical and Oriental patterns, it faces the outdoors and is perfect for entertaining. Originally part of the garden, the couple chose to convert the space into the main dining room due to its proximity to the kitchen and for the view, which currently includes a pool, a Moroccan fountain, and small garden beyond. Uninterested in having a pool, Maritess mentions that soon, the outdoors will be transformed into a main garden where her pets—Nemo, a Norwich terrier; and Bambi, a Himalayan Persian cat—can play.
Until then, she, Renato and their beloved Bambi and Nemo can certainly bask in the beautiful dining room, where the key element is a floor-to-ceiling mural on both walls depicting indigenous flora and fauna: coconut trees, calachuchi, a hornbill, a cockatoo and a peacock, among others. “It was inspired by the floral wallpaper in my old apartment,” says Maritess. “But this time I wanted to include Philippine influences.” While these are all national symbols, they are also personal references to the birds kept as pets at the couple’s countryside farm or in her father’s house. The artist Alfred Galvez, who also worked on Kasbah Habibi with them, finished the mural in time for Maritess’ birthday in September last year.
The square wood and glass dining table, which sits eight, was repurposed and pieced together by Laurel from existing kamagong wood side-tables. Its chairs were custom-made using the same kamagong.“They had these blocks of wood with them for the longest time,” Laurel explains. “They told me I could do whatever I wanted with the materials, so I put them together to create a dining table and matched that with a Filipino-style chair designed with solihiya [cane-weaving].”
Laurel mentions that the dining room is an example of why it is such a joy to work with Maritess. “Sometimes she might call me ‘moody’ and at first we had small misunderstandings,” he says, laughing. “But she has a certain vision, and in the end there was a beautiful friendship that developed.”
As for Maritess, she feels that it is too soon to say anything about memories that have been made in their new home, since it has barely been a year since she and Renato moved in. What she is most enthusiastic about is the fact that the couple now have a place they can truly call their own. “Finally being in our own home feels like heaven,” says Maritess. “I can move freely and there are no more excuses not to do things.”
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- Photography Albert Labrador
- Production Mia Borromeo