My work (believe it or not, I do work) has taken me away from one of the most endearing pursuits, writing. I usually begin my columns or articles in pencil, on yellow pad, then move on to the laptop, nestled on a pillow literally on my lap in bed, as I peacefully conjure the stories I want to share on my journey.
Today is a bit different. I chose to write on a plane, on a joyride with the wind and rain pelting on the window, where you feel the howl as you lightly ride the clouds under sheeting water.
But this isn’t just any ordinary plane; it isn’t in an airport or even a hangar. It’s not even in flight. It’s the Mosphil Lounge, a repurposed Soviet 50-seater, once owned by Mosphil Aero, a short-lived airline ferry company down south. The Antonov 24-B set the location for this little story as I share where my joys take me.
I had an opportunity to work with the Lhuillier sisters Angie and Camille (and continue to do so #choosehappiness) to retrofit this ’50s aircraft as a venue for the much-in-demand Roxas Boulevard seaside mansion (or was once) Palacio de Memoria, anecdotally originally owned by a Zobel before the war.
Now, 70 or so years later, it is in the stewardship of the sisters, and perhaps one of the beautiful homes in the city, especially one that survived the carpet-bombing of Manila. (My other home of choice would be Benitez’s Mira Nilad in New Manila, but don’t let me get ahead of myself.)
When asked to fix the plane I wasn’t given design direction; they said, “Just ‘wing’ it…” pardon the pun. Sitting in a stripped-down airframe, I conjured a story of the swinging ’60s, with the very “yeah, baby, yeah” voice of Mike Myers’ character as Austin Powers.
That’s just half of the real story. The real deal is that the idea of doing interiors never crossed my site line. Not that I hadn’t fixed a few apartments, and helped people with choosing items for their homes. I didn’t study for it, nor was it my business. I was a management consultant! But the universe conspires to guide you to a path that draws out your inner creativity. And perhaps, like writing, doing these types of work opens opportunities.
This was the chance to visit my favorite places in our years of traveling to Lisbon, Madrid, London and Venice — and side trips in between — while ensconced in this built-to-last aircraft with a glass of champagne.
I got a crack at finishing the secret bar on the Palacios’ seventh floor, with peeking windows akin to watching a nuclear blast site (or the Okada, used interchangeably to describe burning cash). The Bunker Bar inspired me as an Out of Africa-meets-Jumanji sort of place.
British campaign style always endeared me. Living in San Francisco, we were habitués of the now closed Bombay Company, and the idea stuck. Chockablock with pelts, taxidermy, horns and suitcases, it was a gentleman’s’ cigar bar rekindling the conquest of India or French Africa. In this case, it was yet another visual manifestation of taking you to the past, for use in the present.
As I continue to write this piece, on the Mosphil, in the hope of traveling beyond the Philippines, I recently finished setting up for the third auction of Casa de Memoria, the auction house dedicated to unique European pieces, from 16th century to modern hyperrealism.
The big auctions are the domain of the house’s head curator Miguel Rosales, and this online auction was my first setup. This was the chance to visit my favorite places in our years of traveling to Lisbon, Madrid, London and Venice — and side trips in between — while ensconced in this built-to-last aircraft with a glass of champagne, in pseudo flight from Margarita Forés’ al-fresco café, The Loggia at the Palacio.
Yet again a challenge in displaying pieces selected that are really meant to elevate style in one’s home, I asked Michelle Lao of @lightitupsolano to add character to exquisite pieces. Antique 20th-century Italian gilt-ceramic lamps by Artepiu have been refreshed with contemporary accent shades (Lots 034-041).
And I took on the challenge of reupholstering one-of-a-kind chairs, which proved a bit of a number since this writer is colorblind! But with the help of Margie (my wife), who patiently walked through a video call to help me select colors, I was able to refresh a few chairs that would simply be perfect as “that one piece” for the home.
A personal favorite is the Chinoiserie-inspired, early 19th-century Spanish mahogany side chair in Isabellino style, with cushioned backrest and seat (Lot 062) reupholstered with contemporary textile, and the orange (I got that right) 20th-century vanity chair (Lot 059), a European round tufted seat with casters.
But the most arresting and whimsical montage was the processional entrance to the auction floor.
The hyperrealist oil painting on canvas depicting an empty rocks glass (Lot 090) in monochrome yellow, “Untitled” by Portuguese artist Teresa Dias Coelho (b. 1954) (Lot 090) sets the “tone” as one enters the Casa Auction: Tercero. This procession to the entrance steps echoes a gentleman’s taste, covering collectibles from toys to pieces for the “big boys.”
The vignettes in photos make the auction, with an assortment of china, crystal and art that are all within the realm of imagination.
With motifs of birds, fruits, and flowers, the Sacavém Ceramic Dinner Set (Lot 14), a set of 40 20th-century Portuguese vintage ceramic dinner pieces painted with blue floral decorations, brings to the Casa the prestige of its provenance from the region of Sacavém, one of the oldest settlements in Portugal, which became known for its rich ceramic industry in the 19th century.
Playfully alluding to bird watching are the set of Vista Alegre plates with polychrome birds (Lot 015) and the French theater binoculars (Lot 114) displayed next to each other.
There are two Filipino pieces on display: one by postwar and contemporary painter Edgardo Sarmiento (b. 1940), an oil on canvas painting titled “Basilio Sampaloc” (Lot 099); another by the renowned Fernando Zobel, an untitled lithography (Lot 052) reminiscent of his aim toward simplicity via abstraction.
Others in the group are the hyperrealist work of Gustavo Fernandes (b. 1964) titled “Bath Time” (Lot 089); cubist work by Said Yaghfouri (b. 1977) from Morocco (Lot 086); surrealist painting of lemons titled “Bodegón Onírico Junto al Mar” by Spanish artist Martin Zerolo (1928-2003) (Lot 087); and “Talvez” (Perhaps) by Portuguese Joana Rêgo (b. 1970).
Playful rearrangements of pieces from contrasting times and styles are all in the name of the Rococo period’s signature asymmetry and Chinoiserie. There are antiques vis-à-vis modern pieces for the home; Orientalia, as evident in the pair of Chinese porcelain figures of Fuxing and Luxing (Lot 022) vis-à-vis Chinoiserie, or European-made pieces in Asian style.
Especially exemplifying the Chinoiserie feel are the porcelain lots from Vista Alegra (Lots 112 and 029) on the glass table, the Charles IV style Spanish runner (Lot 010), and the pair of Louis XV fauteuils (Lot 063), reupholstered by myself to elevate one’s home.
Unifying the theme in the vignette is the oil painting depicting a Venetian scene (Lot 091). Venice, historically, is the entrepôt linking the trade routes between Asia and Europe.
Fin de Siecle vs. Midcentury moderns
In addition to the main attraction at the end of Casa Tercero’s Preview Hall, these corners extend the spirit of asymmetry and contradiction. On the right corner are pieces alluding to the turn of the19th to the 20th century, called fin-de-siecle. Exhibited here are classic works of art, befitting a timeless taste.
From depictions of nudes in aquarelle by Darío Vilás Fernández and a Portuguese school oil on wood (Lots 006, 075), down to the Isabellino-style side chair (Lot 062) and Mahogany Vanity Dresser with mirror (Lot 066) — they’re all under the neo-classical zeitgeist.
The other corner embodies the artistic rebellion against the classic in art. Midcentury Modern fine and decorative pieces, such as the “Lips”-style chair (Lot 061) is a clear homage to the genius of trailblazer Salvador Dali. Eduardo Roldan’s (1926-2017) “Deconstruction” (Lot 051) appears to be faithful to its title, as the work, while in itself finished, seems to be disturbingly undone in composition. (This signals the rise of “Postmodern Art,” the aim of which is to disturb what defines art in either its utilitarian or aesthetic senses.)
Fortuity continues to beckon. A good friend and a columnist christened me as a “house whisperer” and perhaps with reason. The space calls me to give it new purpose. And in doing so, it gives me a sense of being. I do have a few more interesting spaces to share in future guest columns with you. For now, the flight comes to an end, and so does the drink. A deadline beckons.
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To explore the auction pieces online, visit bit.ly/CasaDeMemoriaOnline. You may set an appointment to view the items in person at [email protected] or call 8253-3994. The event is powered by Smart Infinity.