Swiss interior design consultant Nathalie Küpfer first came to the Philippines in 2006 for business reasons. Employed by a Swiss multinational, she was posted to Manila to live and work.
Here she met Atom Henares from the prominent Henares family — son of media personality Larry and mom Cecilia, brother of matinee idol Ronnie and stage actress Juno, father to Quark and Cristalle — a multimedia mogul who owns a radio and TV station, and manages a diverse portfolio of businesses that includes — other than broadcasting — electric power generation and distribution, palm oil plantations milling, a water utility and abaca pulp milling.
“We were introduced by mutual friends around 15 years ago when I was living and working here,” recalls the elegantly beautiful Nathalie.
“I didn’t bite the bait at first but when we finally met I was hooked,” says the handsome and charming Atom. “I found her very attractive and we shared a lot of likes such as travel, food, and art. We took the time to know and appreciate each other.”
Nathalie eventually had to move to Shanghai for work, but she says, “We always managed to keep in touch over the years and had the chance to spend some time together in the Philippines and around Europe in 2016.
“Then, in 2017, we went on a trip to Pangulasian Island — and he proposed! We married a year later and I moved from Switzerland back to the Philippines. I have been living here now for four and a half years.”
Building a home together
Together, the couple wanted to build a home that was based on their lifestyle and needs. “I also wanted cozy areas where we could enjoy ourselves, friends, and family,” Atom says. “Open and uncluttered rooms that give one the space to appreciate art pieces and accents.”
Atom and I had a very clear vision of what we wanted our house to look like with regard to the different areas and spaces. It was clear from the beginning that we wanted the spaces to be designed based on our habits and how we live.
Nathalie, who describes her interior design aesthetic as “classic, elegant, and timeless,” brought those qualities to the house.
“Atom and I had a very clear vision of what we wanted our house to look like with regard to the different areas and spaces,” she says. “It was clear from the beginning that we wanted the spaces to be designed based on our habits and how we live. For example, we like spending time in the kitchen after work: we have a glass of wine and I cook for the both of us. As a result, the kitchen I designed reflects this and our love for dining outside can be seen in how it opens onto the garden and lanai.”
If they ever disagree about something, Atom says Nathalie always wins. “I never argue with my wife. If you care about your wellbeing, you shouldn’t, either!”
The ever-busy businessman escapes from hectic Zoom meetings to the lanai, which happens to be his favorite room: “There is a constant breeze blowing fresh air into our garden. I therefore spend all my free time in the lanai enjoying the breeze, listening to the rustling of the leaves and enjoying our swimming pool.”
He doesn’t have a man cave because “I am claustrophobic and I have a fear of enclosed spaces and caves!” he jokes. “Instead, Nathalie and I enjoy the outdoors. We bike, walk or swim every day.”
Nathalie’s favorite room is her walk-in closet, a very private space that exudes calmness and refinement. “I’ve put so much effort into it and it’s actually where I like to spend a quiet moment choosing my clothes and getting dressed,” she reveals. “I especially like our Ludwig Mies van der Rohe Barcelona Couch in a customized brown chocolate leather, which is perfect for packing for a long trip.
“A few memorable items are placed on the island, like a black Marquina marble table lamp by the French artist Gilles Caffier, as well as a limited-edition clear and frosted glass box from Alessandro Mandruzzato that my husband and I bought on our first trip together to Florence. I collect Bulgari jewelry books and those are placed next to a beautiful brass statue from Filipino artist Ramon Orlina. We collected all these items from around the world and they bring up wonderful memories.”
For Atom, the most sentimental pieces in the décor are the artworks given to him by his late mother, Cecilia, from whom he feels he got his eye for art and home design: “(They) always remind me of her and how much I miss her.”
Nathalie says that, architecturally speaking, theirs is a very European home with a distinctive Swiss accent. “I am Swiss and much of our lives back home are spent outdoors. We spend most of our free time in the lanai since we decided to have it totally open; we love how the breezes blow into the space and the resort feel is amplified by beautiful artworks from Thailand. We also spent a lot of time around France and Italy selecting furniture pieces, artwork, and vintage items for the house.”
Atom describes their house simply: “It’s perfect for us and the way we live.”
He says they moved into the house just before the pandemic and haven’t yet had a chance to entertain. “We do look forward to having intimate aperitivi and dinners with close friends and family.”
In the past, he’s invited ex-wife Vicki Belo and her husband, Hayden Kho, “especially when Quark and Cristalle are around. We have enjoyed dinners and Sundays by the pool together.”
Europe meets Manila
Nathalie grew up in Switzerland, but it was her French mother who had the most profound influence on her tastes. “My style has grown with every culture I’ve experienced,” she says. “It was cultivated by my mother in the early years, when she took me to her home country, France. Over the years, we would decorate our holiday home together in Provence in southern France.”
Nathalie always wanted to create her own interior design brand. “I started my first projects in Paris and Manila, and through these projects, grew my relationship with artisans, gallerists and designers,” she says. “I felt very strongly about bringing arts, objects from where I grew up (Europe) to my new home in Manila to share the experience of other places through designs, styles, and objects with my clients. Today I have established precious relationships with designers and artists from numerous locations, both in Europe and in Asia.”
Her interior design consultancy and online store is called Portoro, named after the gold-veined black marble that symbolizes the strength, beauty, and uniqueness of the services and products she offers.
I can tell you outright that the post-pandemic home will be a warmer, cozier place with areas for people to gather in, dine in, and celebrate – perhaps not as grandiose as things were before the pandemic, but friendlier and more intimate.
“My vision for the brand is to become synonymous with beauty, tradition, a great respect for the story behind each of the products that we carry, as well as expert craftsmanship,” she says.
Its latest collection is exquisite tableware from Sardinia, an island in southern Italy whose glamour and convivial spirit Nathalie would love to bring into Filipino homes.
“We were actually inspired by the vibrant blue-and-white color scheme that dominates Sardinia’s natural landscapes,” she says. “The patterns and the color palette of each item in the collection echoes this: the play of sunlight on the dancing waves, the movement of clouds across a clear blue sky. Some items call to mind shapes that are endemic to Sardinia, like the nuraghi — or ancient watchtowers — you can see their form in our water pitcher.”
Nathalie launched Portoro online last October with a few unique items and says they are constantly launching new products. “Our Sardinia Collection is our largest collection by far,” she notes. “We’re also launching several individual products over the next few months, along with a Christmas Collection for the holiday season.”
Given the current lockdown, cocooning, which has been the main trend in the interior design industry for the past year and a half, seems to be here for an indefinite stay.
“The home has become such an important place,” acknowledges Nathalie. “Our whole life has been rebalanced, refocused, and people appreciate the time they have at home and they will share this even more in the future with family and friends.
“I can tell you outright that the post-pandemic home will be a warmer, cozier place with areas for people to gather in, dine in, and celebrate — perhaps not as grandiose as things were before the pandemic, but friendlier and more intimate.”
For his part, Atom’s businesses have been challenged, “as most businesses have been in this worldwide and once-in-a-lifetime event,” he says. “Fortunately the hard work we have put in ensures the long-term sustainability of our companies.”
One of his moves has been to rent out his TV station. “I made an exchange deal with a benevolent religious group: I gave them airtime in exchange for a place in heaven. Hopefully, I won’t have to collect soon!”