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The Homes of Zee

The Story Behind the Latest Hotel in the City

The homegrown Bai Hotel brings together world-class accommodations and the distinct Cebuano hospitality.

It was practically inevitable that the buzz around Bai Hotel started long before anyone had even set foot through their doors. After all, with its ubiquitous location on a major corner of the North Reclamation Area, its development was something most Cebuanos witnessed daily on their morning commutes. As it continued to rise on the Mandaue City skyline, its facade taking on the unique lines of its contemporary design, it was clear that this was going to bring something new (and big!) to the Cebu hospitality scene.

“I imagine people assumed we would be building a budget business hotel, because this is the offering we first put forward with the Iloilo Business Hotel,” president Angelli Suzanne Lua-Domingo says, referring to the family’s other venture in hospitality. “But we decided to keep the details of our Cebu offering a secret, and open with a surprisingly new concept that would really stand out in Cebu.”

As president, Angelli Lua-Domingo strives to provide world-class facilities with a touch of Cebuano hospitality.

Having overseen the hotel’s growth from its conceptualization to the current operations, Angelli is the president of the Bai Hotel brand and one of the scions of the decidedly private family behind a reputed Cebuano brand. Branching out into hotels may be something new for the company, but Angelli feels that she had been, in some way, preparing for it her whole life. “I took up Hotel and Restaurant Management in University of San Carlos, so I have some educational and practical experience in this field,” she shares. “In fact, I interned at Marriott for a short stint, and gained a great deal of hands-on experience. Plus, I always try to gather as much information as I can from the different hotels we stay at when we travel.”

“I had always wanted to open a small boutique hotel when I finished school. I would save photos of hotels and restaurants for inspiration,” Angelli continues. The family’s property in North Reclamation Area was a great place to turn that dream into a reality, but she later realized that it was time to dream a little bigger. “The property was more suited for a larger project and offered us a wider canvas to build.”

There’s something that’s certainly impressive about Bai Hotel’s final iteration. Created by the Singapore-based architectural firm A+P Group, lead by Head Architect Liew S. Shoon, the 23-storey L-shaped building features perforated metal panels and columns over glass in an amalgamation of sorts between brutalist and art deco architecture. “We wanted a facade with more glass than traditional hotels, to have more of the abundant sunlight we are blessed with here in Cebu, and a color scheme that would stand the test of time,” Angelli shares.

“Cebu is a fast-growing tourism destination, and we are very fortunate to be placed in the center of much of that growth. I predict this area will only further grow in popularity, and more and more players will be opening up their doors—and I think that’s great! A rising tide raises all boats, as the saying goes.” – Angelli Lua-Domingo

Sustainability is also something that was taken into consideration for the hotel’s design. “We are the first hotel outside Metro Manila that goes green,” explains Alfred Reyes, the hotel’s General Manager. “Bai Hotel’s building is covered with a glass called a low emission double-glazed panel glass, which saves 30% electricity.”

Inside, the lighting is warm and the fittings luxurious—the high ceilings are further emphasized by wooden panels that stretch up five floors, while the marble flooring and grand staircase add a tasteful touch of decadence. “We approached someone local for the interior design,” Angelli says, referring to Stefan Dy. “I felt that he was really able to capture the bright and classic feel we needed for the large spaces on one hand, and putting together a cozy guest room experience on the other.”

Bai Hotel’s is example of understated luxury, with relatively simple design elements coming together in a truly sophisticated space. “The luxury you feel actually originates more from our approach to the fine details. Instead of buying expensive European furniture or lighting, we actually sourced most of our furniture locally in Cebu, and we implemented a lot of cost-saving measures,” Angelli explains. “We use natural air cooling in the hallways, water conservation sinks and toilets, along with other eco-friendly technologies.”

The rooftop pool is one of Bai Hotel’s distinguishing features–the sweeping view of the city makes for scenic lounging.

The decision to include local touches to the experience is something deliberate—Angelli and the rest of the Bai Hotel team believe that celebrating the Cebuano heritage is something that will set it apart from everyone else in the market. Here, the staff greets guests with a warm “maayong buntag!” (good morning in the local dialect), and a hand over their heart. “It’s a homegrown offering. We value this deeply because we share a certain connection and pride to be serving our fellow Cebuanos,” she shares. “The name itself is even a local term of endearment.”

Helping Bai Hotel offer the best possible brand of Cebuano hospitality is Alfred, the hotel’s Vice-President for Operations and General Manager. With international chains such as the Four Seasons, the Hiton, Linden Suites and more under his belt, Alfred’s illustrious career in hospitality had begun at the Cebu Plaza Hotel in 1988.

Now back home after stints in Manila and abroad, he believes that Bai Hotel’s opening is a momentous one for the local industry. “Bai Hotel will be the first hotel in the Philippines that is opened by a Filipino and has more than 600 rooms. In Metro Manila and most parts of Luzon, only expats are selected to open such a big property,” he reveals.

“We’ve evolved from traditional customers to more dynamic and demanding travelers,” Alfred explains about the changes in the hotel industry since he first started almost 30 years ago. Having come aboard the project in the early days, he was very involved in training the team to develop Bai Hotel’s signature brand of service. “Opening a hotel is never easy. It is a given fact that there are always birth pains. During a soft opening, there will be still be glitches, and adjustments have to be made. There is always something that will need improvement. It is also important that the staff are open to suggestions in improving the hotel system and practices to provide the best customer service.”

At the lobby lounge, the attention to detail in design is clear, as the lighting fixtures mimic the tile pattern on the bar.

Angelli reiterates the importance the staff plays in the hotel’s success. “Our customer is our number one priority and we value them deeply, so to ensure a pleasant stay with us, we must be committed to the highest levels of quality and service. That service begins with our people,” she says. “All members of the Bai Hotel staff undergo a rigorous training program to know the ins and outs of our hotel, and to be prepared to attend to our guests’ every need. We also periodically hold special training seminars to further their improvement and build up new skills. I feel you will find our staff to be one of the most attentive in the industry.”

Bai Hotel’s quality of service and amenities is further cemented by their partnership with Worldhotels, a group of independent hotels around the world. “It’s a tremendous partnership for us. They share our dedication to detail and commitment to customer satisfaction, and they also share a strong desire to bring Cebu to the world stage,” Angelli shares.

“Our customer is our number one priority and we value them deeply, so to ensure a pleasant stay with us, we must be committed to the highest levels of quality and service. That service begins with our people.” – Angelli Lua-Domingo

“Worldhotels recently partnered with Associated Luxury Hotels International, a big player in the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) market. They put together meetings and events for specialty hotels and further expanded our reach,” she continues. Besides opening up many doors for Bai Hotel in the international market, Worldhotels also helps them bring their offerings to a world-class level. “Their stringent quality policies helped us elevate our own standards and provide a first-class experience to our guests.”

More than just elevating Cebuano service to a world-class level, though, Bai Hotel also hopes to help more locals break into the hospitality industry. “We will be the first hotel that hires new graduates, who we will be providing enhanced training in their specializations and emphasize the art of hospitality,” says Alfred. “We will give them opportunities for career advancements.”

Of course, the strict standard of service and the international connections isn’t the only thing that Bai Hotel has to offer. With a choice of Deluxe, Premier and Executive , guests are treated to spacious rooms with thoughtful design elements and amenities—floor-to-ceiling windows that offer views of either the Mactan Channel or the city and the mountains beyond it. The bathrooms are decked with products from luxury hotel toiletry brand Anaïs Starck, and decorated with dark tiles and gilded wall details that reinforce the decadent feel.

The rooms at Bai Hotel are spacious, and with all the modern creature comforts you’d come to expect from a city hotel.

Besides the usual creature comforts, Bai Hotel offers a unique but helpful feature in their hotel rooms. “The mini bar has always been a challenge in hotels. Before guests check out, it is routine to check the mini bar if there are any food or drinks that were consumed—and that takes time, which means the guest will have to wait,” Alfred shares. “In Bai, we provide refrigerators that the guests can stock themselves. The hotel has a Travel Shop with prices similar to any convenience store.”

With consideration for conferences, meetings and vents that the hotel will soon host, there are 12 function rooms and ballrooms, with the Lapu-Lapu Grand Ballroom. The spacious gym will be furnished with state-of-the-art equipment and intricate mosaic tile detailing in the locker rooms and wash areas, while an in-house The Spa at Cebu will cater to guests’ pampering needs. “We also have serviced offices, which no other hotels provide,” adds Alfred.

Probably one of the hotel’s most defining features, though, is the pool on the 21st floor. Spanning a good portion of the wing’s length, the lap pool looks out onto the city below. “We understand that having a pool as a guest amenity is a must for a hotel this size, but we knew early on that we wanted to make it a signature piece,” Angelli shares. “Our pool certainly takes some design cues from the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, but once you are in it, sipping on a mango shake while looking out onto the mountains, you will feel that it is a place all its own.”

The sweeping views on both sides gives the pool-side experience an interesting visual twist, while woven outdoor furniture, wooden plank flooring and accent walls covered in mosaic tiles give it a look that’s coherent with the rest of the hotel. There’s also the Pool Bar, one of the hotel’s eight dining outlets.

With eight dining outlets, you’ll never go hungry at Bai Hotel. This venison steak from Marble & Grain, for one, is a delicious indulgence.

“That’s right,” Angelli says with a laugh. “When you come to Bai Hotel, I recommend you come on an empty stomach, because with eight restaurants, there is no excuse for you to leave hungry. Honestly, Bai Hotel will cater to many different travelers, local and abroad, and those tastes vary greatly. We tried our best to offer as many cuisine choices as we could.”

Bai Hotel will have two Lobby Lounges, offering their signature lemongrass welcome drink and refreshments, and an Executive Club Lounge on the 22nd floor that will exclusively cater to guests on the Executive floors. The impressive 400-seat Cafe Bai features an extensive buffet with international selections—early favorites in the selection are the cold cuts and cheese section, the pasta station, and the zesty Lemon Tart for dessert.

Taking cues from New York City’s industrial urban vibe is Wall Street Cafe + Bar, which Angelli shares will soon be offering Bai Butterbeer, something the city’s Potterheads will definitely appreciate. For sushi cravings, Chef Shoichi Onuki creates delicious Japanese favorites at UME Japanese Cuisine, which also has various types of sake available. Those who want to indulge can score a table at Marble + Grain Steakhouse. Here Chef Jaimes Van Haght serves dry aged steaks, and other indulgent entrees like the Grilled Ostrich Steak, Chilean Sea Bass, French Barbary Duck Leg Confit, among others.

Although still currently under works, Bai Hotel will be opening Twilight Roofdeck Lounge + Bar by the end of the year. Offering high quality cuisine and artisanal cocktails on the hotel’s 23rd floor, the establishment will be one of the most exclusive in the city—admission is members-only, with reasonable annual fees that will be on the market soon.

Wall Street Cafe is the hotel’s coffee and snack outlet, with an offering that includes freshly roasted coffee and desserts.

With so many to offer Cebu’s residents and visitors, Bai Hotel is one that’s a handful to handle, but Angelli is up for the challenge. “Working with my dad in our family business, I learned the importance of providing several different offerings to keep customers engaged,” she admits. “With Bai Hotel, we have several guest room offerings and restaurants, each with their own unique touches.”

Scheduled for a grand opening in January 10, in time for the Sinulog festivities, Bai Hotel is a unique and proudly homegrown addition to the hospitality industry at a time, Angelli feels, is ripe. “Cebu is a fast-growing tourism destination, and we are very fortunate to be placed in the center of much of that growth. I predict this area will only further grow in popularity, and more and more players will be opening up their doors—and I think that’s great! A rising tide raises all boats, as the saying goes.”

If all goes well, Angelli continues, Bai Hotel might only be the beginning. “We are eyeing expansions in other islands as well. Our goal is to build a global brand, and we are looking into adding multiple cityscape and beachfront hotel openings to our portfolio,” she says, although she admits that might not be imminent. “We definitely have our hands full with this initial project. Maybe ask me again after I get a year under my belt, and I will have a clearer picture of where we’re going.”

In the meantime, it seems, Angelli and her team is going towards a renewed landscape of hospitality in the city, where luxury is found in the Cebuano elements as much as they are in world-class brands. And with all it has to offer—and people finally being able to walk through their doors—the buzz surrounding Bai Hotel won’t be stopping anytime soon.

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The Homes of Zee

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!

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The Homes of Zee

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.

A walkway leads into the house’s main living area, which enjoys an open floor plan for a relaxed and communal atmosphere.

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.”

Natural tones are complemented by richly colored fabrics

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 house’s infinity pool seemingly spills out into the ocean, and is one of the best locations on the property to watch the sunset.

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.”

The bar is stocked with a wide array of liquors, and is proof of the residence’s festive spirit.

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.

When lit up with candles in the late afternoon, the walkway takes on a cozily intimate vibe;

Long benches flank the dining table to accommodate plenty of diners.

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.”

Sunsets by the beach are priceless.

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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The Homes of Zee

Idyllic Isolation: The La Mer Veille

French architectural duo Humbert & Poyet create La Mer Veille in the Italian Riviera, a seaside cabin that has its fair share of charm.

by Shari Quimbo
photos courtesy of Alexandra Public Relations

 

With the azure sea on one side, the verdant mountains on the other and picturesque towns in between, the Italian Riviera is certainly a dream destination. More than its natural beauty, the region seems frozen in another time—a simpler one, when the days seemed long and the people keen to enjoy the moments.

It is here that La Mer Veille sits, a beachfront cabin that epitomizes the simple summer escape. Nestled between Bordighera and San Remo, its stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea are complemented by its predominantly white palette, down-to-earth décor and delicate materials.

The house is the creation of French architects Emil Humbert and Christophe Poyet, the personalities behind the firm Humbert & Poyet. Since they decided to collaborate in 2007, the firm has worked on various projects around the world—the Wine Palace at the Monaco Yacht Club, the curated fashion store 55 Croisette in Cannes, and fashion designer Alexis Mabille’s first shop in Paris are just some of the projects the two have worked on together.

“We communicate constantly throughout a project,” Christophe explains. “Our symbiosis forms the foundations of our projects and ensures the space that we’ve imagined works.”

The result is elegant and timeless spaces that meticulously bring together various design elements—the choice of materials and lighting, for example, are carefully thought out to make the most of a space and to ensure the client’s needs and personality is reflected in the final design.

It’s understandable then why La Mer Veille sits at a perfect vantage point where it surroundings can be admired. The seaside cabin is simple and relatively small, but is put together to exude an unassuming luxury that dares not to compete with the views outside.

The living area, shared with the dining room and kitchen, is done in shades of white with earthy tone accents. The Carrara marble counters are complemented with brass fixtures, including a brass sink that was custom-made by Humbert & Poyet. The firm also specially constructed the sofa that sits opposite the wooden table, a find from a market in England. Straw-wrapped lighting, an old-fashioned fireplace and a brass backsplash for the stove just add to the overall rustic appeal.

The bedrooms also have that effortless charm, with various nautical details to remind its occupants they are by the sea—just in case they forget the views beyond the picture windows. The master bedroom features a mattress sitting on an elevated wooden platform, topped with an Ancient African throw purchased from an antique shop.

“We communicate constantly throughout a project,” Christophe explains. “Our symbiosis forms the foundations of our projects and ensures the space that we’ve imagined works.”

La Mer Veille is a space that celebrates its location, and its location is best enjoyed from the terrace. The creamy white palette is carried over to this outdoor space where distressed wooden floorboards and a cushioned seating area invite you to put up your feet and settle in. The mood is set even further with a hammock chair from Etsy hanging easily from the ceiling and some relaxing music from the piano.

Emil Humbert and Christophe Poyet

Beyond its architectural details, it is the finishing touches that give this dreamy cabin its character—bunches of baby’s breath and other flowers tucked into pitchers and vases in various niches around the house, wooden stools with rounded seats, antique-inspired knickknacks like an old fan sitting on a shelf and a swinging love seat. These details make the house come to life in an interesting way; and with a view such as this, what a life it is.

(This article had already been published in Zee Lifestyle’s May 2016 Home Issue, “By the Sea” on pages 72-77.)

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