Entering Villa Escudero is akin to traveling back in time to the Philippine Colonial Era as it holds treasures dating back to 1875. Four generations have lived in and enjoyed this ancestral home that houses pieces steeped in history from different cultures. For Zee Lifestyle columnist Mayenne Carmona, nostalgia kicked in as she realizes it’s not the first time she had visited nor would it be her last.
Refreshing and addicting iced tea with gulaman was served as welcome drinks when we arrived at Villa Escudero Plantation and Resort in San Pablo, Laguna one lazy afternoon. The present patriarch of the Escudero clan, Conrado Escudero, greeted us at the reception area the moment we arrived. Ado, as he is fondly called, already had an itinerary set for us.
The tour highlighted the magnificent Escudero ancestral house, a turn-of the-20th-century family residence that has been lived in and enjoyed by four generations. The house was built from 1929 to 1932 by Ado’s parents, Arsenio Marasigan Escudero and Rosario Averion Adap. The Escudero brood of seven, Consuelo, Caridad, Placido, Rosita, Conrado, Arsenio Jr., and Rosalia grew up in the palatial home. The couple hired Antonio Toledo, a well-known architect of that era known for designing majestic public buildings like the Manila City Hall, the twin buildings at the Agrifina Circle in Manila, the San Pablo Municipal Hall, and the Cebu and Iloilo provincial capitols. Other than the Escudero residence, the only other house Toledo was known to have designed was his own.
To keep the house cool even during the summer months, steel vents were installed in between the narra paneled walls. The ponds in the front and at the back of the house serve the purpose of cooling the interiors as water passes underneath through concrete channels absorbing the heat.
As I was touring the different rooms with Ado, I experienced déjà vu and wondered why. Then as we crossed the threshold of the screened veranda with its Machuca-tile flooring, furnished with pre-war, wrought-iron furniture and a collection of antique hanging lamps, I realized that it was not my first time in this place. When I was barely 18, I, along with other models, had a photo shoot in Villa Escudero for a well-known Filipino couturier.
Now more ‘au courant’ with art, I was able to better appreciate the numerous noteworthy pieces and details there. “Table of the Sphinxes” by Filipino master carver Isabelo Tampingco is a magnificent “table de gibier” (hunting table) with six beautifully articulated Egyptian sphinxes on plinths supporting a thick and long single slab of white Carrara marble. Ado’s grandparents, Placido Escudero and Claudia Marasigan, had purchased the turn-of-the-century piece that sits under a Bohemian chandelier from the Calle Hidalgo Atelier of Tampingco.
The rare oil portraits of the couple by 19th century Filipino master painter Felix Martinez prominently adorn the living room walls. A pair of tall, post-war, gilded mirrors with matching low consoles was purchased from a Spanish family that lived in a splendid French-style mansion in Vito Cruz.
The formal dining area has a marble table that Arsenio Escudero discovered in the 1920s with the help of a Chinese dealer from Binondo. The crystal chandelier that hangs above it was acquired from San Augustin Church in Intramuros before the renovation in 1875. The tapestry is from Real Fabrica de Tapices and features a pastoral drawing by Francisco Goya y Lucientes. On a postwar visit to Madrid, Arsenio Escudero acquired this along with other treasures from Countess Maria de las Mercedes de Borbon Dos Sicilias y Orleans of Barcelona, mother of the present King Juan Carlos.
A pair of traditional “vajillera” cabinets is certified to have come from the hands of the late 19th century Chinese master Ah Tay whose works are now much sought after by antique collectors. Rosario Escudero and her husband Arsenio had purchased these cabinets directly from Ah Tay himself in the mid-twenties during the early days of their marriage. The dining room opens to an enclosed veranda, which serves as the breakfast nook. The area is decorated with Ming dynasty porcelains and antique ceramic plates from Europe.
There is an elegant Beaux Arts-style narra staircase that leads to the bedrooms on the second floor. A collection of pre-war genre paintings that have fascinated collectors and scholars of Philippine art line the walls of the staircase. Off the stairway is a whimsical oriental room containing a collection of Chinese and Japanese art that, according to Ado, had been purchased from another family in Manila after the war. A scroll from the Sung Dynasty and a brass Ming vase with articulated branches and leaves stand out among other objects in the room.
There are four rooms on this floor but my favorite is the master’s bedroom which has two four-poster beds: an Ah Tay matrimonial bed and a small Ah Tay child’s bed which originally belonged to the national artist Juan Luna.
A myriad of precious collectors’ items are found in every nook and cranny of the house that is grandiose in every way. As lavish as it may be, it is also a well-planned and well-loved residence for a large clan. It is where the Escuderos celebrate their milestones and entertain significant people. It is where Ado holds his fantasy-themed parties and fiestas and, more importantly, events of philanthropic pursuits. Four generations of the Escudero clan take pride in their heritage and the magnificent and historical Villa Escudero immortalizes this.
by Mayenne Carmona photography Valentino Ley