Sea In The City

first published in Manila Bulletin, 2004

A Porthole Peek Into Karen Padilla’s Private Pulo

ABS-CBN reporter Karen Padilla drops anchor in her new home. Marooned in the middle of land-locked Quezon City, Karen decided to build a little island cove of her very own. With the help of her loved ones, especially her mom, pulling off the quirky design feat turned out to be smooth sailing. Karen’s airy sala feels more like a beach side park than the inside of a townhouse. Instead of the expected couch and coffee table, we have a park bench, a lounge chair, and an abaca rug stamped with nautical patterns. But what Karen is most proud of is her little strip of beachfront property. It’s not an actual piece of real estate but a unique floor decoration composed of wood, glass, shells, and sand that she thought up herself. She had the wooden base for the sand made of old planks, then topped it with her personal shell and starfish collection. Behind it stand a row of empty bottles, like you might find littering the sands at an island resort, gathered from the remnants of various celebrations through the years. This provides a clever example of turning would-be discards into wonderful decor.

The seaside motif extends to the next floor where a miniature lighthouse beams down through the balustrades. The second floor (or upper deck) is also where we find Karen’s not-so-buried treasure in the form of an antique pull-out sofa bed. This ancient piece of furniture, which Karen utilizes as a couch, is of an indeterminate age, but its solid craftsmanship and richly textured wood attest to it definitely having seen several generations of use. “It’s gone through three different houses already, passed on from one family member to another,” Karen confirms. “The stories this sofa can tell! But we’re keeping them all secret,” she jokes. She’s probably hinting that it contains a hidden stash of pirate’s gold secreted within the old timbers. Although a simple piece, it’s sturdy construction hearkens back to the days when furniture was meant to last. “We’ve had it re-finished and re-upholstered. Because of its simple design, we decided that a simple material like katsa, or cheesecloth would work best for the cushions. It’s very comfortable.” Standing beside the venerable couch is an equally aged-looking bookshelf, containing a collection of racy bestsellers that would do very well as beach reading.

Karen apologizes for her home appearing a bit stripped down. She explains that she isn’t completely done with unpacking and arranging her things. But as it is, the uncluttered spaces, bright colors, and nautical accents of her home create a light and breezy living area where you can almost smell the ocean and hear the waves.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved

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There’s No Page Like Home

(first published in Manila Bulletin, 2003)

The Turcuato’s snug Sucat residence mixes the minimalist with the maternal.

Internet and Sports TV trailblazer Jude Turcuato, likes looking upward and outward. His home is all high ceilings and huge windows. You might expect a bit more tech or sports clutter among the decor, but the house is surprisingly spare and simple. It’s a zone of calm and comfort for the busy Turcuatos, a welcome haven from their wired and active careers.

Jude’s wife Tricia, who works for Unilever, states, “When you go home you want to forget about what’s going on outside. Our home is a place to relax and unwind and let go.”

They do remember when their tranquil abode wasn’t always as welcoming, “This house used to be owned by Tricia’s aunt and she gave us a really good deal.,” Jude recalls. “It was originally used by a general as a safe house. And it was built exactly the same way as the neighboring houses. It was very dark. It was such a good price but we really didn’t like the house itself. We wanted to tear it down and build a new one.”

Their house wasn’t the only structure Jude built from the ground up (and with a little help from his family). He is also responsible for setting up and maintaining PinoyExchange, one of, if not the largest Philippine-based online forums, with close to 100,000 registered users and counting.

Jude relates how unlike a lot of young professionals these days, the road to his success and fulfilment actually started by his returning to the Philippines instead of leaving it.

“I went to school in the States. When I graduated there in 1995, I wanted to try things out here but I didn’t know what to do. Going to school seemed the easiest thing to put together. I wanted to join the basketball training team of Ateneo, and in order to be in the team you have to be enrolled. So I enrolled in the Communications department, and that’s where I met Tricia.”

“Jude and I met in class,” corroborates Tricia. “Our professor, Tony Perez, told us that we were soulmates and that I should pursue Jude. He brought me home one day and we talked for 3 hours straight. We’ve been dating ever since. That is, until we got married in 2001.”

The Ateneo not only brought Tricia and Jude together, but also got Jude into sportscasting. “Ateneo is where I saw the ad for Silverstar. Father Holscher was the athletic director at the time. He kind of put the sign up there and had a good relationship with Silverstar. I tried out and they liked my VTR. So tuluy-tuloy na after that. I worked with Silverstar until ABS-CBN got the rights to the UAAP. So it was Silverstar that gave me my break, but it was ABS-CBN that pretty much continued my sportscasting career.”

Jude considers sportscasting to be a part-time sideline, albeit one he particularly enjoys. One wonders then how he went from balls and hoops to nets and links. “PinoyExchange was really started by my cousins,” Jude humbly explains. “Back in 1999, my cousin, who is a doctor based in New Jersey, loved to be a part of the online communities in the states. Back then the Internet wasn’t really that prevalent here. He called us since we were the ones based here and asked if it was a good idea to start some sort of community within the country. He couldn’t do it since he was in the states, but he could help out, give his input,” he narrates.

“So I said, sige. Let’s try it. I didn’t know anything about the internet. Actually, at the time I had just resigned from La Tondena, where I was an assistant brand manager. It was good timing because I was free to start a business. So I started researching about websites.” And the rest is Internet history.

From the very beginning, Jude and his team were discovering that taking an untraveled path would mean a bumpy ride. In fact, PinoyExchange could have been called something else entirely. “The name PinoyExchange was a 3rd or 4th choice. We wanted something different, like PinoyTalk, but they were already taken. PinoyExchange was the only one available so we ended up with it by default,” Jude recounts.

“It was really simple when we started out, we would just use Powerpoint to design the pages and then save them as html. I used my position as a sportscaster to sort of jumpstart PinoyExchange because Silverstar agreed that I could plug the site. We first structured the site to focus on UAAP. So that’s how the whole thing got jumpstarted and after that the viral nature of the internet took over and people just told people. We never really advertised PinoyExchange per se. And now we really have trouble keeping it up because of the traffic. Because we always have to upgrade servers and that costs money. We want to make sure that we don’t spend too much on hosting so that we can continue to survive.”

Jude also gives credit to their lean and mean workforce for the site’s success and profitability. Composed of only five employees, the PinoyExchange team somehow manages to keep such a large and busy site up and running. Although things don’t always operate as smoothly as they wish, a consequence of the site’s enormous popularity. Jude admits to having to function as the company’s treasurer, secretary, and even janitor at times. The company is also very grateful to iAyala for all the support they have given the site, and that a rough-and-casual team like them have been allowed to prosper within the uber-corporate Ayala organization.

Jude appears to have extended his no-fat, no-frills business philosophy to the construction of his house. “Building it didn’t cost that much because the foundation was already here and it’s only a bungalow,” Jude explains. “My personal preference was that I wanted it white and bright. I wanted a lot of openings, huge windows so that the sun can come in. I also wanted high ceilings.”

This clean, unpretentious approach to design also influenced their home’s interiors. There is a refreshingly minimalist slant to the living areas, with vivid touches of colorful Asian objects and art work in all the right places. There are pillows and prints from Bangkok, wood and wicker furniture from the Philippines, and an assortment of pieces handed down or given as gifts by relatives and friends. Tricia also added a few select accents from local shops such as EDIA and Dimensione. The result is a mix that is modern but not stark, cozy but not fussy. Unless you look closely, or are clued in by the Turcuatos, you might not be able to notice a subtle theme to their décor. Scattered about the house are various objets-d’art that suggest a Mother-and-child motif. This is Tricia’s extra little touch to impart just a bit more distinction to their home. Unsurprisingly, she has her mother to thank for helping them implement this charming idea.

But what the Turcuatos are really most proud of is what hangs over their heads. Their living room boasts of a rounded vaulted ceiling, imparting a cathedral-like stature to the airy space. Jude confesses to this one lofty aspiration that he didn’t quite reach, “We wanted the ceiling to be even higher, but the architect advised us that any higher just wouldn’t work anymore.”

The exception to all this bright-and-airiness would be Jude’s domain, the den. Here lay his big boy toys such as the home theatre setup, and of course, the computer. Also displayed prominently is a Michael Jordan poster that once hung in the living room, until Tricia insisted on its relocation.

Much as he helped develop the local Internet industry, Jude also hopes to advance the current state of local sports television. He has just launched a new show on Studio 23, named appropriately enough, Sports TV. It airs every Saturday at 6pm.

“I want this project to work because there really aren’t any local sports news and opinion shows. It’s all just events or games coverage,” Jude declares. “That’s one of the things I really want to be a part of, to create a better awareness of sports. Not just watching the event itself but being able to talk about it, having intelligent discussions, knowing what’s going on.”

When asked who he admires in the sportscasting profession, Jude replies, “My favorite sportscaster is Bob Costas. I think he’s one of the best around because he combines knowledge and delivery and content so well.” Which is all well and good for Bob Costas, but we’re pretty sure that Bob didn’t have to run a website on the side.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved

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