Design

Inside North Syquia: This Manila Apartment Is A Love Letter Filled With Memories

Dance artist Jose Jay Cruz creates spaces that immortalize space and time.
IMAGE Jilson Tiu
ILLUSTRATOR Warren Espejo
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If the pieces in Jose Jay Cruz’s apartment look familiar to you, it is probably because you’ve seen them before in the home of the late Jacques Van Den Huevel, as featured in top (and now defunct) local design magazines.

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Jacques, a Dutch fashion accessories designer who also created one-of-a-kind pieces for the home, was Jay’s boyfriend for 17 years. When Jacques passed away a few years ago, he bequeathed some of his possessions to Jay. “In a way, I’d like this place to be a love letter to him,” Jay says. 

Dance artist Jose Jay Cruz choreographs mementos from his late boyfriend, Jacques Van Den Heuvel, in this North Syquia apartment.

Photo by Jilson Tiu.
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'I thought that it would be nice to re-enact that photo of him that he loved dearly when he was in his 20s.'

Photo by Jilson Tiu.

And how cool is that—a three-dimensional love letter, staged in the combined living-dining areas and master bedroom of a North Syquia apartment. Jay, who describes himself as an “acting coach, contemporary dance artist and composer, and biohacking wannabe,” thought long and hard in finding the rightful place for each and every piece that was gifted to him. 

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“It was like choreographing elements of space and time,” he explains, “as well as the images and objects that I have with me. I sort of started putting things where they seem to belong and look intimate with.”

Mounted on a post found just before the living area, these wooden leg sculptures are conversation starters.

Photo by Jilson Tiu.
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Modern lighting contrasts with antiques and provides a soft, even illumination in the apartment.

Photo by Jilson Tiu.

Jacques’ mischievous spirit, announced by an intriguing pair of wooden leg sculptures mounted on a wall, blows gently through the living area, which also functions as a workspace. It continues into the dining section where a long table is flanked by an elegant solihiya sofa and a set of strange chairs retrofitted with rollers by Jacques.

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Nearby is an antique cabinet filled with curios, just part of the Dutchman’s “enormous collection of objects and things that are meaningful and trivial, seemingly precious and rubbish, spiritual and irreverent,” according to Jay.

A long dining table is surrounded by an elegant solihiya sofa and a set of chairs that Jacques retrofitted with rollers. The lamp by Triboa Bay Living was added by Jay.

Photo by Jilson Tiu.
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An antique cabinet is filled with Jacques' collection of curios.

Photo by Jilson Tiu.

The small dining table was one of two objects that Jacques took with him in his travels.

Photo by Jilson Tiu.
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Modern lights in the common areas provide a welcome contrast to the antiques on display. Their diffused glow also balances the overhead lights, giving the space a softer, more pleasant illumination. 

The “choreography” in the master’s bedroom feels more intimate, with Jay’s own pieces arranged to confront or converse with Jacques’ possessions. The writing desk that Jacques’ purchased from Cebu, for example, faces his own upholstered chair; ensconced in between is Jay’s massive oak bed. A baul that has traveled with Jacques all over the world is discreetly positioned at the foot of the bed, a silent mediator that pulls everything together. 

Jay purposedly positioned the writing desk to face Jacques’ upholstered armchair. At the foot of the oak bed, he placed the old trunk that Jacques always took with him during his travels.

Photo by Jilson Tiu.
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'There are days when I would turn around in deep thought, directly facing Jacques’ upholstered armchair,' says Jay. 

Photo by Jilson Tiu.

'And it feels like he is there sitting with me, in his usual well-dressed ensemble like a Marlboro man. And I can smell his perfume.'

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Jay’s affectionate love letter ends at the doorway of another bedroom occupied by his housemate, JJ Samara. A dentist by profession, JJ decided to go minimalist to highlight his room’s generous dimensions. In terms of decor, he says he wanted a “global feel because I traveled a lot growing up.”

In this time of grave uncertainties, JJ seeks comfort from the sounds of his youth: “I grew up in a family of music lovers so I usually collect records of my family’s favorite music and artists, old and new. It connects me to them and my childhood memories.”

Dentist JJ Samara, who shares the unit with Jay, decided on a minimalist look to highlight his room’s expanse. 

Photo by Jilson Tiu.
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Sergio Bumatay’s 'Seat No. 5' and Zeus Cabarcon’s 'To Run Wild is Bliss' share space with JJ’s hats.

Photo by Jilson Tiu.

The shelf beside the bed is stacked with JJ’s books and vinyl records. 

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Jay, on the other hand, can simply walk around his apartment to feel Jacques’ encouraging presence. 

“When he was still alive, I understood that he was always preparing me for the day that he has to take a different journey. When I would slide back to my self-sabotaging, victimized, helpless artist persona, Jacques used to just straighten me up and grunt, ‘tomorrow is going to be a different day, kapish?’" says Jay.  

The urna and santo hold photos of Jacques' parents and now images of Jacques himself. Just as Jacques had done before, Jay lights a candle beside the urna before going to bed. The couple found the long side table on Evangelista.

Photo by Jilson Tiu.
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“Often, I wanted him to act like my loving mother, and hug me and commiserate with me. But he would always choose to be the great Divine Masculine, who’d order me to gather my inner strength and just keep inching forward. And because of that, I feel that he never left my side.” 

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Devi De Veyra
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