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The Homes of Zee

John Hilson’s Sleek City Space is Beyond Alluring

With a passion for creating stylish urban spaces, John Hilson brings contemporary design
and playful details together in his Arya Residences home.

John Hilson’s flat at Arya Residences in Bonifacio Global City has totally redefined the dramatic entrance for me. From the front door, a narrow hallway leads your eyes straight to the far side of the room, where floor-to-ceiling windows offer stunning 180-degree views of Metro Manila below.

“It’s hands down my favorite part of the home,” John admits, sharing that the large windows were really the highlight of the living and dining areas. “The space fills with an orange glow every evening when the sun goes down. It’s spectacular.”

The small terrace becomes a mini oasis in the middle of the bustling metropolis, the green turf complemented by the bright orange cushions of the outdoor lounge and the pair of starfish that recalls beach holidays

An insurance executive, John has always been interested in design, and enjoys buying and redecorating homes before leasing them out or selling them. “Any day, any time, I could window shop for furniture and accessories,” he shares. “In high school, I was excited about residential architecture but business administration won me over.”

“I would say my design style is urban eclectic. I’m particular when it comes to design, but I like whimsy in my spaces, just like I enjoy some humor in a serious conversation,” John continues. That juxtaposition is certainly seen here—modern black and gray tones are played up with bright patterned wallpaper and home décor in pops of color.

a narrow hallway leads into the living area, the visual made even more dramatic with a mirror covering one entire wall. The triptych depicting New York’s skyline is echoed by the actual view outside the window

John admits, though, that he didn’t have a specific look or style in mind when he was creating the space. “I wanted to work with texture, pattern and color,” he says, laughing when he realizes that these are things that might not necessarily come together easily. “In the wallpaper, polished concrete, paint and building materials, I was able to combine them with a certain harmony, rather than a clash.”

“I’m particular when it comes to design, but I like whimsy in my spaces, just like I enjoy some humor in a serious conversation.” -John

The second bedroom is converted into an office space, the masculinity of the sturdy wooden desk and deer bust sculpture softened by the upholstered cheers and bold patterned wallpaper

The patterns really come into play through the wallpaper John picked for two bedrooms. “I wanted to really bring the bedrooms to life, and the bold patterns worked!” John says and adds that he had gotten the wallpaper from Studio 11 along Amorsolo in Makati. “The master bedroom needed to feel natural, so the oversized green pattern and walnut floors really helped me forget the city on the other side of the glass. The second bedroom was something fun. When I bought the pattern, I asked if anyone else had purchased it. The salesmen told me no, so I had to get it!”

John softens the effect of the bold prints with modern furniture. “I hat to admit it, but some of the furniture is mainstream, like IKEA. I lived in Hong Kong before moving to the Philippines, and some of the pieces I brought with me—from OVOHOME, TREE,” he explains.

The wallpaper of the master bedroom continues into the bath for a touch of continuity, while the side table turned vanity is a rustic touch to the room.

There are some pieces, of course, that come with their own stories. “I’m particularly fond of the master bathroom vanity—it was a side table I picked up at a vintage store in Bangkal. I had it painted black, found a nice marble top and sink, and converted it into a vanity,” John recalls.


“The triptych photo in the hallway is a view of Paris taken from on top of the Arc De Triomphe, and our collection of travel photographs in the front hallway that leads to the study.” Arranged carefully around the unit are also antiques that he’d gotten on trips to Istanbul, Myanmar, Cambodia and other destinations.

Infusing good, contemporary design with personality is something that John seems to have mastered, but he admits it didn’t come so easy. “I had too many ideas!” he exclaims. “Like packing for a trip or getting ready to go out, it’s critical to edit. This was one of my more creative projects, and sometimes having too many ideas got the best of me.”

The earthy tones of the floor and leaves in the wallpaper is punctuated by a bright yellow side table; a very utilitarian space, the kitchen is kept mostly free of décor, save for the trio of lamps that hang above the counter.

Of course, John will be getting more practice—he currently has another Makati condo unit in the works. “It’ll take on a much lighter and fresher feeling,” he reveals. “I’d like to use white, cream and wood tones, and apply color in accessories.”

furnishings were kept gray, as John believes it’s easier to change the look of the place by changing up the decorative elements. For now, he plays up the space with pops of color in the throw pillows, lamps and the striped area rug; wallpapers aren’t the only way to create accent walls—an industrial element comes in through the brushed concrete wall in the living area to provide a contrast to the sleek pieces

With design being a personal passion, John is clearly not confining himself to one particular design aesthetic—each project becomes a character onto itself, and he’s happily gathering more ideas for future spaces. “Research your ideas first. Pinterest and Instagram offer all sorts of inspiration—you’ll find some gems, and maybe some rotten apples,” he advises people who plan on giving decorating a try. “If you think you know what you really want but need to manage the budget, go with earth tones, creams and solid colors for the biggest pieces. Bring color and texture in the accessories—plus, you can afford to change these more often than your sectional sofa!”


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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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