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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Trendy Renovation Ideas for the Home or Condo. 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.
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.
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.