LifestyleWit and warmth in a diplomat’s house

Wit and warmth in a diplomat’s house

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Pops of red in pillowcases break up the monotony of neutral colors and black in the living room

Like the chancery, the Dutch ambassador’s residence is a nod to the strong ties between the Philippines and the Netherlands. It is characterized by modern tropical architecture, wherein the indoors and outdoors are seamlessly interconnected.  Largely furnished with Dutch furniture and artworks, the house is accented with local capiz and wood accessories.

The Real Estate Abroad Department of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs commissioned architect Ramon Antonio to design an elegant residence, which responds to the climate. The design directive was that the house would be modern, transparent, and sustainable; hence, the solar panel on the roof and other eco-friendly features.

Typical of Dutch humor, a sculpture of an aardvark welcomes guests upon entrance; Steltman chairs by famous Dutch architect/designer Gerrit Rietveld flank a floral painting in the foyer. The painting is an untitled work by Ukrainian-born artist Alisa Margolis, who received a postgraduate fellowship at De Ateliers in Amsterdam

The house and garden bear Antonio’s signature—the Art Deco repetition of lines, the symmetry of architectural details, the brise soleil or sunbreaker that lowers heat gain, glass staircase railings, huge expanses of glass with thick wooden frames, and a resplendent lanai. The wide wooden planks were insulated to buffer the heat.  The huge windows and openings capture garden views and facilitate the flow of natural light. Then again, the proliferation of windows also reflects the Dutch openness.

The soothing sounds of running water in the fountains and the ponds, the evergreen plants, the frangipani tree, and the topiaries are also Antonio’s landscape trademarks.

The home was decorated with culture and foreign relations in mind. Although the key furniture pieces and artworks were acquired by their government, every ambassador has added a few of their items to personalize the space.

The vases on the long cabinet in the dining room represent the colors of the Dutch flag

For Dutch Ambassador Marion Derckx, the decorative elements say a lot about their culture. Some are symbolic, while the others are tongue-in-cheek pieces that reflect Dutch humor.

Bright orange bikes, a gift from ING Group, the Dutch multinational banking and financial services, are parked in the entryway.  For the Dutch, biking is a way of life. The ambassador and her family members bike around the neighborhood.

The foyer establishes Dutch horticulture with a colorful painting of abstract flowers, flanked by 1963 Steltman chairs by architect-designer Gerrit Rietveld, one of the proponents of the Di Stijl modernist movement.

On opposite sides of the walls hang the gold-leaf owl sculptures by Wia van Dijk. These owls represented the bird carried by Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom. “It’s an expression of giving importance to law, order, and justice, and giving people the opportunity to express. The Dutch believe in the rule of law,” says Derckx.

The metallic sheen of the ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ lighting fixture by Dutch designer Brand van Egmond contrasts with the drama to the wenge dining table. A vase, designed like a loaf of bread, adds wit. The focal point is the painting of executives doing headstands at work, entitled ‘Inspiration Point,’ by Dutch artist Francis Franciscus; Clean lines and a restrained color palette characterize the modern Dutch sensibility

In the formal dining room where meetings are held, Derckx chose a humorous painting of a man in a headstand on a yoga mat in front of other men in the same pose. Each yoga mat bears the flag of the European Union. The subject of men in office clothes doing an inverted yoga pose always sparks conversations.

“The painting is called Inspiration Point. I chose that artwork because it could represent the Netherlands and the EU. I thought that it would be appropriate in a room where we conduct meetings. Once in a while, you should freshen up. It’s kind of a joke,” she explains.

Above the cantilevered narra cabinet are paintings showing the area near the Parliament in the Netherlands.  The table is decorated with three glass vases, whose colors are arranged in the sequence of the national flag—red on the left, blue on the right, and white in the middle.

If there is one piece that is typically Dutch, it’s a long table for friends and family to converge—a 16-seater dining table made of wenge. Echoing the table’s rectilinear geometry is a suspended lamp, Rhapsody in Blue by Brand van Egmond, which is designed with a straight architectural framework and contrasted with fussy wires.

On one wall, a gold-leaf owl sculpture by Wia van Dijk; Architect Ramon Antonio designed the Dutch residence under the guidelines of the Real Estate Abroad Department of the Netherlands Foreign Ministry

To showcase Dutch ceramics, Derckx brought a flower vase that resembles two loaves of bread. “We are bread eaters, while you are rice eaters,” says Derckx. “People have vases for tulips with holes for each one. These two loaves have holes in them. It’s another little joke.”

In the smaller dining room, she hung an abstract expressionist work of jumbled planes of dark colors and sweeping, energetic strokes swirling around a patch of white space.

“It’s a big painting that shows a lot of aggressiveness, but there is white in the middle. It’s like two people talking together, until finally, there is light coming out. It’s like having a dialogue,” says Derckx.

Part of her personal collection includes a gold-plated bronze abstraction. Reflecting the Dutch efficiency and concern for sustainability, the artwork is recycled from cast-off bronze. Dutch designers are good at using materials that look worthless and giving them new value.

The Dutch residence exterior embodies the contemporary style characterized by huge expanses of glass, an extended canopy, a cobbled driveway, and lush tropical foliage

Then there are coffee-table books that not only serve as table décor, but also showcase the country, such as Netherlands at its Best and Vegetable Breeding for Market Development. Published by East-West Seeds, the Dutch grower of vegetable seeds for the tropics, Vegetable Breeding shows how it values the Philippine market.

Since the Dutch enjoy al fresco activities, the embassy holds special events such as the King’s Birthday on the lawn instead of in a hotel. During the daytime, guests will be amused with the quirky sculptures of the cow, sheep, and lambs, which are references to its agriculture.

“We are the second largest exporter of agriculture, next to the United States,” says Derckx. Although the cow in the garden may seem like a joke, it actually symbolizes a dairy industry democratically run by cooperatives.

In all, the Dutch ambassador’s residence is a cultural haven without being too literal. The décor tells the visitors who the Dutch are—practical, without taking themselves too seriously—and how the Netherlands has welcomed the warmth of its host country.

Photographs by Nelson Matawaran

This article originally appeared on Asian Dragon’s April-May 2018 issue, available for download on Magzter.

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