Previously art director of an advertising firm in California’s Bay Area, Winston Cervantes is now exercising his creative streak by collecting works of art, especially from his home country – the Philippines – and even doing some painting of his own.
He and his wife Colleen, who hails from Michigan, met and fell in love more than fifteen years ago while she was on an expat posting to Manila.
“I have always supported my wife’s career,” he says, explaining that Colleen currently handles Asia Pacific for energy giant Chevron. Daughters Kyndra Victoria (11) and Lauren Arlene (7) are happily ensconced at the Singapore American International School.
Photographer Bud Hayman arrives to work his magic, and it’s not long before he and Winston have identified mutual American friends who live in this popular condo along Ardmore Park. It is something of a favourite with higher-income expats, and it’s not difficult to see why. “The mix is about half-American, half-European,” I’m told. “Many tenants move to houses at the end of the first lease term, both for more space and because the rents here are horrendous.”
Somewhat ruefully, he reveals that living in such a strictly managed condo can be a bit frustrating. You have to apply before doing any sort of work, so that your neighbours can be notified – even if you’re just hanging pictures! – and put down a $2,000 bond deposit.
In the living room, floor-to-ceiling glass gives a stunning view onto an immaculate blue pool and lots of greenery. And when I comment on how the living-room furniture has been laid out at an angle to make the most of the view, Winston credits designer Kem Reyes.
“I’m not sure I like the TV being the focal point,” he muses, “but I suppose it works. The wooden screen behind it is from the little shop next to Lim’s Art and Living in Holland Village.”
It took the family some time to start nesting in earnest, he says.
“When we arrived here three-and-a-half years ago, we regarded our lives here as being only temporary. We had brought our beds with us from the States, with the result that we can’t buy bedding here – nothing fits! Thinking of all the stuff we had left in storage, we didn’t buy anything much in the first year; and we didn’t want to buy lamps, for example, because of the different voltage. As a result of this mindset, we didn’t feel at home. Realising this, we decided at the end of that first year: ‘Okay, let’s make this a real home.’” That, it seems, is when the shopping started.
Colour and Contrast
Deep-brown Italian leather sofas from Natuzzi’s Da Vinci Collection look great against pale, gleaming marble floors. The sophisticated black marble bar is from the same store.
“We consulted Kem only after we bought our furniture, and the first thing she said was that it was all too dark. It was she who found the two small ivory snakeskin Philippe Starck chairs for the living room. Colleen finds them uncomfortable, but Kyndra and Lauren love them. Kem also proposed the taupe slip-covers on the dining-room chairs, and persuaded us to replace the landlord’s yellow curtains with matching taupe drapes. But at the price we paid, they’re going back to the States with us!”
All the large rugs are modern designs from the Orientalist, but a pretty antique Persian acquired on auction ended up in Lauren’s room. “She designed her room herself,” says her proud dad.
Light, well-proportioned and spacious, the apartment is perfect for showcasing art. Vying with the pool view for attention are three Filipino paintings hung on the main living-room wall. Acquired with the help of their art-dealer friend Billy Sundy Hudson of Art Verite, they present an orderly riot of colour and design.
“Colleen and I mostly shop together,” confides Winston, “but not always.” He chose two of these three himself, and they commissioned the family portrait together from master painter Mario Parial. It is supposed to represent the four of them, but displays a degree of artistic licence.
“When Kyndra saw it, she blurted: ‘But Daddy, that man has hair, and you don’t!’”
The biggest of the three works was framed at Joe’s Frame Shop in Shaw Centre. “A lot of our framing has been done by Framing Angie, whom we trust for her expertise and the quality of her work. But for this one, Joe had the right heavy, rustic frame to go with the theme of the painting.”
The large Buddha head was his find, declares Winston, and the life-sized, standing Mandalay piece was Colleen’s. Both are 19th-century pieces from Naga Arts & Antiques. “I was blown away by the size of the head, though I did feel guilty about what might have become of the body. But this store assures us that the local people recycle the statues into smaller religious artefacts.”
Behind the bar is a portrait of the Buddha, which hung in the bedroom until the Cervantes were told that was an inappropriate location. (Apparently, the bar isn’t.)
Between the living and dining areas, other objets d’art are displayed on a unit comprising smoothly swivelling cubes. Stargazer is a glass sculpture by Filipino artist Ramon Orlina, bought from Galerie Joaquin. A Buddha bust with a sweetly youthful mien was made in 19th-century Mandalay, and acquired from Naga Arts & Antiques.
On the dining-room console are three exquisite Qing Dynasty incense burners made of red jade, which the couple bought in Beijing’s Liang Ma market, “barely one month before the Chinese government slapped a ban on the exportation of objects made before the start of the 18th century”. Above it hangs one of Colleen’s favourite paintings: a gorgeous depiction of legong dancers by Balinese artist Ronie Arto; technically brilliant, traditional in theme, but with a contemporary vibe.
Winston loves the colourful, rich variety of art from both the Philippines and Bali, and points out that they generally offer far better value than what comes out of China. His fellow art-lover and friend, Rico Hizon – through his outfit Art Sentral Asia – brings in top-quality Filipino art, he says, at a fraction of the price you’d have to pay in the US. He points out one of these: a colonial-era portrait of a woman, painted by top contemporary artist José Santos III. And in the master bedroom, he shows me a lyrical painting of a courting couple, Suyuan by Tam Austria; another in the entrance hall was executed by this master’s son – the technique and subject matter a chip off the old block, but the colour palette brighter, bolder, distinctly different.
Above the master bed, in place of the banished Buddha portrait, is a stunning still-life of antique porcelain figurines, horses and a dancer. It is by Chinese artist Tian Zhong Quan, and was acquired from HaKaren Gallery. The effect is shimmering, vital, anything but still.
Reposing in Winston’s study in splendid isolation is his Cyber-Relax, a Japanese bliss-machine acquired second-hand. He says Colleen relegated to this room the painting of pale parchment against cobalt blue (another of her husband’s solo purchases), not liking it much. One presumes she also didn’t like a similar one – featuring scarlet instead of blue – that hangs nearby.
“Most of all,” he says with a grin, “she’s afraid that I’ll hang my own works.” By way of example, he unrolls his oil of a face featuring a spectacularly scary eye. It’s an interesting piece, but Colleen Cervantes’ fear is perhaps not completely groundless.
Art and Abart
Being so close to the American Club is the main thing that keeps them in this area, according to Winston.
“We use it every weekend, and our daughters do their birthday parties, swimming and karate there. The facilities are just okay – it’s the people, the parties and the other fun and creative activities that make it so great.”
The family eats out at the American Club’s restaurants, at Relish (for burgers and boutique beers), CPK and the Hard Rock Café, and the ribs at Tony Roma’s are Kyndra and Lauren’s current favourite. “I keep telling them they can’t live on ribs alone,” he sighs. “They’re also very excited about the new Chili’s Bar & Restaurant that’s opening in Tanglin Mall.”
This is one trailing spouse who clearly has no time for boredom. After a year of settling in, he decided to become a recreational athlete. He now runs and bikes a lot, and is trying to improve his freestyle swimming. As well as his first Standard Chartered Marathon last year, completed in the highly creditable time of 03:41, he has competed in a number of other duathlon and triathlon events, and is training for a 100km ultra-marathon relay. What’s more, he’s a member of the American Dragon Boat team.
“It’s not all about me,” he adds. “Lauren has joined in a couple of swim meets – one of which she won! – and Kyndra has also started registering for triathlons.”
Winston asked us to do this article as a surprise present for his wife, whose birthday falls on 4 August. She subscribes to Expat Living, and he says she loves our magazine. Happy birthday, Colleen! We hope you enjoy the story as much as we enjoyed putting it together.
|• American Club
• Art Sentral Asia
• Axclusive Living, Park Mall #02-11, Singapore
• Galerie Joaquin, Regent Hotel, 1 Cuscaden Road , Singapore
• HaKaren Gallery, Tanglin Shopping Centre #02-23 , Singapore
• Hard Rock Café, 50 Cuscaden Road , Singapore
• Joe’s Frame Shop, #04-14 Shaw Centre , Singapore
• Masterpiece Fine Arts & Antiques, #03-33 Tanglin Shopping Centre , Singapore
• Naga Arts & Antique, #01-49 Tanglin Shopping Centre , Singapore
• Relish, 501 Bukit Timah Road , Singapore
• Singapore American International School
• Space Furniture, Level 2 Millenia Walk , Singapore
• Tony Roma’s, Orchard Hotel , Singapore
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