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The House That Food Built

Made for a family with the passion and panache for cooking, this seaside getaway houses the traditions of Balinese architecture as well as of its food-savvy residents.

Made for a family with the passion and panache for cooking, this seaside getaway houses the traditions of Balinese architecture as well as of its food-savvy residents.

It all started when the owners, a family that leads the local restaurant industry specializing in Filipino cuisine, purchased this property from a friend—an expansive lot extending from the main road towards a cliff that conceals a strip of white sand beach. The estate boasts of an extensive view of the Camotes Sea, Leyte, and the Camotes group of islands and is located in Tagnucan, Borbon, less than a couple of hours ride towards the North from Metro Cebu. Away from the rush of city life, the traffic noise, and the electricity of a metropolis in the midst of rapid economic growth, it was decided that it would be in this humble, fourth-class coastal municipality that the family shall install their comforting hideaway—a place to recharge their souls and to remember their reasons for what they do, how they do it, and why they should continue doing it.

The family’s matriarch comes from a long line of fine cooks with a rooted home cooking tradition, so it is not surprising that her food would become an instant hit soon after opening their first restaurant. From one humble restaurant, they have spawned six branches around the southern regions of the country in a span of ten years. Since the family’s applied craft has now become a landmark, it was time to take root again, manifesting their love of food and family tradition in the single, most representative sign of familial bond—a house.

The family asked Albert Garbanzos, a long-time collaborator in their restaurant business, to render the architecture, one of Balinese motif. Balinese architecture is known to bring together the natural elements within and outside the structure. Houses often open to the surrounding vista showcasing glistening coastlines, rolling hills, majestic mountains, or lush forests. The use of natural materials is highly emphasized allowing an obvious use of wood and stone. Roofs made of clay tile are also common in Balinese residential architecture as well as the incorporation of foliage such as bamboo and other indigenous tropical flora. The layout is usually of a square template, signaling the four directions of the Balinese compass. Earth tones dominate the color scheme as if to mimic the hues of the earth. It was the family’s wish that the house reinterpret these Bali-inspired specifications in order to bring about their own ideas.

Construction took about six months and by 2009, the house was finished. Some areas became collaborations between Garbanzos and the owners. Certain details had to be adjusted to meet with the family’s vision, like the grand adobe wall edging the interior living area as well as the massive wooden trusses for the ceiling. The building is executed in full modern Balinese theme—it is widely earth toned with an extensive use of hardwood and natural stone, the overhanging clay-tiled roofs are complete with spires, and finally there appear to be no walls especially towards the direction that beholds the fabulous view.

Outside, the entire cliff is terraced for a more efficient use of space as well as to make the house look even more elevated, even as it is already perched on the highest peak along the coast. The infinity pool rests on the middle level in between two separate gardens and outdoor entertaining spaces. These spaces, as well as the rest of the 4,000-square-foot property apart from the building, were taken care of by landscape architect Jaime Chua. Flora consists of a variety of palms, bamboo, and flowering shrubs. Hut lamps line walkways and light little tableaus of foliage, bouquets of different shades of green in various forms and configurations.

In its interiors, the house departs from its Balinese theme, if only in the most minimal sense. Designed by Nancy Roble, the arrangements are succinct yet still visually stimulating. The palette ranges from earth tones, mostly browns, punctuated by sudden bursts of bright, tropical colors. The main door opens to two sentinel-like Buddha figures and a large table lamp with a ripple detail on its body and flanked by vessels with frangipani blooms and massive fern leaves. A quaint courtyard centered by a cluster of healthy bamboo divides the main interior space from the entry doors. The largest interior space includes the living and entertaining area as well as the dining space. Here, the interior design takes center stage, a subdued mix of Southeast Asian antique décor, modern furniture, and local art by Dodong Bandibas. In harmony with the Balinese motif, the interior spaces have their share of foliage too, from orchids to birds of paradise and bird’s nest ferns.

It is interesting to note though that despite the entire Balinese theme of harmony, the makers of the house still had their bits of disagreement as far as the relationship between architecture and interior design were concerned, surfacing as ideas were thrown around back and forth. In the end, the matters were resolved peacefully and professionally and ultimately, the family’s vision was achieved.

Today, the owners come to their seaside hideaway as often as they possibly can. And when they come, they bring with them the reason for their success and their distinct bond —the love of home cooking. On these days of leisure and fellowship, the house receives not just the fresh salty breeze of the Camotes Sea but also the rich and unique aromas of the family’s famed renditions of Filipino cuisine. Most of the family’s celebrations are held here, in the privacy of the house that their passion had built. On not so ordinary weekends, they would gather and hold cook-off contests among themselves and even if only one family member wins, everyone is full and satisfied in the end.

by Russ Ligtas photography Jon Unson


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