The three-storey residence stands out among the houses along the row of this southern Cebu subdivision, the glass and metal accents giving it a decidedly individual character. Of course, that comes at no surprise—this was the home of architect James Jao, the personality behind some of the most creative and unique homes in the city, and the country.
“I’ve had this lot for ten years,” James shares, explaining that he started construction on the home based on advice he’d received from his feng shui master, who had flown in from Manila to personally look over the two lots he was thinking about building his house on. “On January 6  last year, he chose this lot.”
Consulting his feng shui master was an integral step in beginning the construction of the house. “It’s essential to starting the process of planning and creating your dream house,” says James. “The master determines from the beginning whether it’s a good or bad lot. The feng shui master can see the elements, physical or otherwise, in the environment surrounding the site.”
Reiterating its importance, James had the foundation dug up starting February 2 , as advised, because he needed to construct the house under the Year of the Horse. “I needed to do it before entering the Year of the Sheep, which is my sign,” he adds. “It would be unlucky if I built it within the year of my birth sign.”
Feng shui also had a say in the house’s design, with the feng shui master giving instructions on the house’s orientation, based on James’ birth sign and other elements surrounding the location. “From there, I started to make the floor plans, had him approve the positions and locations of each room, especially my master’s bedroom,” he recounts. “When everything was approved, I started creating the elevation and form the façade of the structure.”
Besides the adherence to a good feng shui philosophy, James also made sure to incorporate sustainability into his design. “I believe an Eco House is the best way into a sustainable lifestyle for the future generation,” says James, who is the proponent of the Eco House in the Philippines. The architect has several projects under his belt that have espoused less energy use, natural ventilation and the use of sustainable materials. “We are already a bit late,” he admits, “but we Filipinos must immediately catch up living within the ‘Paradigm of Eco Living.’”
For his house, the first step was integrating a Thermawall system, which reduces the heat that penetrates the building, and using energy-efficient uPVC REHAU frames for the windows. “All light fixtures are LED,” James continues, “and used low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) Healthy Home paints by Boysen for the interiors. All cabinets are Zero Formaldehyde, therefore diminishing the possibility of having toxic indoor air.” The bathroom fixtures and fittings—from the likes of Roca, Kohler, Grohe, among others—cater to efficient water use, while a passive cooling technique is in place for natural ventilation within the house, aided by ceiling fans. For when the weather gets extra hot, inverter air conditioning units (and appliances, in the kitchen and laundry areas) were used within the house.
Construction took a year, a timetable that James says is standard in building a home. There were, naturally, some challenges. “The Thermawall and Plaswall system were all engineered and shipped from Laguna to Cebu,” James explains. “The system helped a lot to hasten the finishing of the house, particularly the wall surface preparation since it is already smooth and ready to paint.”
The house follows an unconventional layout, with the main door opening up into a high-ceilinged living room—a mezzanine allows the second floor to open up into the first, and features a library that runs along the walls of the house. “I always incorporate a high ceiling in the living room to create the luxury of space when you enter the house,” James explains. “The library was a very important feature, since I have thousands of books and magazines collected over the years, plus all my plaques and personal memorabilia.”
Naturally, the architect has collected many pieces over the years, and the new home was the perfect opportunity to bring them out of hiding. “Some of the imported pieces I had even before I started building the house,” he admits, though he says 99% of the furniture is Philippine-made, sourced in Manila and Cebu. “The interiors are definitely about modern luxury. A touch of warmth and some bling make each room very contemporary.”
The library and a sitting room are on the second floor, along with the master’s bedroom that James considers his favorite spot in the house. “It’s the heart and hearth of the home,” he says. “It’s my haven to relax after a long and tiring day coming home from all my jet-setting. To sleep on my bed is luxurious!” Luxurious, indeed—the four-poster bed dominates the space, and is punctuated by a textured bench sitting at its foot and ornate lamps on the nightstands.
On the top floor, another sitting area transforms into a large guest bedroom when three sofas are converted into beds. Also on the third level, a terrace is an ideal spot for al fresco entertaining, its walls accented by Bisazza mosaic tiles and mood lighting. “It’s a completely different feel at night,” James shares. “The lights are blue, so it completely transforms.”
Although mostly done, James has a few more finishing touches he wants to take care of before this labor of love is complete—particularly landscaping some pocket gardens for a homey feel.
Having designed homes for various personalities over the years, it’s interesting to get to view James’ creation for probably one of his most important clients—himself. It came with its fair share of challenges, but James explains building your dream home isn’t always as difficult as we think it would be. “A dream house will always come to you at the right moment. In God’s time,” he says. Most importantly, “the house must be ‘you,’ and should tell your story. From the façade and into the interiors, the space should tell the story of your lifestyle.”
photography Mark Philip Dales
THROWBACK THURSDAY. Discover Why This Airy, Modern Structure in Busay is Called the Sky House
YKC Premier’s first venture in Busay floats over a cliff and introduces a new brand of living in Cebu.
by Shari Quimbo photography Ezekiel Sullano
YKC Premier’s first venture couldn’t be more aptly named—Sky House was spot on—the airy, modern structure that juts out of a ridge in the Busay Highlands couldn’t be called anything else. The drive up the hill levels to a short plateau right before the entrance of the village, allowing ample time for everyone to look up and admire a house that seems to be in defiance of gravity.
“When I saw the property, it was everything you could ask for, and it’s in limited quantities so we wanted to maximize all its assets,” says Victor Consunji, one-third of the group behind the project. “The problem was the land is narrow. Since we have the experience and capability, we thought, why waste all the good things about this property by just building on the ridge? Why not build over the ridge?”
Slater Young and Stephen Ku complete YKC Premier, a group of men who have come together to redefine the art of living with a view in Cebu. “Slater and I have been friends for a while, and I bumped into him at a wedding here in Cebu,” Stephen recalls. “And then we were talking about businesses that we could do together, and he mentioned that he had a nice piece of land that he wanted to fix up. He showed me the place, and I thought it was beautiful. On the way back to Manila, I thought about Vic because I’m also working with him on his project in Manila called Mahogany Tree.”
Once the three sat down to discuss the venture, Victor was immediately interested and, in fact, already had a vision for the house’s design in his mind. The partnership played up each one’s individual strengths and backgrounds—Victor comes from the family behind DMCI Holdings Incorporated, which have constructed Philippine landmarks such as the Manila Hotel and Shangri-La’s Mactan Island Resort; Slater has a background in engineering and his family is also in construction; while Stephen is at the helm of Eventscape Manila and is behind some of the hottest restaurants and nightspots in the Philippines. “Victor would be the CEO, the visionary. His expertise is what we brought in here,” explains Slater. “And since I’m also in construction, I was sort of his eyes here in Cebu. I’d be the CTO, Chief Technical Officer, and Stephen would be the CMO, marketing.”
Although YKC Premier already has three strong personalities behind it, the guys decided to bring in another design visionary to help them complete the look of the Sky House. “The Sky House is unlike any other home in Cebu, and it was a designer’s dream to be part of it,” says Vito Selma, who brought in his iconic pieces, along with some custom-made furniture to complete the look of the Sky House. “Given its location and the abundance of windows, I wanted the home to feel just as light and airy—to simulate the feeling of flight. And to stay true to my brand, we just wanted to bring nature into the home, which can be seen in the materials, textures and colors in the space.”
The look is relaxed but sophisticated, with many art pieces that Vito had commissioned especially for this project. “The installation in the entry is by me,” he says of the large textured slab with pieces of wood in different finishes scattered on it. “I made it in a way that when someone walks in the house, they see a reflection of that piece and its materials in other areas of the home.” Other notable pieces are in the living room: a large rattan sculpture of interlocking loops by Vito’s sister Selina Romualdez, and a long painting with strokes in various shades of gray by Tzaddi Esguerra. “I love working with her for all our projects,” Vito admits. “We tell her what colours to work with, and she makes the magic happen.”
With the house finished in just over a year, the guys are looking forward to constructing seven more houses to complete the project, offering a lifestyle that is incredibly appealing. “Young, hip urbanites. Young families. If they’re young, they at least feel young,” says Stephen of who they see living in the space. “People who want to balance work and play, because this place is like a residence and a resort at the same time.”
“Nowadays, with the way things are going in the Philippines, there is a focus on taking vacations, but not everybody has that chance. Not everybody can just take off whenever they want,” Victor adds. “I really don’t believe that a home is just your home, your vacation spot is just your vacation spot and your work place is just for work. I think you can have the best of all three, and this design incorporates that.”
“It’ll feel like you’re going home to a vacation every day,” Slater adds.
Although these gents are focused on the Sky Houses for now, they look forward to bringing more of this brand of living to other locations. “We’re just looking for the right project, but I think the boys are in agreement that we really want to explore Cebu, particularly because this is the emerging market we want to be in. We just need to look for the right spot, and the right design,” Stephen says.
More than just creating modern and luxurious properties, YKC Premier hopes to change the perception of what living in Cebu can be. “That’s what we want to bring to Cebu,” Stephen shares. “I haven’t seen a development like this in Cebu, and a lot of the times I’d ask Slater, and he goes, oh no, the Cebuanos wouldn’t want to spend for something like this. I kept telling him that if we build it, they will come. Cebuanos are ready for something edgy and daring, and I think this project will be a testament to that.” With the first house already sold, that’s certainly been proven true. After all, with just one visit to the Sky House, it’s hard to imagine a better place to live.
(This article has already been published in Zee Lifestyle’s February 2016 Real Estate Issue, “Defying Gravity” on pages 68-73.)
LOCKDOWN FUN: Whose Crib is This?
Here’s one way residents of Cebu’s exclusive villages created their own fun during zoom parties — guessing each other’s home! Of course, you need a smart mastermind to curate the photos to make sure the homes of each of the amigas are not easy to guess.
So, here’s a short tour of homes that was paraded during this very fun game. Homes are located in Maria Luisa, Northtown Homes, Beverly Hills and a beach house too. Oh, and one came all the way from Scotland.
We hope your zoom parties are just as fun!
Seashore Seclusion: A Beachside Abode in San Remigio
A cozy family getaway in San Remigio epitomizes the charm and simplicity of living by the sea.
by Shari Quimbo
photography Ezekiel Sullano
Admittedly, there are some challenges that come with living in Cebu; but having pockets of paradise being only a few hours’ away is an upside that’s hard to beat. One such paradise is San Remigio, a town that sits on the northwest side of the island, which means its serene shores are kissed daily by an amazing view of the sunset. Sure, you’ll run into some traffic while driving out of the city, but what awaits you makes the drive up north an easy challenge to live with.
When a chance to visit one family’s beachside getaway landed on our laps, we couldn’t pass it up. After a brief struggle with Mandaue City traffic, we were soon cruising through the towns of the north while the crystalline blue waters of the ocean peeked through every few kilometers.
It wasn’t long after when we found ourselves going up a pebbled driveway where a bamboo gate opened up to a footpath that led to the house. “We wanted to keep it simple,” the owner explains, sharing that he came up with the design while going through photos of houses online. With a thatched roof, rounded columns and a grooved concrete fence, the space is cozy and informal—a place that definitely exuded a laid-back beachside feel.
The living areas integrate into each other, with casual dining set-ups arranged around the open space, while oversized couches surround a solid wood coffee table. There’s a communal vibe that’s slightly deliberate. “We have a lot of friends and family that come in during the weekends, so we created a space that’s ready for that,” says the owner. “We didn’t want anything too formal. Some beach houses make you feel embarrassed to come in with your wet, sandy feet. We want a place where everyone would be comfortable moving around.”
That said, the concrete floors, made for walking around barefoot, lead to the manicured grass where the infinity pool looks like its about to spill out into the beach below. The blues of the sea and sky complement the more natural tones of the house’s wooden furniture pieces and painted white walls. Pops of color come in with the throw pillows, hammock and matching bright orange lounge chairs that are around the pool.
As if keeping with the house’s casual vibe, the owner’s trio of dogs roams freely around the property, curiously coming up to us for attention. “They just showed up one day,” he laughs when I ask where he’d gotten the dogs, named Beer, Tequila and Scotch—perhaps giving proof of how fun weekends here can be. A bar sits by one of the dining tables and further cements this theory, as does the homemade lamp made from a bottle of Patron.
Off to the side of the house are the bedrooms, which are simple but spacious. “It’s so there’s space on the floor to bring in cushions for when we have a lot of people over.”
The beach house took just two months to construct about two years ago. “Weirdly enough, we built this house while I was still living in Malaysia,” shares the owner. “My sister manages a construction company, and I would just email them instructions and photos of what I wanted. Surprisingly, it was pretty easy.”
Of course, when typhoon Yolanda hit northern Cebu, the house saw considerable damage. A quick browse through his photo gallery showed the roof completely ripped off the structure. “I came back the weekend after Yolanda. It took me almost a whole day to get here because we had to clear the road as we went,” he recalled.
Repairs to the house took a backseat as the family helped residents around the area before they moved to reconstruct their own house. “It took a month or so to fix the roof and everything else that was broken,” he says.
Now, the house is as inviting as ever. We spent the minutes leading up to sunset drinking beer by the pool. A few fishing boats float off the shore, with many locals walking through the beach. “I like the idea of having no fences and having people passing through,” the owner shares. “I like that it’s open. It makes the house feel more alive.”
That, in a nutshell, describes the beach house. With its cheerful, casual corners, it surely feels lived in—as if remnants of the happy moments people have spent there still hang in the air and even add to its personality. It’s not hard to understand why the owners look forward to the two-hour drive up on the weekends—if we had a space like this, we’d be heading north more often too.
(This article had already been published in Zee Lifestyle’s April 2016 Travel Issue, “Beach, Please” on pages 98-101.)
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