Cover The main structure that houses the living and dining is designed to be open on all sides to allow nature in

Named after the lady of the house, Zsa Zsa Padilla and Conrad Onglao’s Casa Esperanza in Lucban, Quezon is a testament to the philosophy of allowing nature to speak for itself

A long, yet scenic, drive finds you in the heart of historic Quezon province. Here, nestled between emerald rice paddies and swaying coconut trees, is the expansive Casa Esperanza, the weekend home and lovechild of famed architect Conrad Onglao and partner, the “Divine Diva”, singer Zsa Zsa Padilla. “When we purchased this place, nobody really wanted it because the terrain was not flat and very difficult for agriculture,” explains Onglao. “But that’s precisely why we loved it. The gentle rolling slopes, the forest—we really wanted to embrace the natural landscape and build around it.”

The result is a spectacular estate comprising several structures: the main house with a living, kitchen and dining area; three casitas with their own luxurious bathrooms; a service area and garage; a greenhouse and the stunning infinity pool that overlooks a man-made pond and fountain canopied by lush foliage. All of which are designed to bring the outside in with large glass windows and sliding doors. “Conrad just wanted the garden and greenery to be the main highlight of the décor,” explains Padilla.

Originally intent on building a beach house, the couple instead fell in love with nature in this property. “We kept most of the trees of the forest here and only took down what we needed to. In some cases, we moved trees and planted many, many more,” explains Onglao. “It really is wild here!” declares his partner, laughingly. “We’ve found so many snakes! And once there was a frog in the bedroom that kept Conrad up all night. And don’t even get me started on the spiders! But we love it; it’s so peaceful and so special.”

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The architecture, inspired by a trip to New Zealand, is an amalgam of styles. “I fell in love with those black and white farmhouses that were modern, yet rustic,” says Padilla. “Conrad wanted a cogon roof bahay kubo which he intended for the beach property. I said no!” In the end, the architect still took inspiration from the traditional structure: “Everything is on stilts, with high ceilings and hidden vents for passive ventilation.” The result is what they like to call the “Filipino Farmhouse”.

“We used a lot of repurposed wood, notably yakal from old homes,” shares Onglao. “As the climate here is particularly humid, I was also concerned about the practicality of the design and chose materials that are easy to maintain like PVC rafters, tile flooring and steel.” The roof also gives a nod to Malay architecture and references Onglao’s signature modern Asian style. “We are very soon installing solar panels to go with our deep well and rainwater catch systems,” he says, underlining the fact that sustainability is top of mind for the pair.

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“When people ask me for advice building their weekend homes, I always tell them, ‘You’ve got to have the time and the resources.’ When you start, it’s difficult to stop,” he expounds. “This took almost three years to complete, with delays not only due to the pandemic, but also because everything was done by hand by local carpenters and artisans. There was no big machinery involved, just a lot of able manpower.” Onglao points to the large rectangular edifice that houses the staff quarters, service kitchen and garage. “These are all hand carved river rocks that have been put together to build that entire wall.”

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But that's precisely why we loved it. The gentle rolling slopes, the forest—we really wanted to embrace the natural landscape and build around it
Conrad Onglao

One would think for a couple as high profile and successful as Padilla and Onglao, they would delegate the maintenance of their property; but the two are extremely hands on. “It’s almost as if Conrad can’t relax when he’s here!” jokes Padilla. “He’s always on the lookout for what needs to be repaired or repainted. We really like to do it ourselves.”

Each of the casitas face the pond which is engulfed by lush greenery and lily pads abuzz with dragonflies that one would never suspect it wasn’t a natural water source. “Mornings are so magical here,” says Padilla. “We just sit out by the veranda of our cottage and wait for the kingfishers. They make a very particular sound, and you know when they are coming.”

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Mornings are so magical here. . .We just sit out by the veranda of our cottage and wait for the kingfishers
Zsa Zsa Padilla

The celebrity maintains a busy schedule in Manila, so she truly relishes the time spent here in the countryside. “I just love to walk around the garden.” Warm and welcoming, it’s evident that she is at peace in this space. During the pandemic, and inspired by the surrounding agriculture, Padilla took an interest in natural fertilisers. She is currently developing a small nearby farm of her own. “It’s just for us and our friends and family. It’s so much hard work, but it’s so fulfilling.”

Although the couple have decided to rent out Casa Esperanza for select guests, it remains, very much, their own personal space. “We love to entertain here and don’t really host in the city anymore,” shares the lady of the house. “Conrad loves to cook for guests!” People often ask them what there is to do here, and she emphatically tells them: “Nothing! I mean really, you could if you wanted to, but the best thing here is to just relax and enjoy nature.”


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  • PhotographyScott A Woodward
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