Interior designer Marcelo Alonzo decorates his home with keepsakes that memorialize passages in his life.
“My home décor is about my life’s journey. Many of the objects tell a story,” he says.
When Malate was still a popular destination in 2000, friends urged him to invest in a restaurant in the area. He conceived the Filipino fusion eatery Komiks Café, inspired by Kenkoy, the cartoon character he had grown up with. Alonzo also acquired the license to manufacture Kenkoy merchandise for 20 years.
To understand the restaurant business, Alonzo took up culinary courses under renowned pastry chef Heny Sison. His mentor turned out to be one of his first clients. After renovating her school’s kitchen, he did work for another baker-client, Jill Sandique.
During the Zeroes, crafts exports were slowing down and manufacturers began focusing on the local market. Likewise, Malate had lost its charm; as it deteriorated, many businesses closed, including Komiks Café, which folded up after five years. Alonzo then chose to maintain his interior design projects, specializing in residences and commercial projects, and shifted his manufacturing arm from crafts to bags.
Parts of his house and his possessions reflect his story.
According to geomancers, good chi or positive energy brings harmony when the five elements—water, earth, fire, metal, and wood—are represented in the home. Alonzo is a Water Tiger; hence, his house is filled with wooden elements to balance the energies. Metal, as symbolized by his home’s off-white walls, brings clarity.
The north represents the water element, which brings grace and flow in life. Thus, his front door, home office, and head board all face north. The kitchen burner faces south, which represents fire.
Alonzo kept the color scheme neutral so that his paintings, antiques, and mid-century furniture and accessories pop out.
Wood is a precious commodity and these vintage pieces are hard to find,” says Alonzo. “I wanted a subdued color scheme for its calming effect.”
One of the striking characteristics of his home is the co-existence of Buddhist icons with Catholic images. The patio features an altar for Kuan Yin, the goddess of compassion and mercy, which his late mother had venerated. The house is littered with Buddhas, statues of the Blessed Virgin, and a wooden antique relief of the Santo Niño.
A bell jar with a resin pear carved with the Baby Jesus and the Holy Spirit was a vestige of his crafts company. It was done by Inok Baldemor Selatnas, an artisan from the woodcarving town of Paete, Laguna. Alonzo pointed out that the pear symbolized Virgin Mary’s womb in Renaissance and Baroque art.
For his Master’s in Fine Arts thesis at the Philippine Women’s University, Alonzo created the Virgin Mary from recycled materials. His thesis, he explained, focused on why Filipinos loved to embellish their homes.
“Filipinos love to decorate the Virgin Mary, especially in parades. Embellishments become a status symbol. If you’ve got money, you’d put on the best materials.”
The leather chair in his home office offsets the mid-century and antique narra furniture in the room. The designer says it’s a reminder of his PSID thesis on designing a home office.
In the same area, an antique pillow rack and a solid narra table once displayed his wares in trade fairs in the ’80s. There are other mementoes from his former export business, such as reindeer and shell tassels and other Christmas décor. Paper roses, recycled from newspapers, were sold in Europe.
According to Chinese tradition, the eldest son keeps the family mementoes. Alonzo’s heirloom pieces include his father’s cabinet, which has become a display area for curiosities. His mother’s crocheted mantle is spread over the heirloom dining table. A china cabinet, a wedding gift to his parents, showcases keepsakes from Alonzo’s travels. When stacked, his mother’s leather luggage doubles as a table for sentimental tokens. A mural of Kenkoy by Alfred Galvez, a Kenkoy doll, and other merchandise recall his restaurant phase.
Alonzo didn’t want laminates or new wood for his kitchen as they lacked character. He liked the patina of old wood. Hence, his contractor found solid narra planks from an ancestral home. They complement the graphic metal grills Alonzo bought in Bangkal, the Makati street famous for its thrift stores. The library doors and his bedroom windows are adorned with antique screens from an old house in China.
Speaking of library, it’s his favorite part of the house and the place where he keeps scriptures from all religions as well as books covering fashion, interior design, architecture, and cooking.
“My possessions are like trophies,” says Alonzo. He recalls the thrill of acquiring them from collectors or antique shops at a fraction of a cost.
These possessions are worth much more than what they used to. Still, what they represent to Alonzo—from his many achievements to his countless blessings—is priceless.
Photographs by Patrick Uy