Mactan, Cebu (CNN Philippines Life) — Furniture designer Vito Selma may have lived in San Francisco, Milan, South Africa, and Manila, but he still dreamed of living in his hometown by the beach.
“I grew up in Cebu all my life. It’s small and laidback, just like the people. I was so used to working in Manila for three years, where everything was fast-paced, that I had to readjust when I moved back here,” he admits.
A second generation furniture maker for his family’s export business Stonesets, Selma is the youngest to put Cebu on the furniture design map with his architectural interpretations of traditional concepts under his namesake brand. His most recognizable work is his Geo series of tables, seating, and accessories characterized by rhythmic thin, dowel-like rods.
Selma can also be credited as one of the Filipino designers responsible for the resurgence of the peacock chair. In his version, the Rayna, he keeps the original’s small, circular woven rod seat, but plays up its throne-like proportions by increasing the height of its tall back, and updates its rounded shape into something closer to a pentagon, the top rail and stile tapering into an edge instead of a curve. He also renewed its ornate weaves with a sleeker style.
His latest masterpiece is his 200 square-meter, 3-bedroom bi-level penthouse on Mövenpick Mactan Island beach.
“It’s a place where I want to escape from my everyday life,” he says.
Before COVID-19 hit the Visayas, he spent most of his time under coconut trees in the garden by the beach. At around 8 p.m., he would have the beach all to himself and sit under the stars.
But during ECQ, he could only look out the window. Lockdown caught Selma in his Mactan vacation house where he didn’t even have an internet connection.
Being away from it all enhanced his experience of the present; his home as the stage for little moments of awe. Its neutral palette of warm, tonal whites serve as a canvas to the ever-changing colors of his space in the sky. The colors of the sunrise and the sunset fill it with gradients of oranges and pinks, turning into a sheer wash of golden light during the day, and at dusk, darkening into rich purples and blues.
It took months to renovate the space. “I was patient. I was building my dream home after all,” he says.
It was in these months that the house began to reveal its personality. “I travel a lot and my homes have always been a reflection of that. I originally planned to put all the things that I've collected from my travels — African antiques, Italian pottery, Japanese bowls. But every visit I did during construction, I realized that there was a disconnect with the unit and its surroundings. That is when I eventually decided to change the entire concept of my home.”
Selma backtracked to what brought him there in the first place: the beach, the sea, and the sky. Floor-to-ceiling off-white curtains diffuse unobstructed sunlight throughout the home. Fragrant sea breeze fills his home, gently tossing them, like the rolling waves at the beach just downstairs, also depicted in the hyperrealistic Tzaddi Esguerra painting of one of Selma’s photographs.
While decorating with travel memorabilia expresses his desire to see more of the world, making the home a temporary rest stop before the next big destination, by taking cues and culling elements from the sea around him, he creates a sense of contentment, a signal to be present. Sitting on his Arata lounge chair in the living room, he takes it all in.
“I wanted to create a chair that gave comfort to people without having to use any upholstery. The chair is completely made of wood and every slat has a change in dimensions, just enough, so a person can comfortably slide back and be comfortable,” he explains the Arata’s design.
Selma has always used the sea as inspiration for his furniture designs. At night, his Bajau lamp, inspired by the homes of the Bajau people on stilts, is a charming sculptural piece that emanates a warm glow.
The theme continues in the furnishings for his beach house: In a guest room is his Alegra swinging chair, cocooning you in macrame reminiscent of siesta-ready seaside hammocks tied between coconut trees, while in another is a piece from his kids’ line, Willy 9, a rocking whale for his visiting nieces and nephews. On the wall are finger-paintings of the sea by his nephew, Yxandro. His dining table, a sculptural piece with a base made of two individual fins joined together, is called Ariel from his line inspired by “The Little Mermaid.” And all over, are seashells: Seashell lamps over the kitchen counter, smaller seashells on the walls leading upstairs, and in one bedroom, barnacle clusters.
“My work has always been about bringing the outside inside a home, be it through textures, colors or materials. This unit reflects that. All the colors, textures, materials and objects that you see are all inspired by the sea. It is inspired by the beauty that you see when you look out my windows,” he says.
Pre-pandemic, Selma always had guests over, reserving the best rooms for them while he stayed in the smallest room on the ground floor. “The guest rooms in my home are actually the best rooms,” he said. “The master's room is the biggest with a view of the sunset, while the second room upstairs — a corner room with a sunrise view— are my guest bedrooms.”
Looking back to when he first toured the property, it was always the windows that provided both a bay and sea view that attracted him. “I came back twice a day, morning and afternoon, and I saw how the sun sets. This unit has a glimpse of both sunrise and sunset, and that for me was the deciding factor. I'm a morning person and what better way to wake up than to wake up with the sun?”
Selma loves to cook. His kitchen is always busy, teeming with flavors and aromas across cuisines except French food and Filipino food. But when visiting friends ask for lechon in the country’s lechon capital, Selma takes them out into town for the crunchiest, juiciest charcoal-roasted suckling pig.
These days, his kitchen is all about healthy meals. During the past eight months, he found excitement in change, in constantly moving things. He says, “I've moved my office three times in the past eight months!” Latest additions to the evolving space include plants on platforms and a spin bike.
Now that homes have turned into the axis around which both our work and leisure revolve, Selma is lucky to still have the vacation home he built out of his dreams. But before the lockdown, Selma put the house on sale.
“I realized I spent and lost so much time traveling from home to the office,” he admits. “Because of the traffic, it takes almost an hour just to get to work. I left Manila because of the traffic, and I didn’t want to live the life I was running away from. After a year of it being a weekend house, I've decided to let it go and I finally move on to a bigger dream — an actual house by the sea, a place for me to retire in the future.”