The three-storey residence stands out among the houses along the row of this southern Cebu subdivision, the glass and metal accents giving it a decidedly individual character. Of course, that comes at no surprise—this was the home of architect James Jao, the personality behind some of the most creative and unique homes in the city, and the country.
“I’ve had this lot for ten years,” James shares, explaining that he started construction on the home based on advice he’d received from his feng shui master, who had flown in from Manila to personally look over the two lots he was thinking about building his house on. “On January 6  last year, he chose this lot.”
Consulting his feng shui master was an integral step in beginning the construction of the house. “It’s essential to starting the process of planning and creating your dream house,” says James. “The master determines from the beginning whether it’s a good or bad lot. The feng shui master can see the elements, physical or otherwise, in the environment surrounding the site.”
Reiterating its importance, James had the foundation dug up starting February 2 , as advised, because he needed to construct the house under the Year of the Horse. “I needed to do it before entering the Year of the Sheep, which is my sign,” he adds. “It would be unlucky if I built it within the year of my birth sign.”
Feng shui also had a say in the house’s design, with the feng shui master giving instructions on the house’s orientation, based on James’ birth sign and other elements surrounding the location. “From there, I started to make the floor plans, had him approve the positions and locations of each room, especially my master’s bedroom,” he recounts. “When everything was approved, I started creating the elevation and form the façade of the structure.”
Besides the adherence to a good feng shui philosophy, James also made sure to incorporate sustainability into his design. “I believe an Eco House is the best way into a sustainable lifestyle for the future generation,” says James, who is the proponent of the Eco House in the Philippines. The architect has several projects under his belt that have espoused less energy use, natural ventilation and the use of sustainable materials. “We are already a bit late,” he admits, “but we Filipinos must immediately catch up living within the ‘Paradigm of Eco Living.’”
For his house, the first step was integrating a Thermawall system, which reduces the heat that penetrates the building, and using energy-efficient uPVC REHAU frames for the windows. “All light fixtures are LED,” James continues, “and used low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) Healthy Home paints by Boysen for the interiors. All cabinets are Zero Formaldehyde, therefore diminishing the possibility of having toxic indoor air.” The bathroom fixtures and fittings—from the likes of Roca, Kohler, Grohe, among others—cater to efficient water use, while a passive cooling technique is in place for natural ventilation within the house, aided by ceiling fans. For when the weather gets extra hot, inverter air conditioning units (and appliances, in the kitchen and laundry areas) were used within the house.
Construction took a year, a timetable that James says is standard in building a home. There were, naturally, some challenges. “The Thermawall and Plaswall system were all engineered and shipped from Laguna to Cebu,” James explains. “The system helped a lot to hasten the finishing of the house, particularly the wall surface preparation since it is already smooth and ready to paint.”
The house follows an unconventional layout, with the main door opening up into a high-ceilinged living room—a mezzanine allows the second floor to open up into the first, and features a library that runs along the walls of the house. “I always incorporate a high ceiling in the living room to create the luxury of space when you enter the house,” James explains. “The library was a very important feature, since I have thousands of books and magazines collected over the years, plus all my plaques and personal memorabilia.”
Naturally, the architect has collected many pieces over the years, and the new home was the perfect opportunity to bring them out of hiding. “Some of the imported pieces I had even before I started building the house,” he admits, though he says 99% of the furniture is Philippine-made, sourced in Manila and Cebu. “The interiors are definitely about modern luxury. A touch of warmth and some bling make each room very contemporary.”
The library and a sitting room are on the second floor, along with the master’s bedroom that James considers his favorite spot in the house. “It’s the heart and hearth of the home,” he says. “It’s my haven to relax after a long and tiring day coming home from all my jet-setting. To sleep on my bed is luxurious!” Luxurious, indeed—the four-poster bed dominates the space, and is punctuated by a textured bench sitting at its foot and ornate lamps on the nightstands.
On the top floor, another sitting area transforms into a large guest bedroom when three sofas are converted into beds. Also on the third level, a terrace is an ideal spot for al fresco entertaining, its walls accented by Bisazza mosaic tiles and mood lighting. “It’s a completely different feel at night,” James shares. “The lights are blue, so it completely transforms.”
Although mostly done, James has a few more finishing touches he wants to take care of before this labor of love is complete—particularly landscaping some pocket gardens for a homey feel.
Having designed homes for various personalities over the years, it’s interesting to get to view James’ creation for probably one of his most important clients—himself. It came with its fair share of challenges, but James explains building your dream home isn’t always as difficult as we think it would be. “A dream house will always come to you at the right moment. In God’s time,” he says. Most importantly, “the house must be ‘you,’ and should tell your story. From the façade and into the interiors, the space should tell the story of your lifestyle.”
photography Mark Philip Dales