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New President can live in style but homey House of Dreams

By Marge C. Enriquez
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:19:00 06/06/2010

Filed Under: Government, Benigno Aquino III

IF PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENT-ELECT Benigno ?Noynoy? Aquino III doesn?t get his way to live in the Aquino family residence on Times Street, there are other alternative Malacaang structures which are not as stuffy as the Palace, and could be homey.

Not well-known to the public, President Macapagal-Arroyo ordered the renovation of Bahay Pangarap (House of Dreams) years ago. Since then, Pangarap has been a vital part of Malacaang social life during her nine-year administration.

Located near the presidential golf course and across the Pasig River, the new Bahay Pangarap is testament to high style on a modest budget. It has a resort ambience, complete with a swimming pool and deck. And?a consolation to the bachelor Aquino, it has only one bedroom, the master bedroom.

?Architect Conrad Onglao refurbished it in Philippine contemporary style, while preserving the elements of the exterior. The thrust is to showcase contemporary Philippine elegance. It is an alternative venue for official occasions,? says Jeremy Barnes, former Malacaang Museum director and now National Museum director.

According to Barnes, its history dates back to the late ?30s when Commonwealth President Manuel Quezon envisioned a recreation hall. Architect Juan Arellano designed an Art Deco building with a somewhat Asian motif. It was used for formal events and dinners.

In the ?60s, during the Diosdado Macapagal administration, Arroyo?s mother, First Lady Eva Macapagal, had it remodelled and named it Bahay Pangarap.

In the succeeding Marcos administration, National Artist for Architecture Francisco Maosa added Filipino details, such as the pitched roof, narra flooring and capiz windows that evoked the ?bahay kubo? (nipa hut). The place became a golfer?s hangout after a game.

Over the years, the place had been used by the Office of the President and Presidential Security Group (PSG) for meetings.

As in any old structure, the flooring and the wooden beams started to decay, making it unsafe for inhabitants. When the river overflowed, the water would permeate the flooring.

In 2008, appointments and socials secretary Bettina Aboitiz, who spearheaded the renovation, gave Onglao six months to give it a facelift.

The original plan was to turn it into a guest house for the VIPs to make Malacaang more accessible. Given the short time frame, the result was a one-bedroom affair with a solarium and a larger open plan for functions.

?We gutted everything down, including the roof. The basic structure was left. We used clay tiles for the roofing to tie in with the rest of the architecture in the compound. The courtyard was converted into a solarium or an informal reception area. When the guest steps out of the bedroom, it?s like an extended sala,? explains Onglao.

The hardwood flooring was replaced by limestone. ?You can?t go wrong. It?s not a trendy material. The narra salvaged from the previous architecture was used on the door frames,? says the architect.

He wanted a clean look without being literally Filipino. The most striking element is the ceiling treatment, the exposed trusses juxtaposed with the sawali or diamond pattern, suggestive of capiz windowpanes.

Dormer windows facilitate natural lighting. ?When visitors come in, they should immediately feel at home,? says Onglao.

Filipino Art Nouveau motifs were etched on frosted glass doors with narra frames. Beyond decorative touches such as the Muslim jars and kudyapi or string instrument, pen-and-ink sketches of ancestral homes in Quiapo and Old Manila, and Fr. Manuel Blanco?s Flora de Filipinas lithographs line the walls, lending historical value.

Onglao wanted the design to have an international flair. The color scheme is a soothing neutral palette. ?You?re designing for an anonymous person. You can?t make it too personal or too colorful.?

The open layout is provided with islands of seating arrangements to accommodate a big delegation. Two long kamagong or iron wood tables that can be joined for formal dinners are juxtaposed with leather and silk-upholstered dining chairs with a scroll bar.

?The waiters can hold the bar to pull the chair so people can sit?without messing up the upholstery,? says Onglao.

A large round table, made of kamagong topped with marble, divides the dining area from the sala.

The furniture lines are simple but upholstered in elegant chenille with grommets to lend formality.

Silk curtains and wooden blinds lend a character of casual elegance.

To stick to the budget, Onglao had cabinets made of kamagong veneer, acrylic jars turned into lamps, wooden box planters with a silver-leaf finish and clear glass table lamps.

The master bedroom has a richer feel. The walls, headboard and divider are padded in silk, which denotes luxury, says Onglao. One can enjoy the softness of silk beddings.

The master bathroom has a large window facing a secret pocket garden lined with bamboo trees.

As in most of Onglao?s projects, there?s a lot of uplighting and pool lighting to shape the space. ?You can set the lighting to any mood you want to impress the guests.?

The pool house extends the feeling of a resort. The indigenous feel is created by the wood accents of ribbed tanguile cabinets, an antique table and kamagong benches.

Since the renovation, Arroyo has received Sen. Hillary Clinton, Brunei?s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Nobel Prize-winner Jos Manuel Ramos-Horta. The president?s grandchildren and the PSG?s children enjoy wading in the pool.

The Bahay Pangarap has taken the stuffiness out of Malacaang, with its resort ambience. Visitors are in awe by the striking simplicity and by the fact that elegance need not be showy or expensive.

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