How To Decorate an Ancestral Home While Keeping Its History

 

There’s an art to being able to put together antiques, trinkets and an array of accessories accumulated over the years. Decorating a space with such items require taste, style, class and an appreciation for history, and it’s something not everyone can achieve. After all, not every decorated home gets the oohs and aahs of admiration you want to achieve. In fact, some run the risk of looking dowdy or over-the-top— a mismatch of themes and items that start to look like it belongs on an episode of Hoarders.

That’s definitely no problem for Carmina Mapa-del Rosario, who has the gift of knowing what is needed to spruce a space and how to make a simple item stand out as an accent piece. Born into a family of serious antique collectors and connoisseurs of historical pieces, Carmina developed an appreciation for art while watching her mother Pachot Mapa purchase exquisite pieces. “I remember our many trips abroad, where we would scour through markets in France, China and Bangkok for personal knickknacks,” she recalls. “I also remember dealers selling blue and white porcelain, who would come to the house with their wares. She would inspect each jar or plate meticulously and bargain for it, and later on she would have the plates certified by the National Museum. It was actually a lot like growing up in a mini museum. My mom has been in the art and furniture business for 30 years. She loved to be surrounded by pieces with their own histories.” 

The family is the one behind Old Asia, one of the first to offer a retail antique showroom to a discreet and discriminating clientele. It trained her in the business of marketing and customer relations. “It came very naturally to me, since I am my mom’s only daughter and even while I had a position as vice president in Ogilvy & Mather Philippines, I also sat on the board of Old Asia.” It’s something that she hasn’t shaken even until today, when she considers her travels an opportunity for the acquisition of rare finds for her own home. “Traveling is my passion and to this day, I still visit museums and flea markets to pick up ideas and things that I need for my own home.”

After making the move to Davao from New York, the family settled into a renovated townhouse while she set up her restaurant Bangkok Wok and her catering business Crazy Cook. It seemed apparent that while the business grew, the kitchen cum commissary needed to expand in order to make her special sauces and have enough space for all the catering equipment. After a few years of waiting, the house in Insular Village was vacated by the tenants and her in-laws invited the family of three—Carmina, her husband Raffy and son Iago—to move into the house.

 

It came as no surprise that Carmina would turn the residence into a beautiful showroom of fine pieces, where both history and art are fused into a mix of aesthetic elegance. The process was no easy feat though. “It was a long and lengthy process. I knew I had to retain and keep the original capiz windows so I had to work around that, which proved to be challenging. I also had to prioritize changing the electrical and plumbing. I worked very closely with my contractor Jun Tan for everything.”

It takes a keen eye and vivid imagination to decide what needs to be refurbished and refinished, as well as picture what the final look will be like. Of course, Carmina already had a theme and color palette in mind. “The original divider was in the middle and painted mahogany. I decided to keep it, but split in half, pushed to the sides and lacquered black to match the bannister and front door. It adds character to the dining room,” she explains. “The wrought iron flower flights are from the Mascunana’s 1960’s house. One was in the main foyer and the other on top of a sitting area. I pulled them out, and decided to paint them red and use it in the dining room.” She even recreated a dramatic look for the foyer wall. “In lieu of ordinary paint or wallpaper, I had my painter use sinamay to spray-stencil the web-like pattern,” she reveals.

Without destroying the main shell of the house, Carmina maintained its best features while converting the interior into her family’s personal living space. “Every piece in the house means something to me. Every item, every room, every nook and cranny is filled with items or pieces that remind me of a trip or a time in my life,” she enthuses. “Each item has its own story to tell. When I walk into my house, I see the narra and mahogany console that I inherited from my lola. I see throw pillows that I bought in a flea market. I see bowls that bring memories of childhood spent in Sweden. I see a painting that makes me smile.”

There is no particular label for Carmina’s decorating style, and she believes that no one should even try. “I pretty much mix everything up, and I always find myself rearranging. Furnishing and decorating is a never-ending process. I am not even done with my own home.” Throughout the home are several conversation pieces, most of which have been passed down from family or purchased on a trip. “I collect things from my travels, like these toile pillowcases which we got from Le Puces de Clignacourt in Paris, but are actually handmade in Aix-en-Provence where Raf and I spent our honeymoon. I have a huge collection of cookbooks and coffee table books that are stored in my office because I’m addicted to bookstores.” The décor is also strongly influenced by her European travels. “Flooring of black and white tiles is reminiscent of old European homes. I love old English furniture with studs, so you see them all over the house, including the dining room.”

Her house is divided into two floors with different purposes. “The downstairs doubles as an area where clients ask me to cook and hold private dinners for up to 30 people,” she shares. Upstairs holds the bedrooms and a specialized kitchen where Raffy and Carmina cook. “This dining table has hosted many meals with family and friends visiting from all over the world. This is where I have our most intimate dinners.”

 

Part and parcel of being a professional caterer is her role in styling events and providing impressive table arrangements for her clients. It seems, though, that she might have another calling to spread her wings in home decoration. Since she is very familiar with the pieces and has easy access to Old Asia’s vast inventory, there have already been a lot of inquiries for her to update clients’ homes. For now, she gives some advice for those looking to purchase antiques. “Go back to basics. Invest in good art and quality furniture, and take the time to choose each piece. A lot of thought should go into the purchase of each and every item—you can’t just rush into things. Buying art or buying a 19th century chair is not like buying a new top. Aside from looking at it from an investment point of view, you also need to consider longevity and the fact that you have to live with this piece for the rest of your life. If you don’t love it and it doesn’t fit, why buy it?”

With all that she created in her own home, though, Carmina believes your residence should first and foremost be a reflection of the people who will be living in it. “Ultimately the personal preferences and experiences of the individual or family plays a significant role in design. One must always consider the functionality of each piece that will complement the lifestyle of the owner of the house. Personality must reflect the people inside, not come out cold or out of sync because of the design.”  

Bangkok Wok/Crazy Cook 

(Creative Catering Solutions)

(082) 234 7075, 0928 505 3605

carminadelrosario@gmail.com


Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, May 2014

Zee Lifestyle
Zee Lifestyle

Zee Lifestyle strives to capture the pulse of Cebu! As a city-centric lifestyle magazine, it aims to inform and entertain with features on culture, personalities, travel, food, fashion and everything in between. Follow Zee Lifestyle on Instagram at @zeelifestyle.

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