Heaven For Little Girls

first published in Manila Bulletin, 2005

Cheerful but comfortable, fun but functional, the rooms of the young Abalos girls show how kids can make a space their own.

It has been said that all little girls are princesses. However, Charlene and Corinne Abalos, grandchildren of former mayor Banjamin Abalos, and daughters of former mayor and current congressman Benhur Abalos, can easily lay claim to being Mandaluyong royalty. But it’s not like they’re putting on airs. On the contrary, the kids are good-natured, chatty, and fresh-faced, full to the brim with energy and ideas. During the recent holiday season, the girls were bubbling over with excitement planning the Christmas party for the family and household staff, and organizing the Kris Kringle exchange gift logistics. It turns out that the Abalos girls are not only budding event organizers, but promising interior designers as well.

Charlene and Corinne can actually take the credit for much of the conceptualization of their rooms’ interiors. Their mom, Mrs. Menchie Abalos, gave them both free reign to think of how they wanted their rooms to look like. With the guidance of their Tita Myla Tirado, who also helped design the rooms of their other siblings, they were able to realize many of their whimsical decorating ideas. Left to their own creative devices, the girls came up with a cozy combo of Neverland, Wonderland, Oz, and Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Each room is a little girl’s personal dreamspace, a tribute to a child’s imagination, a special playground for kids and by kids. They’re best described in the words of their visiting friends, who say that once you’re in Charlene and Corinne’s rooms, you never want to leave. The rooms glow with bright hues and quirky patterns. Wooden molding and shelves in pastel colors accent the walls of warm cream. As an added fanciful detail, flowers have been delicately hand-stencilled onto every wall, geraniums for Charlene, lilacs for Corinne. Most of the furniture has been made to order, from the uniquely shaped beds to the plush chairs with the fuzzy upholstery. Continuing with the floral motif, the mantelpieces, armoires, and side tables displaying the girls’ assorted knick-knacks follow a scalloped petal outline. While in Charlene’s room, a gigantic exotic pink blossom holds up her entertainment system, its counterpart in Corinne’s room is a large dollhouse of salmon and peach, within which resides a clique of Bratz dolls. Not one to be outdone, since Corinne had her dollhouse, Charlene asked for a vanity table in the shape of a castle complete with towers from which hang her school medals. But what the kids are really proud of though are their specially-made, one-of-a-kind beds. If there was one thing that Charlene had her heart set on once she started planning her room, it was a heart-shaped bed. Her Tita Myla was able to oblige her and then some, creating a curved headboard covered in velvet, and having the mattress custom-cut out of Uratex foam to the desired specifications. For Corinne, she put together a shooting star with a rainbow tail, finishing off with flower-shaped mattress and base. Lying down on these elaborate confections, sweet dreams are guaranteed. As a convenient space-saver, full-length mirrors double as sliding doors for the girls’ wardrobes.

Scattered neatly around the premises are an assortment of stuffed toys, memorabilia, and play figures. Disney princesses and M&M candies for Charlene, Spongebob Squarepants and furry animals for Corinne. Charlene is also an accomplished golfer. She was introduced to the sport by her grandfather, an avid linksman himself. Her room displays a trophy and a few framed articles and pictures showing her enthusiasm for the game.

Eventually the kids might begin to opt for more sophisticated designs for their quarters, maybe something similar to their elder sisters’ tastes. But for now, Mrs. Abalos isn’t at all worried about the kids out-growing their rooms’ décor yet, not when she sees how much they’re enjoying themselves. At their age, there’s still a lot of time for play and toys. The fun has just begun for Charlene and Corinne, and they’ve clearly got the rooms to grow.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved

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Measure of A Man: Joji Aguilar finally fits in

Designer Joji Aguilar

For celebrated fashion designer Joji Aguilar, moving into his new condominium in San Juan was a fortuitous occasion in more ways than one. “I decided to move in on January 22, which is the Chinese New Year, since they say its lucky,” he reveals. “I’m turning forty this March. Life is supposed to begin at forty. So I really hurried to get settled in my own place by my 40th birthday. I’ve wanted to be on my own for a long time.”

Joji used to live with his parents at their home in Quezon City. But his clients who lived south of the metropolis complained that it was too far. So, as a compromise he chose San Juan, “which is kinda in the middle,” as he puts it. “I found this place and I loved the view. It’s also very convenient for my clients.”

He then asked for his parents’ blessing. “They were reluctant at first, I’d been living with them for forty years, and they felt it wasn’t necessary for me to move. But I talked about it with them and they eventually understood, I showed them this place, and they loved it as well. I told them that I was going to get a 3 bedroom unit, with one for them if they want to stay over, one for my work, and one for me.”

It took a month and a half to remodel the space to Joji’s satisfaction. “At least I finished by my target date,” he states with relief, while sharing some hard-earned construction sense. “When you decide to fix a place, plan it well. Decide where you want everything before you tear out the walls or put the ceiling up. It will eventually cost you to have things opened up again and repainted. Plan out where you want each area to be, so that you can properly position the lighting.”

The ceiling previously featured a latticework that was eventually covered and incorporated into a cove lighting scheme to better highlight the dining room centrepiece. For his fitting room, which is Joji’s favorite space, partitions were constructed and a wall extended. Joji installed a museum-quality sculpted wooden divider, which was custom-designed by Lor Calma in 1963, and lit it from behind as an impressive wall accent, thus cleverly disguising the extension. This philosophy of creative camouflage greatly influenced the condo’s construction. “For example, I didn’t want to have a big stereo component in my sala because it will eat up the space and add unsightly wires. So I had it set up in a way that the music is piped in from my room to speakers in the sala’s ceiling and you can’t see the component and wires.”

Reminiscent of his fashions, Joji’s home is dramatic but not melodramatic, stimulating but not outlandish. “My clothes are very simple, with very few accents, just like my house. I like things light and airy, simple and elegant. I don’t want cramped rooms full of things you can bump into. Same as with my clothes, I don’t want a lot of decoration.” Splashes of vivid reds and greens are tempered by bouquets of white lilies and the earth tones of vintage wood and wicker. “My active color is red, even in my clothes and fashion shows I always use red, black, and white. I chose very simple white flowers, such as lilies and baby’s breath flowers because they complement the red.” The dining table centrepiece of green-colored fruits came about from a happy coincidence. “I have a best friend who loves green mangoes, while my sisters love dayap juice. That’s why I always have these fruits on the table.”

Most of Joji’s furnishings were generously given by his parents from their ancestral home as a grand housewarming present. The modernist influence of Filipino design legend Lor Calma can clearly be discerned in the classic lines of Joji’s vintage divider, chairs, sofa, dining set and coffee table. An avowed jetsetter, Joji added a few pieces from his travels. Various examples of Asian art from Thailand, China, and Japan, add an intriguing oriental tone to the rooms. “I love Asian pieces and icons, I don’t worship them but I like how they look. It makes the place feel exotic.” Buddhas serenely recline on endtables, painted porcelain urns stand tall beside dressmaker’s forms clad in Joji’s creations, and a truly stunning kimono woven from silk and embroidered with real gold hangs framed on the wall across the sofa. “This is a ceremonial kimono, used as a bridal gown by Japanese women,” Joji explains. “It’s the topmost layer which is the most ornate one. The pattern of birds has a special meaning. When I first went to Tokyo I promised to myself that I’d buy a kimono no matter how much it cost. I had it framed to preserve it. I used to visit Tokyo frequently back in the 90s and I was able to buy some very nice things from there like the kimono and some kitchen and dining things.” His glassware and the balcony set he shopped for in Makati. Some of Joji’s décor were contributions by grateful clients. The vases filled with sipa balls came from an interior designer whom he designed a wedding gown for. She thought that the rattan balls would go perfectly with his motif. He is also grateful for the support of his best friend Gerard Mendoza, who helped him out with some of the details.

Because of the careful placement of each object, there is no sense of clutter. “I picked out things one at a time. I want to remember where and why I got each piece,” advises Joji, “Don’t buy things in bulk. Buy things one by one so that you won’t end up with things that you don’t like. Space is easily eaten up so only keep the things that you want and give everything else away to someone who can use it. Don’t buy bulky things. Buy things with more than one use, like a sidetable that also has cabinets. Even in the washroom you can put in cabinets where you can store things.”

Since moving in, Joji has discovered the joys of solitude. “Peace of mind,” is what he declares the best thing about living by himself. “When you come home you’re so excited and everything you see you like because you placed them there yourself. It’s quiet, and you can do whatever you want. I love the freedom,” he beams. “If you live with somebody else you always have to take their tastes into consideration. If you don’t like how the house is arranged you can’t really do much. If you’re by yourself you’re able to fix it according to your taste.” For single people shopping for a new address, Joji recommends getting a condo. “It’s easier and cheaper to maintain. I can easily clean the place everyday, I don’t even need a maid. Another big convenience is that if I have problems with my lights or plumbing I can have it fixed right away because they have in-house maintenance. It’s also more private than a townhouse.”

Solitary life does have its pitfalls. Joji admits that getting freshly-cooked food is the biggest hurdle of living alone. “I don’t know how to cook and I’m too lazy to heat things so I often end up eating cold food straight out of the refrigerator. Sometimes, I end up with spoiled food, because I don’t know enough to put food into the refrigerator when I’m supposed to. But there’s always delivery.” Aside from sustenance, another basic human need, companionship, also takes some effort to obtain. “Sometimes, when you feel sad you have no one to talk to. Unlike at home you can just go out of your room and talk to your family. There’s the phone but it’s not like a face-to-face talk. That’s the price you have to pay for living alone.”

But Joji is emphatic about how much he has learned and improved as a person since going solo. “I see myself becoming more responsible. Now I have to pick up my own mail and see to it that the bills are paid. Living alone requires you to be extra responsible. You can’t leave without checking if you turned everything off, or you might end up burning your house down.”  Being away from his parents has also deepened his relationship with them. “I can appreciate the love of my parents more now. I used to take it for granted when we lived together. Now they really have to exert the effort to come here. I’ve become closer to them. Now we call each other everyday. And we talk for hours, which I never did when I lived at home.”

Asserting one’s independence can be one of the most fruitful and important decisions one can make. “Life on my own is fun. I’m enjoying it immensely. Almost every day I entertain guests, friends and family here at my place, serving them dinner, inviting them for wine and cheese. Unlike before when I lived at home I’d always find a reason to go out. But now I always find a reason to stay home. I’ve found my peace here. I’m forty now and I’ve been looking for my own identity. As a designer, I’ve found it in my clothes. But as a person, I’ve just now discovered it in my home.” In Joji Aguilar’s case, moving on meant settling down. Coming home became his greatest journey, and starting out became his grandest design.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Manila Bulletin, 2004

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