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Modern Living

At Home with Malu Veloso: A remembrance of things past

CRAZY QUILT - Tanya T. Lara -

When fashion designer Malu Antonio-Veloso is asked about her favorite place in the house where she grew up, where she moved back, and where in her sixties she now stays, she tells you it’s by the window.

But which window?

The house is no ordinary one — it’s all windows with hardly any walls — it is literally encircled by tall windows without glass or grills but with insect screening. The Antonio house is 60 years old but still retains an elegance befitting an old, stately lady — a little worn-out but still beautiful; or perhaps like an old Hermes bag: frayed around the edges, but, oh, the patina of age has given it a different kind of luster.

It’s said that Jack Manning, who was the manager of the Manila Polo Club, commissioned National Artist for Architecture Pablo Antonio in 1950 to build the Polo Club after he saw Antonio’s own residence in Pasay, this noisy, chaotic city that owns the dubious distinction of being home to both the Cultural Center Complex and numerous motel chains. It struck Manning that Antonio’s residence already looked like a country club where there was “lush greenery and a lot of calm tranquility.”

On one side of the house is a very large garden where, to this day, squirrels run around, though Malu had to buy back one squirrel from a neighbor because it got out. There are 13 coconut trees that they harvest every three months, an atis, mango, kamias, chico and macopa among the fruit-bearing trees. There are also a number of orchid species, champaca, yellow bells, dancing ladies, and santan, which her mother Marina loved to grow. Also scattered around the garden are old stone rice grinders and huge jars collected by her mom. 

It is a garden made even greener after five straight days of rain and only when we are there does the sun come out, and Malu walks in her peach dress and slip-ons on soft grass.

“I don’t have real gardeners, it’s only me,” Malu says. “We just prune the trees. Gardening is my exercise along with yoga.” 

This was the second home that Antonio built for his family — his wife Marina and their six children: Malu, Pablo Jr., Victor, Chito, Ramon and Francis. The first one was on Protacio St., also in Pasay — a two-story affair that would later be sold by the son who inherited it. Malu remembers that first house as being very beautiful as well and having a grand staircase.

The only daughter, she had a very close relationship with her father. So her favorite place in the house, naturally, was also her father’s favorite: by the windows facing the piano.

 “He loved this spot. I would play his favorite Chopin on the piano or sometimes he would sit and listen to classical music. When I was small I loved classical music.”

Malu describes a relationship that was so nurturing that you get the feeling she still misses her old man, who died in 1975, to this day. “I was so happy living here. My father was so loving, so encouraging. When I would make desserts and Mom would say, ‘Ang tigas naman nito,’ Dad would say, ‘Marina, ang sarap-sarap.’ My mom would say, ‘You’re spoiling her,’ and he’d answer, ‘Para sa akin masarap.’ It felt so good to hear that as a child and when I had my own children I realized why you need to be very encouraging. If you criticize everything your children do, they will not pursue their interests.”

Antonio Sr. the architect must have been so influential to his sons that three ended up as successful and well-known architects — Pablo Jr., Chito, and Ramon — while Malu took after her fashion-designer mother. Two of Malu’s daughters also ended up as designers — Letlet and Vicki, the latter shifting to cooking later — and her two sons are in the culinary arts as well: Joey as a chef based in Melbourne, Australia, and Bootsi as a wine enthusiast. 

There is something missing in the legacy that is Pablo Antonio Sr., who was conferred the National Artist in 1976, the second in the field of architecture. Though he was prolific and groundbreaking in his lifetime and was recognized as the foremost modernist architect of his time, he is probably the only National Artist for Architecture — few that they are in the roster — who still doesn’t have a book dedicated to his life and work.

Not many know that Antonio, who was born in 1902 and died in 1975, was orphaned at an early age, that his own widower father was 60 and mother 16 when they started a family, that he took up architecture at the Mapua Institute of Technology and later at the University of London, the latter education funded by engineer Ramon Arevalo who worked on the Legislative Building project in Manila.

 “He came from humble beginnings,” says Malu, “which is very inspiring.”

For the past two and a half years, Malu has been working on a coffee-table book with two young architects, Joel Rico and Benedict Hermoso. The problem is the funding. “We already have some people donating but it’s not enough,” she says. “We wrote a letter to the NCAA but it’s hard to get funding from them.”

Like his house in Pasay, his designs — in the time and context that they were built — were true to the philosophy “function before form.” His son Pablo Jr. was quoted in a book for National Artists as saying, “For our father, every line must have a meaning, a purpose. For him, function comes first before elegance and form.”

Among Antonio’s well-known buildings were theaters (Ideal, Lyric, Galaxy, Scala, Life, Dalisay, and Cinepaco), school buildings (FEU, De La Salle Chapel, Assumption Auditorium and UE Auditorium), residences (Chona and Hans Kasten’s, Mary and Leo Prieto’s, Luisa Perez-Rubio’s), commercial, institutional and office spaces  (Singer Sewing Machine Bldg., Manila Polo Club, Orchid Garden Hotel, Selecta restaurants), and the famous building in Malate, Syquia Apartments, a walk-up five-story apartment complex that has, through the years, been attracting creative souls who have taken up permanent residence, including Inno Sotto, Bart Guingona, Liza Ilarde and Elbert Cuenca, and Kim and Fely Atienza at one point.

Though mayors and corporations are quick to tear down architectural landmarks rather than preserve them for posterity (too expensive to repurpose them the way other countries do — or maybe our leaders just lack imagination), and though Antonio may not have a book that chronicles his life and works, his house on Zamora St. bears the stamp that made him famous — the simplicity and beauty of his lines, the sheer functionality of his spaces. If the interior space fails to lead the visitor in understanding Antonio’s work, the pictures might — on some walls are displayed black-and-white photos of buildings that he designed.

There is only one problem.

Antonio’s sons, three of them architects, want to sell the house, according to Malu. She’s the only holdout.

“I don’t see eye-to-eye with them,” she says. “My conscience doesn’t bother me that I don’t sign because if I do this house is gone. In life, what’s important is not wealth, but remembering the people who went before you. I’m doing this for my dad.”

She says, “My bridal business at The Podium is doing really well. Last March, I did a fashion show in memory of my mom; last September my daughter held a fashion show for me.”

To help in the expense of maintaining the house — big old houses are expensive to maintain — Malu accepts private dining appointments for small groups. Some parties are held in the garden or indoors, where there is no air-conditioning, while some are held in the extension wing that is air-conditioned. She also has an atelier here — a fitting room where she receives clients.

Malu says, “My dad was an A1 father. I cannot say anything bad about him. He treated me like a granddaughter — remember, he married at 40 and I was born when he was 41. When I went to see him in the hospital the day he died, the first thing he said to me was, ‘Can you fix your hair?’ I was the only girl and he wanted me to act like a girl. I wasn’t allowed to wear pants. One sure thing to get him mad was to wear pants in front of him.”

That Malu is holding on to this house may not be practical from a financial point of view — but it is understandable even if you take the aspect of architectural heritage out of the equation because her happy memories live within these walls.

It is hard to let go of that.

ANTONIO

HOUSE

MALU

MDASH

NATIONAL ARTIST

PABLO JR.

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