By Ria Benedicto Villavicencio (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 8, 2015 – 12:00am
MANILA, Philippines – How does one write about a passion, a difficult but rewarding journey, when one is standing on the threshold of the gleaming white structure of Paradores del Castillo in the town of Taal, Batangas? Remembering the home’s history suffuses the effort that went into its restoration, so that present results are better appreciated.
This old house is now a grand boutique hotel. Upon entry, you realize that you are in an antique setting, but with added modern conveniences and updated accent colors. An airy, welcoming atmosphere offers a refreshing change from the dark Victorian period design details commonly found in most turn of the century homes.
Originally owned and built by Hermenegildo “Didong” del Castillo and his wife Leonor Sanchez in the early 1900s, design elements of the 1930s and 1950s were apparent, due to renovations by succeeding heirs and tenants. The couple shared this home with their four children: Vicente, Gloria, Blanca and Antonio. Eventually, with each generation’s passing and several tenants’ use, the structure had fallen into a jumble of clashing design elements, disrepair and abandonment.
In August 2009, the del Castillo house was acquired by my husband, Ernie Fajardo Villavicencio, from his maternal first cousins, most of whom were living abroad, the heirs of Antonio and Corazon del Castillo. Corazon is our beloved Ninang Chong, younger sister of Ernie’s mother, Titang Fajardo.
In 1995, we committed to restoring and maintaining another old structure, Casa Villavicencio, the ancestral home of Ernie’s great grandparents Eulalio and Gliceria Villavicencio. Both were patrons of the Philippine Revolution during the Spanish and American periods. The Casa V house is now a tourist destination in this quaint Southern Luzon town.
We proceeded to clean up and use the del Castillo structure for five years as a storage facility for old bricks, antique wood, doors, capiz windows, carvings, wrought iron retasos, furniture and lights collected through the years, for use in other home restoration projects. It was in late 2013 that Ernie decided to undertake the restoration. Aside from the debris that was left there, it was a huge challenge to get the same original materials for aesthetic uniformity.
As a couple, we have gone through this arduous task of restoring old spaces many times in the past. Paradores del Castillo was our fifth restoration project in Taal. Our team of engineers, architects, craftsmen and construction crew were made to understand that they were on board for the long haul, no matter how many design revisions were done. In repairing and maintaining bahay-na-bato ancestral homes like this one, the work was painstaking and continuous. As restorers, we use modern solutions while respecting the bones of the original structure, balancing it with budget limits.
On the construction crew’s end, it is a test of understanding the value of what was initially perceived as junk and creating something beautiful out of it. It is always a learning process.