By Stephanie Zubiri
Apr 30, 2024

Creative stalwarts, Rajo Laurel and Nix Alañon, share their love for the sea, the sun and the surrender to moments of joy with their friends and family at their weekend home

“Ilove that I get to escape easily to this special haven of absolute joy,” shares fashion mogul Rajo Laurel. Indeed, just two hours out of the heaving urban jungle of Metro Manila, perched high on a slope overlooking one of Batangas’ shimmering blue coves, is the beautiful seaside residence of Laurel and his partner, interior and furniture designer Nix Alañon. “We have the best sunsets at the Monohouse,” Laurel exclaims. “It was designed to celebrate this time of the day.” Both Laurel and Alañon love to entertain. Their entire home was built with this in mind for them—along with the occasional monkey—to welcome their loved ones into their sanctuary.

Fondly called The Monohouse for all the monkeys that frequent their surrounding trees, the structure is built to hug the hilly façade, with everything open to the peaceful view. “I was searching high and low for an architect who could understand what I was looking for, but it took a while,” shares Laurel. “Then, while visiting a friend in the south, a beautiful building on a cliff caught my eye. I drove past and realised the home belonged to my aunt and uncle! They were the ones who introduced us to 8×8 Design Studio Co.” The firm, relatively fresh on the scene, is helmed by Adrian Alfonso and Pearl Robles and specialises in modern and minimalist architecture. “It was fate!” says Laurel. “I loved my experience working with them. It was smooth, easy and really enjoyable.”

Both he and Alañon are creative stalwarts in the design industry, which might mean a butting of heads in a collaboration project; but for the pair, it meant an equal division of labour and inspiration to make their shared dream a reality. “Nix and I have been preparing for this project for such a long time that we actually had a vision board for the home composed of thousands of magazine clippings!” The couple had agreed that everything that was structural or fixed would be Laurel’s department, and everything that was decorative and moveable was Alañon’s domain. “This made for a more harmonious process that led to less stress and more creative collaborations.”

What emerged was an intentional minimalist structure with expansive bay windows, allowing light and the environment to be the highlight. “Since it is a home by the ocean, it is important for me that the interiors reflect its surroundings and evoke a sense of place,” explains Alañon. “The architecture leant to a more modern vibe, but we still wanted to have that sense of being in nature by combining organic materials with contemporary furniture and accessories. We also mixed old and new pieces that we have acquired throughout the years and from our travels.”

ABOVE Outdoor living takes centerstage at The Monohouse. The infinity pool overlooks ocean views

The use of mostly cement, stone and tile—choices dictated by the maritime climate—served as a perfect backdrop for the thoughtfully decorated space and for Alañon to work his magic on. Kilim rugs, Turkish ikat pillows and custom pieces from Phoenix home–Alañon’s own design firm and furniture brand–are mindfully layered into cosy and chic vignettes along with the couple’s impressive art collections. “I wanted our home to also reflect our personalities and interests,” he says. “I believe there is no better anchor than that as it feels more personal and sincere. We are both designers by profession so we had a wonderful time designing this together.”

The top floor of this three-storey home holds the master suite and main entrance. The eyes are immediately drawn to the stairs that lead down to the main living space and further down to the guest bedrooms. The main artery is the living complex, an open-plan design with lofty ceilings and ample amounts of space to entertain. This is the heart of the home. Sliding doors lead to the infinity pool and deck, along with a lounging area and outdoor barbecue.

“We also both love to cook and entertain,” shares Alañon. “So this was a major consideration when we were designing the Monohouse.” The kitchen takes centrestage as Laurel declares that his love language is food. “I, of course, love our kitchen as this where I can express my love for my family and friends via feeding them all day,” he laughs. A weekend spent at the Monohouse is guaranteed to be an epicurean one. Laurel often frequents the local market and comes home with bayongs of fresh produce. “Our freezers are full!” he chuckles. His joy comes from whipping up fantastic feasts by riffing in the kitchen. “I found these gorgeous prawns! I’ll make a little red wine, paprika and capsicum sauce. We can do skewers with the swordfish and marinate with kamias!” The result was a collaborative spread of Vietnamese noodle and herb bowls with global influences.

Meals are always an enthusiastic affair; the gusto moves beyond the stove and into the table settings. The pair love flowers and most of the time these are simply foraged from the surroundings. Bountiful and bright bougainvillea, vibrant birds of paradise, leaves from a moringa tree, twigs and branches done up ikebana-style. Every so often, they’ll purchase special flowers from Manila to bring to the home, like joyful sunflowers that grace the current table setting. “We love flowers!” exclaims Alañon, “So anytime you come to our home there will always be fresh blooms and arrangements all over.”

Being a guest at the Monohouse is like being wrapped in a tight bearhug by the hosts: warm, welcoming and full of love. Built to receive, the guestrooms are well appointed, each decorated in a different theme. One is filled with earthy weaves from South America; another with Japanese kimono touches; the other with African wax prints and the last with objects from Turkey, Israel and Jordan. Stylish yet functional, two of the bedrooms are only separated by sliding doors to accommodate families—or, as Laurel puts it, “friends who are clingy and want to be all together in a big sleepover!”

As for their entertaining ethos, he shares: “I want my guests [to be] as comfortable as possible. It’s also important for me to have absolutely the best time, because if I am having the best time, I know that they are having a good time as well!” This often includes sunset cocktails by the pool or an afternoon jolly on a speedboat. A masseuse is also on call for guests to unwind. The atmosphere is relaxed and time slows down as you ease into the natural rhythm of Monohouse. It’s not uncommon to find individuals languidly draped in one of the many peaceful corners enjoying a book or indulging in a siesta.

“I want my guests as comfortable as possible. It’s also important for me to have absolutely the best time, because if I am having the best time, I know that they will be having a good time as well”

– Rajo Laurel –

The master suite is the couple’s favourite space. From the bed, a stunning wrap-around view of nature and the blue sea offer a sense of escape and respite. “However, I think our bathroom actually has the best view of the whole house,” says Alañon. Sleek interiors with light slate finishes, it allows one to shower and contemplate the scenery at the same time.

Both Laurel and Alañon live and work in the city. As such, this seaside sanctuary was originally envisioned as a second home but it has become an integral part of their lives. Thanks to the proximity to Manila and the presence of high speed internet connectivity, the couple spend most of their weekends here in an extended fashion. “We love that we have so much space and that there is so much fresh air,” shares Laurel. “Living in a condo is akin to living in a box. When we head home to The Monohouse, we are literally going to our happy place. It is filled with all the things we love–the light, the sun and the opportunity to share this with our friends.”

“Since it is a home by the ocean, it is important for me that the interiors reflect its surroundings and evoke a sense of place”

– Nix Alañon –

The amber afternoon light streams through the windows casting a golden hue on every object. At this time of the day, the home is ablaze in its amber glow, the warm, life-giving energy of the sun matched only by the potent and palpable affection the homeowners have for their guests. It embodies “peace, contentment and tranquillity”—attributes that Laurel believes make up a home. To which Alañon adds: “It’s a feeling. Whenever we are together, that is home.”

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