The Art & Paradox of Condo Living

- Paula C. Nocon () - December 7, 2002 - 12:00am
It’s sensuous, yet sensible. It’s a condo, but it looks like a house. It appears new, but most of the things are old. It’s in the heart of the Makati business district, but it feels cozy and private. It has beautiful things on display, but you have even a lot more things hidden. It has masculine streamlining, but feminine luxury."

It’s a story that started with a paradox, and ended with a paradox –the making, breaking and re-making of Erlinda Guanzon’s 21st story apartment in the heart of the Makati business district.

It’s a story of the art of condominium living. And it’s a story of the artistic vision of interior decorator, erstwhile fashion designer and Firma proprietor Chito Vijandre.
Crying Out To Be Solved
After years of owning a house in Loyola Heights and keeping an apartment in New York, after her children had moved out and she was on her own again, after living a bi-continental life of work and leisure, it was high time for Erlinda Guanzon to roost somewhere in between. Makati City was the natural choice of location for a space she could call her new home.

But things weren’t working out as planned. Her apartment came out smaller than she expected. A high-rise building had materialized next to her building, giving her little privacy. And after nurturing a packrat habit of collecting since her youth, she had a treasure trove of items that she could not bear to part with, but nowhere to put.

She asked Chito, her friend of nearly 30 years, for help and inspiration.

"When Erlinda came to me, she was so depressed," says Chito. "She bought the apartment pre-construction, and when it was all done she was very unhappy with the structure. It was just too small."

To which Chito replied, "I never dwell on problems. Everything can be solved. Let’s make the most of them."

The first step was to clean up the beams and heighten the ceiling, which was lower than the standard 10 feet. Chito created an illusion of depth by using two different colors – "greige" and crème anglaise – as well as cornices for the ceiling.

Then, the reordering of space. "The master’s bedroom was too cramped; she’s used to a bigger space so we knocked down a wall and made an entire wing for her! She only has two bedrooms now – the other is a guest room – but that’s okay since she’s living alone. So now we have a master’s bedroom that is as big as the living-dining area!"

And then there was privacy, which Chito explains is a downside of high-rise living. This required extensive window-dressing. "I never liked curtains, plus Erlinda is asthmatic, so we put wooden louvers on all the windows. It is a more permanent solution, and makes the place somehow look more like a house."

But it was storage space that gave Chito the biggest headache. "I really had to rack my brains for that one. First, I had to convince Erlinda to get rid of so much! Then I had to make sure that the storage areas I would provide for her would be as inconspicuous as possible."

Together, Erlinda and Chito oversaw the reconstruction of the place. Three bedrooms became two. Windows gave way to louvers. Walls had to keep closets.

When the skeleton of the apartment was done, it was time for the fun part: filling it up.
Eclectic Mix
"Usually, when a client approaches me I have to interview them," says Chito of his approach to client-designer relations. "Just a couple of lunches or dinners to foresee their character and personality. I have to see their lifestyle, the things they have. The way they move within their space. Eventually, we get into a compromise – I don’t really want to dictate because I’m not the one living there. I guide a client, give them advice on investment pieces, depending on their needs."

His working relationship with Erlinda was ideal, according to Chito, because of their long friendship. "From the start I knew what she wanted. I know her to be very tactile. She herself is an artist; she has a great eye for beauty. She’s passionate. She loves luxury. Most of her things are really good pieces–few, but they’re good. She’s very warm, so I decided on warm tones. I asked her if she wanted to try a minimalist Zen look, and she said, ‘No, you know me.’ So we agreed on traditional, but with a twist."

Careful not to make the living-dining area look like "an English drawing room" or a "boudoir," Chito and Erlinda combined all sorts of influences, different types of wood, pieces from Erlinda’s old homes in Loyola Heights, New York and her family’s ancestral house in Pampanga, and choice selections from Firma and New York flea markets. The look had to be cozy enough for small groups of eight or 10 that Erlinda prefers to entertain.

Instead of wallpaper, the walls were painted and waxed, to give them sheen without gloss. The furniture was over-scaled, an interior design trick done to make the place appear larger.

The sofa, a classic three-seater rendered in gray Thai silk and accentuated with jeweled throw pillows from Firma, was specially designed by Chito. It is complemented by a pair of empire chairs, purchased at a New York flea market, upholstered in deep green Thai silk. A focal point is an antique cabinet from Firma, originally used as a wardrobe in China, situated beside a romantic, native antique wooden lovechair from Pampanga.

The objets d’art on the tabletops and the floor are few and carefully selected, making each one stand out: Exquisite crystal pieces from Baccarat and Lalique; two small Persian carpets strewn haphazardly; a pair of cushioned ottomans converted from Thai altar pieces; brass art deco floor lamps salvaged from Pampanga.

To make up for the apartment’s lack of a skyline view, Chito brought in landscape paintings from Erlinda’s collection of Ibarras. "I deliberately chose landscape themes to give the place a sense of nature. They’re actually picture windows!"

The adjoining dining area continues the gray, green and beige color scheme. The table and chairs, Greek in style but rounded and modernized, were shipped from Italy – a dining set of "perfect craftsmanship, perfect proportions, made to last forever" as Chito would say. Crowning the room is a chandelier of green and clear crystal beads acquired from a New York flea market. The finishing touch is a large made-to-order mirror, European in style and designed by Chito, above the wooden service table.

All this against the backdrop of an elegant Chinese screen done in black, green and red, which provides a feel of nature as done by the paintings. This divider screen is also functional: It creates a mini-foyer, blocking the living-dining area from view upon entering the main door. Within this narrow corridor, Chito placed a reproduction of an Italian baroque mirror, Ming dynasty jars, miniature gilt chairs found in a flea market, and a bench from Firma–all under a predominant red color motif.
Private Sanctuary
For her bedroom suite, Erlinda only had to say the word "sanctuary." And for Chito, this meant "cocoon." Quite literally! "It was for acoustic and aesthetic purposes. Sound tends to bounce within condo walls, so we padded some wall panels for her TV and stereo system. And then I wanted the space to look really soft, so I put in a cushioned headboard. And then the furniture here in her sitting area is also soft and comfortable. Very relaxed, not stiff at all. So you have this cocoon without it looking like a padded cell!"

Done in darker shades, the bedroom is not frilly or frivolous – it has a streamlined look, and is almost masculine in its luxuriousness. The reason for this was Erlinda’s request for functionality and uncluttered-ness: the padded headboard is actually a bookshelf, the paneled walls are closets, and even the wood-and-wicker antique Chinese wardrobes act as cabinets. And the most irresistible object of this form-and-function philosophy is a rare English secretariat bought from an antique shop, carefully carved and painted, but containing several drawers within.

Likewise, the guest room has hidden storage cleverly incorporated into the ceiling for Erlinda’s comforters and beddings. Again using over-scaled furniture – matching teakwood Napoleonic campaign bed, side tables, and loveseat from Georgian Lane, plus a TV cabinet from Tomlinson – the guest room retains the eclectic mix of the entire apartment.
Je Ne Sais Quoi
But it is a sense of drama that makes the "Chito Vijandre style" what it is, and it is drama that is the most striking element of this apartment.

"Lighting is very important," says Chito. "Here you find three kinds of lighting. Indirect fluorescent light, pinlights on the ceiling, and direct task lighting, since Erlinda loves to read. All done with dimmers of course!"

Erlinda adds: "Flowers are a must. It’s a way of pampering yourself. You don’t have to wait for someone to give you flowers! I make it a point to buy flowers for my home at least once a week."

And to add to the condo unit’s je ne sais quois dimension of flair, drama and uniqueness is Erlinda’s personal touch. She says: "It has to be me. Everything here I have to like personally. Before, when I was younger, I used to think about what other people would say. But I know myself very well at this stage in my life, and if you’re confident about what you have, regardless of its price, you stick to it. And somehow, everything just fell into place!"

Chito agrees. "This apartment is an ode to this woman, it’s an opus of her life, of her history, of all that she’s been through. This is the culmination of it all. Erlinda is at that stage in her life when she can call her life her own. It’s a second lease. Your life is more simplified, you live by yourself and for yourself, you have nothing to prove. You just want your own sanctuary."
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