Cover From the rehearsal space, there is a sweeping view of the sprawling living room, the foyer, and the second-floor dining area

With a sprawling contemporary home as his canvas, set designer Gino Gonzales ventures out of his comfort zone to help tell a family's story through design

When design is done right, one can easily get a grasp of a person’s psyche by simply taking a look around the place they call home. So when a cosmopolitan couple decided to finally build their family home—after years of renting—it was of utmost importance that the house would be a reflection of their personalities.

Yet looking at their home from the outside, a passing stranger wouldn’t think that. Its spartan façade does little to invite a second glance. From the street, the home appears a large yet unassuming rectangular concrete structure, with hardly any embellishments, and no windows at eye level. This austerity was an intentional decision for the homeowners, who consider themselves very private people. And though this minimalist exterior does set the tone for what’s inside, one can’t help but be surprised at the sight of what’s past the home’s wooden front doors.


Visitors are ushered from the foyer into the sprawling living room by a floor-to-ceiling metal and bamboo screen by Kenneth Cobonpue. Large windows line one side of the U-shaped house, allowing beams of light to stream generously into the space. With clean, boxy, yet elegant lines, the house is clearly an Ed Calma creation. “We really sought out Ed because of his distinct aesthetic,” explains the lady of the house. “A lot of people don’t understand the boxiness, but I really wanted the height that you get from a flat roof, so that when you come in, it just feels grand.”

Opposite the sitting area’s contemporary Italian seating and grand piano is an indoor basketball court for the couple’s three sons. (“That’s what we like about Ed. When we said we wanted a basketball ring inside, just because we find it fun, there was no judgment,” the homeowner laughs.)

Behind the basketball hoop, on the second level, is an open rehearsal space for the lady of the house’s band—a relatively new hobby she picked up once her children started moving out of the home. There, a geometric pattern of orange padded triangles completely covers one wall, serving not just a functional purpose (soundproofing), but an aesthetic one as the room’s focal point. From here, one only has to look over or through the glass railings to observe the goings-on in the opposite glass-walled spaces: the intimate dining room on the second floor, the game room on the third, and the wooden zigzag of the stairs. Viewing the home from this vantage point feels almost like gazing into a doll house. “The house is so big, so I wanted to be able to see where people are and what they’re doing,” the lady of the house says of the unusual design.

The home’s opposite wing is dedicated to spaces for the husband. A fully decked-out gym occupies the first floor, while his massive book collection takes up the upper two storeys. As he prefers to stay out of the spotlight, no photographs showing his face are on display—at least not in the home’s public spaces. Yet his inquisitive, intellectual nature is laid bare in the library through various knick-knacks scattered around the space. Framed prints of vintage newspapers are highlighted in the middle of the bookcase. Next to a mother-of-pearl skull painting is a set of 3D-printed prehistoric human teeth. And a commissioned portrait of the man of the house depicts him as an invisible man donning a grey suit and top hat, a book in hand, a glass of red wine within reach.

Between the house’s two parallel wings are the garden and lap pool. When the light hits the pool just right, the water reflects light onto the house’s walls, while the brown metal bars that run horizontally from one wing’s rooftop to the other cast shadows below. Because the homeowners don’t spend much time outdoors, they wanted a yard that would be easy to maintain. Apart from some shrubs and a wall of young bamboo, the yard has only one large tree. The couple chose to plant a dita tree so it could blend into the dense greenery in the neighbouring lot behind it, making the simple garden feel lush and verdant.


Injecting character into such a modern space can be quite a challenge for most, yet this home feels warm and lived-in, in spite of its larger-than-life scale. This was largely due to the expertise of renowned production designer Gino Gonzales, whose help the homeowners enlisted at the recommendation of the man of the house’s mother. Though he doesn’t typically work on interiors, Gonzales, a dear friend of the family, made an exception for this home.

“I thought that the bones of the house were beautiful, and that’s half the battle won,” he says. “The architect resolved many of the design problems posed by the varied needs of the family. But I initially felt that there was too much of ‘modernity’ going on. I’m no interior designer, but I can feel when something is just too cold—almost like a furniture showroom. So I was adamant about adding pieces that were made of natural materials like wood, things that had history, and things that were rougher on the edges. In other words, things that had character.”

Over the first few months of their collaboration, Gonzales and the homeowners would try out several pieces. Though Gonzales is known for his elaborate, baroque styles, he quickly noted that the homeowners would almost always settle on conservative designs. “I realised that they had clear parameters in terms of what they could live with on a daily basis,” he says. “And I respected that.”

It’s this high regard for the couple’s preferences that allowed Gonzales and the lady of the house to work together harmoniously, in spite of their drastically different design sensibilities. “Working on this home is similar to working in theatre, with [the lady of the house] as the director,” he explains. “I am simply filtering her ideas and amplifying her intents.”

This amplification of the homeowners’ wants is clear in how Gonzales has given them ideas on how to best highlight their art collection. The lady of the house is particularly drawn to the Filipino modern masters, especially those whose works are more abstract. “I don’t collect a lot of figuratives, or if I do, it’s poignant, and has a certain angle to it that’s not typical,” she says. The couple began collecting art only over a decade ago, yet they have already amassed an impressive collection of Filipino contemporary artists, such as Fernando Zobel, Vicente Manansala, and BenCab.

Gonzales made it his mission to give justice to their collection by shifting them to places where they made sense. “The huge Lao Lianben was situated above the basketball court before,” he says. “It was a beautiful piece, but you couldn’t read its textures from way below. So we moved it down to the foyer for a better view and appreciation of the work.” In the second-floor dining area, a BenCab Sabel painting hangs beside its blown-out replica—a carpet from the Dutch design company Moooi. “I wouldn’t have thought of doing that myself, but it makes complete sense,” says the lady of the house.

Though Gonzales does not consider himself an interior designer, he is very much a storyteller. And his creative inputs for this family friend’s house are far from over. The home is still in a state of flux, especially as the family’s dynamics are shifting as the homeowners’ children grow up and move out. The wading pool in the yard has disappeared to make way for a lounge deck. The art collection and rehearsal space mark the discovery of new passions. And the pieces in the library are ever-changing as the man of the house attempts to iron out the story he wants to tell with the space.

“In theatre, a wall or a piece of furniture never works without the proper lighting and the presence of actors,” the designer says. “Similarly, elements don’t work in a house when you isolate them. You need context for objects for them to make sense.” With this in mind, each piece in the home occupies its space with intention and purpose, not just reflecting the family’s narrative, but enriching it.

This article was originally published in Philippine Tatler Homes Vol 24. To bring you all the latest interior trends and practical advice for styling your home, subscribe to Philippine Tatler Homes here.