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The Homes of Zee

Inside Cebu’s Hidden Oasis: Asmara Urban Resort and Lifestyle Village

Tucked inside one of Cebu’s posh areas, Asmara Urban Resort and Lifestyle Village offers a quick escape from the city’s daily grind and constant traffic.

Photography by Pablo Quiza
This story is taken from our archives. Originally published in Zee Digital Vol. 2

“I designed my first home concept in Rome back in 2000,” Carlo begins. “In 2001, I designed the Atelier-A office in Rome. In 2004, I designed my country house near Rome. In Cebu, I designed and built one house in Mactan and one in Maria Luisa, in between 2008 to 2011. Let’s just say that my creative energy was compressed for a while and since there has been a revolution in the planet—specifically Cebu—I decided to summarize my experiences in a new concept that should be very useful here and can be exported worldwide.”

While he’s a financial analyst by profession, many know Carlo Cordaro as a furniture designer. He’s known to have created avant-garde designs, made with the hands of Filipino craftsmen and using natural resources found in the Philippines.

That said, designing a concept like Asmara Urban Resort and Lifestyle Village isn’t too far off from what he has been doing for so many years. Asmara, as an urban resort, has several objectives — a multifunctional space dedicated to leisure, sports, good food, and, being Italian, a good aperitivo. It’s also a space that can be used for business meetings, small theatre performances, art exhibitions, live performances and any activity that can create a gathering of friends. It opened in time for this year’s World Cup, and for several weeks, the place roared with cheers, from fans of all nationalities, until the early hours.

Asmara is named after the city where he was born, a suggestion by his daughter Camilla. It is a city in Eritrea in northeast Africa, once an Italian colony, where he lived until he was 12 years old. Last year, the city of Asmara had been named a worldwide heritage site by UNESCO for its architectural and urban values. It is considered by many famous architects as The Modernist Secret City of Africa.

“Asmara is a beautiful city built through many years of civil war,” Carlo explains. “The architecture and urban setup has been kept in tact. My grandmother was among the pioneers sent by the Italian government to scout new territories in 1892. She, my mother, and myself were born there. This is the reason, I guess, behind Camilla’s thoughts when she told me: ‘Dad, your story, your life, your memories and part of your soul belong to Asmara.’ I confess that I was extremely emotional when she opened up my mind, and my heart, with this idea. We were removed violently in 1975 because of the civil war and the extremist communist regime who took over and nationalised any property. In one day, we lost three generations of work, memories, lifestyle friends, and sadly, my father was the only Italian killed during the first hours of the civil war.”

Osservare, capire, agire, Leonardo da Vinci said that. To observe existing details to understand its mechanics, and to develop your own idea. I never designed to copy, I can in fact always explain up to the last detail, because it is solely my own line of thought,” he states. “Any building or house I design is a vision in my mind that I constantly review until no improvement can be done.”

Asmara’s main lounge is a big lanai, an open-air space where people can relax while being nestled on sofas scattered around, all from Cordaro’s factory of course. Dominating the room is the large bar, while to the right of the entrance is the swimming pool where guests can take a dip, and to the left are the tennis and squash courts.

At Asmara, visitors can enjoy authentic Italian fare—Carlo shares that he even flew in a wood-fired oven all the way from Italy to ensure that their pizzas are cooked the right way. On any given day or night, customers mill through the impressive double doors, either to play tennis or swim or just to have cocktails. There is no dress code here,
loyal customers dine in their sports outfits, or enjoy beer by the pool in flip-flops. Like a casual country club that welcomes not just members, but anyone looking for company. “Everyone tells me that they really feel at home here,” he shares.“To make a new home for so many people really makes me more than happy. It means I was able to transfer my dreams and emotions in a space that people can be truly comfortable.”

As a fast developing urban center with new buildings popping up in places you would least expect and a population count rising by the minute, Cebu’s prosperity is both a bane and a blessing. Progress brings about the inevitable question of sustainability, the whole premise of utilising resources without taking more than necessary, the rejection of single use objects and creating things that will last for future generations.

Asmara Urban Resort is a sustainable example of architecture in the area. The roof has a slight inclination so all the rainwater is collected and stored in two cisterns for recycling. He designed the reverse pyramid made of glass as a central structure to collect the water from the roof. “We can’t survive without water and this building is sort of a wake-up call that saving and recycling water is a must,” Carlo iterates. “Watching the rain falling inside the building is always an emotional moment for me,” Carlo shares of his favorite spot in the structure. He shares that one day, a baby just sat down in front of it while it was raining, and she seemed to be contemplating the falling water. “This building will be useful for all adults and kids to create awareness about the water problem, and also to be a bit romantic on it.”

Working together with the structural engineer, Cordaro followed a rule applied in some areas of the Philippines, where the building’s height should be lower than the surrounding coconut trees. The wood structure is made of laminated lumber that makes the entire structure typhoon-proof and earthquake-proof, while keeping it light.

“To insert a building in a space is one of the most complicated issues,” he continues. “So my rationale had to face several aspects: the aesthetics, engineering, city and government rules, functionality, costing, and most important to me, I had to design a building open to the public that offers an architectural experience and emotions.”

When asked what he thought of Cebu’s design landscape and how sustainable it is, Carlo replies, “It’s useless to close the gate when the horses are already out, says an old farmer’s proverb. Cebu’s design landscape and zoning are super hot and debated in any Cebuano’s daily conversation, I guess. I always see the glass half full, by the way, and this gave me the energy to create Asmara, a sort of provocation or wake up call as mentioned, where all the citizens start to feel responsible for their city.”

He goes on to share that though it might not be easy to opt for more sustainable options after centuries of progress, it’s best to start from small changes to the biggest ones. “I know the city administrators are well-aware, and already acting and proposing new infrastructures, but the private citizens also have to give their

Asmara Urban Resort and Lifestyle Village has been open for only seven months, and it’s quickly becoming a space where people can easily get together and take a breather from Cebu’s fast-paced lifestyle.

“For 22 years, Cebu and the Cebuanos have hosted me safely and warmly, so I felt that I needed to give back to the city and its inhabitants through this contribution,” Cordaro shares. “I’m not done yet,” Carlo promises. “There’s still a lot of things to do.”

The Homes of Zee

THE HOMES OF ZEE: A Cosmopolitan Life

A home for a young couple that mixes tradition and modernity.

By Eva Gullas  photography Pablo Quiza

If Colin and Araminta had a penthouse in Cebu, this would be it. This 15-storey buiding in the heart of Cebu’s financial district is easy to spot but not many people know that its top floor is actually home to a young couple and their toddler son. And a huge King Shepherd dog, Vesian.

After years of residing abroad, the prospect of building a home from scratch, or in this case, the carcass of a whole floor of an unfinished building, is anything but easy. Having to transform more than a thousand square meters of open space into a family home is a daunting task that takes a lot of imagination and is not for the faint-hearted. It didn’t start that way, of course. The original plan was to construct a house in one of the city’s gated communities. But it wasn’t too hard to convince the man of the house that having a home in the city center would give him the ease of being close to the business and a garage big enough for his car collection. “Being born and raised in Hong Kong and having the city below me was something I got used to,” he quips.

First on the design plan was to ensure a double-height ceiling fronted by a wall of glass that would give clear views of the sky, the city’s business center and Mactan Island beyond. The partitions came next. For this, the home-owners, Martin and Claudia Yeung, consulted with Arlen de Guzman, the Manila-based interior designer whose discipline comes mostly from working on projects involving the hospitality industry. Arlen spent 20 years working for HBA in Hong Kong, including the design for the Grand Hyatt Hotel, before setting up his own shop. 

The mutual respect shared between the client and Arlen has made this home the way it is.  As expected from someone who moves in and out of some of the most stylish homes and hotels, Martin has a very particular taste. With his direction, the decorator executed most of the division plans, including a space for a gym and a pool table, and the master’s bedroom with a loft TV room and a huge space for the closet area and en suite bathroom. In the loft area, the most private sanctum in this home, a highly coveted collection of Hollywood memorabilia is on display. The treasure trove features Achilles’ helmet worn by Brad Pitt in the movie Troy, the Lannister mask from Game of Thrones, and the Roman cuirass used by Maximus played by actor Russell Crowe in the movie Gladiator, among others. “It started as a hobby, but now it’s turning into a good investment as well,” Martin laughingly adds. Prices for these items bought at auction have more than doubled in recent years.
Entry to this private residence goes through a series of security checks, from guards and protection details at the lobby level, to the many cameras that are strategically positioned. If that doesn’t deter unwelcome guests, the ginormous size of 200-pound Vesian should stop anyone in his tracks.

 The very essence of sophistication meets guests the moment the elevator doors open. At the entrance, a large rococo framed painting against a wood paneled wall, a modern glass chandelier and dark hide floor covering set the tone for things to come. Tall wooden doors on both sides of the elevator serve as access to the apartment. Stepping inside, the expansive view and the sheer enormity of the living and dining areas that almost spans the entire width of the building is something you don’t often see unless you check in to a luxury hotel like an urban Aman or a Four Seasons. 

An open kitchen of wood and black glass anchors the far side and is equipped with a built-in refrigerator, ice-maker, freezer and storage cabinets hidden below the counter while behind its wall is the service kitchen. On the opposite end of the kitchen is the powder room, concealed neatly with 2 sides of exposed glass walls overlooking more city views.

The open floor plan has several seating arrangements—dark leather sofas and club chairs with Italian tables, a dining table made of solid hard wood with 14 seats and a bar filled with bottles of single malt scotch. Lighting is a big deal as well in this home. Several easel lamps and dark wrought-iron chandeliers play a huge role, but it’s the hidden ceiling lighting fixtures, with its various mood-changing combinations activated by remote control, that truly add to the drama. Set against a backdrop of glass and bare cement walls, leather and fine wood carpentry, the lighting effects evoke a welcoming luxury and a refined urbanity with the cityscape sprawled before your eyes. The layering of different styles is the main point in the over-all design. “I would think that it’s a good balance of tradition and modernity,” Martin sums it up.

If there’s not enough space, one floor up is the rooftop deck which provides more entertaining room. Furnished with outdoor sofas and added dining areas, this is the perfect venue for a good party on any given night.

As the only son of an industrialist family, Martin is actively involved in moving the family corporation forward. He is heavily invested in tourism with the company’s real estate portfolio including some of the most desirable beach properties in Cebu. The first premium resort he developed is the posh resort of Kandaya in the north. He’s currently developing an expansion that would offer an alternate lodging that is more affordable.

“Cebu is home to me and my family now,” admits the itinerant gentleman who is well-loved by his employees. “There’s a lot of potential here, and we would like to be part of the growth of this country.”

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Trendy Renovation Ideas for the Home or Condo. Part 4

by Christa M. Cañizares IDr.

Part 4:  Upgrade your Choices

A.  Create different moods with lighting. The use of warm colored indirect lighting such as lamps, colored LED back lights, or even string lights can create a cozy and relaxing vibe after a day’s work.


Beautiful lighting can transform a small modern apartment.


B.)  Convert to smart home systems. From door locks, CCTV cameras, you’ll also be able to control and turn on lights, appliances even if you’re away from home. All you need is a wifi connection and the applications on your mobile phone.

Smart phone apps can also control lights and home appliances.

C.) Hire a professional interior designer. We always get an impression that hiring a professional would be expensive, but they actually help you make the best choices and save you from making bad purchases.

Go over design options and your color palette with a professional interior designer to get better results and save more.


IDr. Christa M. Cañizares, piid
Founding Member, Philippine Institute of Interior Designers – Cebu Chapter
Principal Designer, CMC Interior Design
Specializes in residential and commercial design.
A homebody and renovation aficionado.



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Trendy Renovation Ideas for the Home or Condo. Part 3

Trendy Home & Condo Renovation Tips. Part 3

by Christa M. Cañizares IDr.

Part 3: Maximize Impact of Small Spaces

A.)  Storage spaces. You can go with concealed storage systems such as built-in cabinets on walls, under the bed or seating. Keep the items that you use often more reachable than the occasional ones. Choose what works best for your space and for your convenience.

There are many affordable storage options to de-clutter your room.

B.)  Showcase your collection of interesting conversation pieces, like items you acquire from past travels, an artwork, an heirloom, coffee table books or a collector’s item. Make sure to save a special place for them in your home.

Your personal collections can be nice decorative pieces.

C.)  Move things around to attract renewed energy into your space. May it be moving a sofa to the adjacent wall, creating a dining nook near a window, shuffling your accessories on to a different shelf? Little efforts go a long way.

Update your living/family areas with bright color accents that complement the dining area.


IDr. Christa M. Cañizares, piid
Founding Member, Philippine Institute of Interior Designers – Cebu Chapter
Principal Designer, CMC Interior Design
Specializes in residential and commercial design.
A homebody and renovation aficionado.


Continue Reading