From my bookshelves: Filipino Style (Archipelago Press, Singapore: 2007). With photographs by Luca Invernizzi Tettoni and Tara Sosrowardoyo; text by Rene Javellana, Fernando Nakpil Zialcita, and Elizabeth V. Reyes.
The book cover shows Philippine-style Art Nouveau decorations and furniture in the ancestral Bautista- de los Santos house in Malolos, Bulacan, “built in 1812, painted in tendrils and foliage in 1877, and re-conceived in Art Nouveau terms at the turn of the century.” Art Nouveau, which was popular from the end of the 1800s until the 1930s, enjoyed a longer run here than in Europe. The style gave way to Art Deco in the 1930s.
First published in 1997, this book gives brief overviews of Filipino architectural and interior design style. Beautiful photographs make the articles come alive. Most notable are the spreads on bahay-na-bato of the 19th century, perhaps the architectural style most suited to the tropical climate. Such homes are characterized by certain elements: a stone or cement first floor, where horses were stabled and carriages kept; and a wooden second floor, the living area. Wide windows were covered by capiz-and-wood shutters; more windows below the sill, called ventanillas, ensured that practically the entire living area could be opened up to cooling breezes.
From the first floor, a polished and gleaming wooden staircase swept up to the open-plan second floor, designed that way to allow the free flow of air. Areas such as the drawing room (sala) and dining room were marked off by carpets and by arrangements of furniture. Wooden floors bounced light off their shiny surfaces, creating the illusion of wide spaces. A mesa altar for religious images was prominently displayed. Bedrooms featured four-poster beds and elaborately-carved aparadors, almarios (pillow racks), and dressers. Walls often had filigreed transoms to allow the passage of air (and light and sound) through all the rooms of the house. Furniture was of carved wood, the styles imitated from Europe, but the seats, rather than being stuffed with horsehair and covered with dark fabric as in Victorian England, were covered with solihiya (woven cane), making them cooler, lighter, and airier.
From the chapter “Traditional Houses”, by Fernando Nakpil Zialcita:
Another aspect of Filipino style has yet to be recognized. This is what I call “a fondness for the translucent”. Filipino creations love to half-reveal and half-conceal forms and colors. Capiz windows pretend to block off the outside world but actually reveal aspects of it. Capiz catches the shadow of a branch swaying outside. The moods the shell panels create change as the sun passes; at one moment, they are quiet and still; at another they shimmer like the sea at noon. The oily smoothness of the wooden floors, often uncarpeted, reflect changes in the light and give the visitor a sense of walking on water.
Similarly the cloth favored for the upper garments of the national dress for men and women is made of translucent, rather than opaque, materials: sinamay is made from loosely-woven abaca, jusi is made from Chinese silk and pineapple, piña from pineapple gauze. The barong Tagalog delicately reveals the torso, while at the same time concealing it. Hre, as in the wood-and-stone house, the Filipino fondness for open tracery, called calado, adds elegance while daring the eye to explore the field.