Cover “We are not art or antique collectors but everything we have in our home has been collected over time,” shares Sy. This hallway is an example of whereof she speaks

The lifestyle writer and former editor, Alicia Sy, opens her home for the first time and shares her ethos on what true luxury means to her

“If you saw me walking in the mall, I don’t believe you would think that I am the way I am at home,” says Alicia Sy candidly. “There are some people who are so chic all the time, but that’s not me. I’m not chic. I’m not into fashion but I am very particular about my home.” The former editor and lifestyle writer is all about fine living. “There are a lot more people than me who exude luxury, but I feel that this is embodied more through all the little things I do at home.”

Her two-storey residence was designed and decorated by the master of eclecticism, the incredibly talented Jonathan Matti. Sy collaborated closely with the architect to bring to life her vision. “These black windows and doors were a must,” she explains. “It reminds me of New York. At that time ten years ago, we were working with Kenneth and Mock, Kenneth himself was here to help install and he told me that it was his very first order for black. Most homes had wood brown or white, but I definitely wanted to have that Manhattan feel.”

In the evening, we don’t use top lights; I turn on the lamps and our floor lights, and all the light is soft and golden
Alicia Sy

The vine-covered structure has the same grandeur as the stately townhouses that surround Gramercy Park. Big bay windows and French doors allow light to flood in at all times of the day, illuminating the richly decorated spaces. “Some of our friends have told us that we didn’t have enough walls for us to hang art on, but I love how the greens can be seen from every corner,” Sy explains. “I have to say, there is something special about this house at night. In the evening, we don’t use top lights, I turn on the lamps and our floor lights, and everything is soft and golden.”

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Above Wall crawlers lend the home an Old World feel

Apart from the lanai, which is unabashedly tropical and Filipino, the rest of the home feels very bohemian, in the traditional sense of the word. Far from the colloquial “boho” aesthetic, the living spaces of Sy’s home feel as though Oscar Wilde or Walt Whitman could be frequent guests. Layered with texture, colour, pattern, des objets precieux and curiosities, the space appeals to artists, adventurers, writers and musicians, where one can bare his soul over countless dirty martinis in crystal coupes.

“I love that layered look,” says Sy. “If I could, I would even add more layers, but I hold myself back a bit because I feel like that would be better in a cooler climate.” She shares that she is naturally drawn to cosier, heavier décor that is best suited to winter. “If you could translate collections and seasonal dressing from fashion to home décor, I would most definitely be that fall-winter kind of girl.”

There are some people who are so chic all the time, but that’s not me. I’m not chic. I’m not into fashion but I am very particular about my home.
Alicia Sy

A fan of the late writer Nora Ephron, Sy loves the movie When Harry Met Sally and declares that it’s her “all-time favourite! So, I’m secretly living out my own Ephron-authored rom-com in my head, while attempting to manifest a life lived on a Nancy Myers set! Have you seen those gorgeous homes from It’s Complicated, The Holiday and Something’s Got to Give? Gorgeous and elegant but real, lived-in homes.”

Averse to the showroom look where everything is shiny and new, Sy prefers items with character. “Patina is so important to me. One time, one of the gouache paintings that hang in our living room fell right after being framed. My husband Chris lamented that we had to reframe them again, but I just said no. I like that little scratch and dent. I don’t like perfect. I don’t like shiny.”

Both food and wine enthusiasts, Alicia and her husband love to entertain. “My kitchen is the most important room in the home,” she says. “I used to have such a small kitchen in the past, when I was still living in New York and even in our old home. I think I wanted to overcompensate.” The ample room is reminiscent of a French or Belgian country kitchen but done up with chic, urban details such as brushed steel, dove grey and marble. The ornate pen shell bar stools give the space more warmth and luxury.

“We eat breakfast in the lanai every day and we eat dinner in our dining room,” Sy shares. The dining room is dominated by the striking Kelly-green table which adds a joyful touch of whimsy to the very formal room. “I usually entertain up to eight to ten guests at a time. Chris prefers to have only eight guests if we are serving wine. My biggest frustration is that I try to be civilised and have people sit in the living room, but really, we always just end up around the dining table or in the kitchen all night.”

True luxury is about knowing how to savour the small details during those very private moments of indulgence.
Alicia Sy

Sy loves to entertain and spoil her guests with champagne and delicious food served in beautiful chinaware and flea market-vintage flatware, as she is a firm believer in experiential luxury. She loves to travel and some of her favourite experiences are waiting for a well-made drink in a nice bar. “Even before my drink arrives, I am already basking in delight, and I smile inside and out when I see my waiter carrying over a three-dish silver vessel filled with plump juicy olives, warm roasted nuts and freshly fried chips sprinkled with sea salt,” she enthuses. “That perfectly stirred cold martini in a tall crystal glass is just icing on the cake, albeit a very good icing! As I sip my drink from a comfortable leather banquette, I listen to the piano player and enjoy the lively chatter that fills the rest of the room, I am rewarded with pure content. I walk away with nothing tangible to show for the money I just spent, but with something more: that priceless feeling that life is truly good.”

The thing is I like a lot of things. This is what my house looks now here, but if I were to have my New York apartment, it wouldn’t necessarily look like this. You would probably see me in it too, but it would be different.
Alicia Sy

Nonetheless, she finds that luxury resides in the small moments that can be experienced in the quotidian. “It’s not necessarily about taking tea in a fancy tearoom, but it’s more about brewing that smoky lapsang souchong that I bought in a tiny tea shop in Brooklyn because the canister was so pretty. Then sipping it out of an elegantly cone-shaped ceramic cup with its bamboo handle and remembering the lovely woman in Sagada I bought it from every time I hold the warm cup in my hands. True luxury is about knowing how to savour the small details during those very private moments of indulgence.”


This story was originally published on Tatler Homes Philippines Volume 29, available in bookstores this December 2021.

  • PhotographyScott A Woodward
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