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The Homes of Zee

You’re invited to Amparito Lhuillier’s home

Set on the highest point of one of Cebu’s most exclusive villages is a structure that may look intimidating on the outside, but packs a lot of surprising warmth inside—just like the impressions you may get from its residents, Michel and Amparito Lhuillier.


The Lhuillier Home (Photography by Robo Formacion: Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, October 2015)

“Strike three,” laughs photographer Robo Formacion as we made our third wrong turn while cruising through the maze of hills in Maria Luisa, trying to make our way to the home of Michel and Amparito Lhuillier. From where we were, it wasn’t hard to spot the much-acclaimed abode—an imposing structure jutting out from the lush greenery at the highest point of the subdivision. It was only a matter of finding the right road that would bring us there.

We didn’t go as far as hitting a home run in terms of getting lost: A street sign that read ‘Amparito Drive’ showed that we were finally on the right track. The further we drove, the more we wondered what kind of home the celebrated Lhuilliers lived in. The quiet Michel is, of course, known for building the family business—a chain of eponymous pawnshops and numerous money transfer outlets around the country and the world, as well as other culinary establishments; while the charming Amparito is a schoolteacher-turned-philanthropist, who has sent over 1,500 young people to college through her Amparito Llamas Lhuillier Education Foundation. After graduating from their business-related courses at the University of San Jose-Recolletos, the students duly find placement in Lhuillier-owned establishments. Amparito also supports other charities including the Little Bamboo Foundation that helps disadvantaged children.

A view of the home from the driveway (Photography by Robo Formacion: Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, October 2015

A view of the home from the driveway (Photography by Robo Formacion: Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, October 2015

Ostrich eggs add a cool contrast to the grand piano in the foyer (Photography by Robo Formacion: Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, October 2015)

Ostrich eggs add a cool contrast to the grand piano in the foyer (Photography by Robo Formacion: Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, October 2015)

A magnificent driveway with manicured lawns leads to the main house. As we pull up front, a household member opens one of the massive wooden doors to usher us in. Dominating the foyer is a grand black piano, proudly displayed on it are framed photos taken during the couple’s anniversary last year. The rest of the high-ceilinged receiving area is adorned with Filipino and Asian art.

As we are escorted to meet the lady of the house in her office, we pass a formal dining area where we’re certain the couple has entertained dignitaries and other important guests. The long table comfortably sits 12 people and is decorated with exquisite silverware arranged French-style, as Amparito insists. The dining room opens to a more casual eating space where the family usually has their meals when the entire brood is in town.

We could hear the unmistakable voice of makeup artist Romero Vergara in lively conversation with Amparito while weaving his magic on her. The lady herself, draped in a simple robe, interrupts Romero’s chatter to acknowledge our arrival as she welcomes us to her office. While everything is in place, the artful clutter gives a lived-in feel to the space, indicating that the woman spends a lot of her time here. Framed magazine covers of Amparito and other members of her family dress up the wall, while more family photos sit on the shelves.

Amparito bids us to explore the house while we wait for her makeup to be done. We view a spacious and spotless kitchen which managing editor Shari Quimbo quickly proclaims to be her dream kitchen realized. It was stark in comparison to the rest of the house, but was fully equipped with everything you could possibly need to cook for a number of people—or a restaurant, at that. Later in the day, Amparito displays how she masterfully organizes her things as she opens cupboard after cupboard to show glassware neatly arranged by design, ready for any occasion that might take place in the Lhuillier home.

Facing the foyer are two living rooms, a formal one which flows effortlessly into a more casual one—blending elegance with the relaxed—which allows them to entertain a flexible number of guests. As with the rest of the house, the rooms are decorated with Filipino and Asian artwork that Amparito is fond of.

The formal living room seamlessly flows into the more casual one (Photography by Robo Formacion: Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, October 2015)

The formal living room seamlessly flows into the more casual one (Photography by Robo Formacion: Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, October 2015)

The living and dining areas both open into yet another sprawling lawn with a sweeping view of Cebu and Mactan. The city was wrapped in a blue-gray haze on that particular day with the sun threatening to break through the clouds. Off to one side is the patio—another location to entertain guests—where Dedon furniture offers comfortable seating for outdoor gatherings. Right in front of the patio is the swimming pool.

With her makeup done, Amparito beckons us to help choose her first outfit, entailing a tour of the family’s private quarters. Fashion editor Oj Hofer wonders about the small ramp beside the steps leading to it, which prompts Amparito to explain, “That’s for when Michel and I are old,” she says with a laugh. “At least we won’t have to climb the stairs anymore, we can just be wheeled in.” For the moment, the ramp comes into practical use for moving their luggage around.

The 12-seater dining room where the Lhuilliers host formal events (Photography by Robo Formacion: Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, October 2015)

The 12-seater dining room where the Lhuilliers host formal events (Photography by Robo Formacion: Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, October 2015)

A staircase from the family room leads up to the children’s private suites (of course, Amparito’s forward thinking had a private elevator installed from the garage), while the master bedroom is straight ahead on ground level. Amparito shows us the recreation area with a flatscreen TV; and adding to its visual interest is an entire wall lined with books. A kitchenette is tucked off in one corner. At the other end is the bedroom, outside it is a much smaller but equally beautiful garden where the couple unwinds with a stunning view of the next mountain.

Of course, with Amparito known as one of the city’s iconic fashion figures, everyone is curious about her closet—a walk-in one, expectedly. “But I have to expand!” she exclaims. “You have to walk in a single-file now just to get to my clothes.” Everything here is arranged with precision, with one cabinet just for her belts and sunglasses. Hanging on a rack are the clothes she anticipated wearing for the shoot, with matching shoes and the planned accessories laid out nearby.

The lady of the house lounges on one of the Dedon lounges beside the pool (Photography by Robo Formacion: Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, October 2015)

The lady of the house lounges on one of the Dedon lounges beside the pool (Photography by Robo Formacion: Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, October 2015)

Amparito’s haven is a labor of love. It took eight years of close collaboration with architect Filoteo Jacinto and interior designer Conrad Onglao to put together, with Amparito herself keeping track of the process from beginning to end. She refused to show the house to Michel until it was finally completed a few years ago. Since then, a number of parties have been hosted in this house, notably the Lhuillier’s golden wedding anniversary in 2014. The place truly befits a renowned hostess, but to Amparito, it’s simply home.

by Patty Taboada sittings editor Oj Hofer photography Robo Formacion makeup Romero Vergara hair Jessie Egos
Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, October 2015. For back issues, subscribe via Magzter.

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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