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Bringing back the lanai life

By PAULO ALCAZAREN, The Philippine STAR Published Feb 12, 2022 5:00 am

The passing of a mentor in landscape architecture, Dolly Perez, brought me to thinking about the lifestyles that she was designing for in the 1960s and 1970s. Suburban life was going through a boom in Greater Manila (as Metro Manila was called then). A major component of most new residential construction then was the lanai. It was a trend for al fresco spaces that we should bring back in building homes for the new normal.

The referred architectural styles in new “villages” in the emerging sprawl of the late 1950s and 1960s were modern bungalows and split-level, “ranch-type” homes. These sleek, low-slung structures with flattened roof silhouettes contrasted with blocky neo-classic prewar villas and “tsalets” festooned with ornamentation.

The Zobel residence in Forbes Park, designed in the late 1950s, featured outdoor living via lanais.

Floor plans of these postwar homes were more open and flowed from the inside out. The outside was an important component. Local designers emulated American residential design, with a preference for subtropical and tropical styles in Californian and Hawaiian. This is where lanai living came from.

Hawaiian homes had one or more lanais, roofed but open-sided spaces that usually fronted views of the ocean or garden. The roof could also be replaced by plant-filled trellises replete with flowering climbers like bougainvillea. Homes in Manila’s new suburbs of the ’50s and ’60s, like Forbes, San Lorenzo, Urdaneta and Dasmariñas Villages embraced the lanai life.

Outdoor styles here were influenced by Japanese motifs, as seen in this design by Edgar Ramirez.

The term “lanai” was, of course, interchangeable with the terms “patio,” “terrace” or “verandah.” The older term “porch” was not used as much and “balcony” referred to an upper-story outdoor space that usually had a much smaller footprint.

Designing for a post-pandemic world, where hybrid work will see us still spend a lot of time at home, will bring lanais back as a necessary space for our physical and spiritual health.

The lanai’s space was usually expansive, as shown in the pictures accompanying this article. Architects like Gabriel Formoso, CC de Castro, Angel Nakpil, Otilio Arellano, CD Arguelles and Lor Calma worked with interior designers like Wili Fernandez, Sonia Olivares, Edgar Ramirez and Phyllis Harvey to create lanais that were a transition between the indoors and the outdoors — which contained the gardens that were eventually designed by the likes of Dolly Perez and IP Santos.

The Ernesto Rufino residence in Forbes, as designed by Gabriel Formoso in the 1960s, featured deep lanais opening into a landscaped courtyard.

These lanais contained requisite elements of outdoor furniture and accessories. Rattan furniture was popular early on but they were hard to maintain and were eventually replaced by wrought-iron furniture. Rattan chairs were relegated to suppliers of party furniture for lease (with cloth covers to prevent snags from the frayed rattan and solihiya). The brand of choice from the 1950s onwards for metal furniture was El Arte Español.

The Gullas Residence in Cebu used rattan furniture for its al fresco entertainment area.

The Sanso family business had a monopoly on the upper end of the market. Their lanai or patio furniture featured conservative styles at first but in the ’50s they shifted to offer modern styles as well. Their tables were often glass-topped for ease of maintenance. The seats were metal but with open webbing, or were perforated for comfort. A number of other manufacturers and distributors like Aguinaldo’s and Arcega’s had their own lines of metal outdoor lanai furniture but El Arte Español was the preferred brand. I was saddened to learn that the company closed a few years ago and kicked myself for not buying some of the last stocks they had in a final clearance sale. Their furniture pieces are now collectors’ items, especially the original 1950s furniture and accessories like lighting fixtures and plant potholders.

The Gamboa Residence in Mandaluyong had a California-style barbecue corner.

Also de rigueur was the use of adobe stone for finishing of walls of the lanai. High-end bungalows often featured sections of wall in cut or dressed adobe. This material was still plentiful and sourced from the quarries of Guadalupe or Quezon City. When these sources ran low, builders invented synthetic adobe. This consisted of ground adobe stone mixed with concrete to form blocks. This mix was also often poured into facades and their surfaces picked with a small ax to bring out the adobe texture. This was labor-intensive and cannot be done today because of the cost.

The Isasi Residence in Bacolod, like many high-end homes, used El Arte Español furniture.

Garden design before the coming of landscape architects in the 1960s was heavily influenced by Hawaiian and Japanese gardens. Many homeowners did the gardens themselves, using reference books like Mona Lisa Steiner’s classic guide to tropical plants. Outdoor barbeques were also in vogue, with many copied from the pages of Sunset Magazine (a Californian publication).

Split-level homes, El Arte Español furniture and FNSP pools were elements of exclusive homes in the ’60s and ’70s.

These gardens extended from lanais and were designed to host parties that spilled out with rented tables and the rattan chairs mentioned above. Party lighting was by what Americans call Tiki torches, or what we know as “sulu.” In the ’60s these were often replaced by bulbs from the likes of PEMCO that were strung on wires across gardens.

The Velasco residence in Dasmariñas Village emphasized an open plan that melded the indoors with the outdoors.

Finally, koi ponds and swimming pools provided an additional amenity. The koi ponds were a Japanese influence and often put beside lanais or entrance terraces. Swimming pools were a luxury and the best ones were built by Alex Hontiveros of FNSP. His pools were the gold standard well into the 1980s.

The Corominas Residence by Edgar Ramirez features a liner lanai with rustic synthetic adobe finishing.

The pandemic has made us all appreciate the need for lanais, terraces, patios, gardens and pools to counter cabin fever. No doubt designing for a post-pandemic world, where hybrid work will see us still spend a lot of time at home, will bring lanais back as a necessary space for our physical and spiritual health.