What’s designer Patis Tesoro doing in Laguna? Gardening and refurbishing old Filipino houses
From San Juan to San Pablo: How designer Patis Tesoro built her ideal home around art, nature, and dogs
Dec 24, 2019
Imagine waking up right before sunrise. Light starts to peek into your wide windows. The cool dawn breeze rustles the leaves of lush trees outside. Then, birds start to chirp and wake up, too. “It’s going to be a good day,” you tell yourself. You don’t rush. You stretch. Sit down on the edge of your bed and watch the sunrise.
Seems like a reverie, a luxury, to simply enjoy and relish moments without worry. This is how fashion designer and all-around creative Patis Tesoro starts her day in her home in the province of Laguna. “Oh, I have a routine,” she says. “I draw from 5 till 8 o’clock in the morning. Then after I draw, I would have my breakfast. I’m usually out here by 9 or 10 o’clock,” Tesoro narrates while fixing some paperwork at her atelier.
Tesoro transferred her dress shop from San Juan to her three-hectare weekend home in Laguna after her husband died almost three years ago. “I don’t want Manila anymore. I refuse!” she says.
In Laguna, she would get up, let her creative juices flow, eat slowly, while doing what she loves most: horticulture. “If I could do my life all over again, I would probably be a horticulturist,” she says. “Dresses and plants? They’re the same. You’re making beautiful things with plants. Of course, you’ve got to learn more because they’re living things. But it’s also about beauty. Beauty is good air and the way you think. And people have a hard time understanding that.”
Back to basics
Tesoro spends a part of her morning walking around her gardens, which are sustained by vermiculture.
Moving back to the provincial setting was natural to Tesoro. She grew up in Iloilo in the ’50s. It wasn’t until she was six years old that they owned a television set. So, growing up meant being exposed to all kinds of housework, including gardening. After decades of living in the city, it was about time to return to her roots.
“You have to learn how to deal with nature; deal with simpler eating. And I’m not talking about fast food eating but cooking at home,” Tesoro shares. She also urges us to start growing our own produce—the first and most important step of which is to check our soil. “It’s all in the soil. If your soil is poor, it is not going to happen,” she emphasizes animatedly.
“Dresses and plants? They’re the same. You’re making beautiful things with plants. Of course, you’ve got to learn more because they’re living things. But it’s also about beauty. Beauty is good air and the way you think. And people have a hard time understanding that.”
Before constructing the house, it was imperative to start planting first. “If you want to enjoy what you’ve planted, you have to start early,” Tesoro says. As we walk around the property, she would point at tall trees and boast that she planted those decades ago. As with plants, her plan on what to do with the space came about slowly, especially because she spent most of her time in the city. “I used to get angry easily. Now, I don’t. I garden.”
It all started 40 years ago when the couple decided to buy this patch of land in the sleepy town of San Pablo,
Laguna. They only had a nipa hut back then. “It was hard to maintain, and you get a lot of tuko and all kinds of animals falling on your head,” Tesoro narrates.
Today, the property has three important structures: her private home, the old café and extension (composed of her office, dress shop, and mini gallery), and At’s Place, a two-story house formerly owned by photographer At Maculangan, which Tesoro renovated to reflect her love for Filipino design.
Her current house is the reconstructed version of their old home. If there’s one thing that is truly Patis Tesoro’s signature, it is her homage to Filipino design. “Filipino houses, even the nipa house, all began with ventilation. It is important in the tropics because if you don’t have ventilation, you’ll swelter inside,” she says. This is why all the rooms inside the property have high ceilings and ventanillas, carved-out wood panels that connect the
walls to the ceiling while letting ample breeze in. Apart from being beautiful because of
the different lace-like patterns that could be created, the burda or ventanillas are essential to ensure good airflow within a space.
Tesoro is definitely unafraid of color. Patterns and color abound in every nook and cranny. Even ceilings and steps are handpainted. Her trusty all-around staff Raymond Cruz, nicknamed Madonna by Tesoro, turns the designer’s ideas into beautiful frescos of indigenous plants and flowers.
A few years back, Tesoro opened Patis Tito to the public, a restaurant which showcased her different recipes amassed from travels. It is currently under renovation and will be open to the public hopefully early next year.
“So, this is typically Filipino. We expand when we have the opportunity and the money and the resource,” says Tesoro. She decided to construct an extension of the café upon transferring for good in Laguna. It houses her costura or atelier, office, gallery, and a receiving area where customers can dine. In the small gallery, a few wooden sculptures are displayed.
“These are made by a tricycle driver who is also a good sculptor,” she boasts. Said sculptor uses old hardwood or retaso wood from the construction.
Almost every structure is upcycled—from beams to doors and even handles—using hardwood from old houses. Even some good condition ventanillas are used, then the rest are replicas to fill in the gaps. Tesoro never stops creating. She makes use of everything that could be salvaged.
“When people enter, I like them to feel that this is a great way to live,” says Tesoro. So, she opened her doors to the public, but only for reservation. At’s Place is her little bed and breakfast that transports you to simpler, quieter times.
Through word of mouth, Tesoro has been hosting guests for P5,000 per person with free home-cooked breakfast. They could also bring and cook their own food; however, should guests prefer not to, Tesoro is also offering set menus.
True to her mission of sharing the quiet lifestyle, the second floor of the extension area
is also being developed to become rooms for rent as well. This constant process of creation is what keeps Tesoro going. “What I do, it’s simple. It’s not difficult if you put your mind into it. If your mind is very ‘magulo,’ not quiet, then you’ll never get it,” she says. In her own version of oasis is where she found clarity. She claims that it also made her more creative. “That’s the reason why I haven’t completely opened yet: a) I am still doing b) I’m still finding my way on how I’m going to present it.”
This story originally appeared in the Southern Living Wrap Up Issue.
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