Rebuilding a family homeBy Marinel R. Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
GUIGUINTO, Bulacan—“Looking back, I now appreciate the petty arguments I had with Robert when it came to choosing one furniture over another,” said singer-actress Isay Alvarez as she recalled the experience of rebuilding her parents’ home here in 2008.
Isay is married to Robert Seña, singer and theater stalwart, with whom she has three kids—Didang, 26; Bok, 20, and Miong, 13.
The couple started the “project” in November 2008, the year Isay’s father, Onesto, died.
Isay told Living Stars: “My dad loved this place. He stayed here even after my mom passed on. When he died, we decided to turn it into a home that my own family could enjoy. Robert and I got really fixated; it was all we talked about. There was a time when our kids were already complaining, ‘Puro na lang para sa Bulacan’ (It’s all for Bulacan)! We also fought about it a lot.”
The couple commissioned architects Nick and Ivy Puzon to design the new house and had Bulacan-based architect Gigi Gabe to execute it.
Isay said the house became their focus for almost half a year. “As in our house in Quezon City, which we filled with keepsakes from travels abroad, this place was full of things we bought
from all over the Philippines.”
These included a wooden bowl from Palawan, a shell ornament from Bangui, Ilocos Norte, and fabrics from Benguet Province.
Isay, youngest in a brood of five, grew up in this house that stands on a 500-square-meter property.
She recalled: “It burned down when I was a teenager and my parents renovated it into a bungalow. I think I was the one who caused the fire because I failed to turn off an old electric fan when I left to visit a friend in Malolos town. When I came back, we didn’t have a house anymore.”
The couple initially wanted windows made from capiz and wood but decided against the idea in the end. “It’s impractical,” Isay explained. “We instead used stained glass, which made the house look better because they’re colorful.”
They also reused materials from the old house, “like the tanguile pieces from our old barn,” Isay said.
The recycled pieces of wood were used as ceilings for the storage room and patio, as well as for the pillars by the staircase. The couple tried to replicate the intricate designs of the old house’s iron grills.
“I remember singing ‘Bahay Kubo’ in our backyard,” Isay recounted. Her dad planted vegetables like okra, pepper, eggplant, malunggay, kamias, patola and upo.
“He even raised pigs! I didn’t know how all those fitted here,” she said. “Now, I remember my parents whenever I visit my garden. I’ve planted herbs like basil, rosemary and kafir lime, which I occasionally harvest to bring home to Manila. They’re important ingredients for my Thai dishes.”
Robert and Isay also planted fruit-bearing trees like mango, duhat, atis, jackfruit and calamansi around the house.
Isay said that when it came to designing the house, she left the decision-making to Robert. “That’s his specialty. He loves scouting for interesting fixtures, like the antique lampshade from Kamias (Quezon City). He came home very excited one day and showed it to me as he was crossing the street. I said, ‘Ang pangit (It’s ugly)!’ But he cleaned it and transformed it into this beautiful thing.”
The lampshade, made of brass and crystal, now sits proudly in a corner of the living room.
All around the house are pieces of sculpture by Randy Llazo, who also uses recycled wood. The daybed, sofa and cabinets, all made of ipil, are from Vigan in Ilocos Norte.
“The wooden rocking chair belonged to my lola,” Isay added.
Robert is especially proud of the authentic Machuca tiles on the floor of the second-floor kitchen, as well as on the patio and ground floor. “We met the owners of the tile shop in Quiapo and they gave us a big discount. These tiles are unique,” he said.
(According to the site www.machucatile.com, these tiles were first introduced in the Philippines in 1900. Old pieces are still found in old churches like San Beda and San Sebastian in Manila, as well as in the homes of illustrious Filipino families like the Zobels in Calatagan, Batangas.)
Robert showed Living Stars his collection of vinyl records. “I unearthed some of the family’s records, cleaned them to get rid of the molds,” he said. He then bought a record player at a mall in Mandaluyong City and began buying vinyl records of his own. His top five favorites are those of Frank Sinatra, Stan Getz, Billy Idol, Tony Bennett and Earl Klugh.
They bought the six-seater wooden dining set from a shop in White Plains, Quezon City.
Consistent with the all-Filipino theme, the couple served ginataang halo-halo, inipit, bonete and kapeng barako for merienda—with table napkins from Vigan—during the Inquirer visit.
“We hold evening parties on the balcony during weekends,” said Robert, while Sergio Mendes music played in the background. “It’s breezy here and, on a cloudless night, you can see the stars. We usually schedule get-togethers when the moon is full. It’s really inspiring.”
Isay turned melancholic when she recalled the family reunion she organized last year. “I asked all of my siblings to come home in January 2011. I wanted them to see and experience the new house. In December of that same year, my eldest brother, who was based in New York, died almost as soon as he was diagnosed with cancer. That reunion was the last time we all saw him.”
She said they decided to follow the old house’s original layout, which had two bedrooms and a kitchen. “When we built the second floor, we made sure it was self-contained. I imagine Robert and I growing old here. When that time comes, it’s good to know that everything is within our reach.”
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