“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.” It’s always been like that. Unlike the 19th century hoi polloi who lived in bahay kubo with two rooms, Dons and Doñas were in grand homes, spending time in large rooms with high ceilings and floors of wide balayong, molave, or narra planks.
The ultimate was probably the Paterno home that occupied an entire block between Carriedo and P. Paterno Streets in Santa Cruz. Its sala, known far and wide as Salon de Diez Puertas, had 10 double doors, three each on the long sides and two each on the short sides. It was overwhelming with super expensive European furniture, chandeliers, mirrors, heavy curtains, carpets, pedestals, paintings, and all kinds of bric a brac—miniature furniture and furnishings were popular collectibles.
The grand 19th century homes of Lipa and Bacolor are but memories. Survivors in Vigan (like those of the Syquias and Quemas) and Malolos are enormous but they were generally simpler. The Lardizabal home, the largest of Boac, Marinduque, had the sala and a bedroom behind the street façade; the stairs, caída, and a bedroom were behind. The kitchen was on a projecting wing. A passage above the stairs landing connected the front bedroom and the kitchen.
Today’s status symbols—giant flat screen TVs, Birkin bags, BenCabs—had their 19th century equivalents in large gilt-framed mirrors, cut-glass chandeliers, and ivory-headed santos in glass domes. Expensive to begin with, shipping them unbroken from Murano would have multiplied the cost. Processional images joining town processions also proclaimed serious wealth. Then there’s this giant paminggalan occupying the entire width of a Sta Rita, Pampanga dining room wall.
Some common upperclass home items of yore, however, are now puzzling.
Benches can be backless (bangkô), with backs like church pews (capía) or with backs and slatted compartments underneath (gallinera). Bangkô are multi-purpose and can be used upstairs for dining or downstairs. Capía and gallinera were normally placed in a waiting area for tenants, merchants, and favor-seekers who were not allowed upstairs. The gallinera compartment is supposedly where visitors can park their roosters. I’m not familiar with rooster sociology but if there is more than one caller each with a rooster, there could be an underbutt cockfight.
Hat rack. Men wore hats and in rainy season everyone carried an umbrella. On entering a home, one therefore needed to hang hats and leave dripping umbrellas. A piece of furniture was designed for the purpose, with hooks for hats and an umbrella holder with a small pan. Some had small mirrors for a quick hair check.
Buyera. On arrival, guests were offered areca nut, buyo leaf, lime, and other ingredients like tobacco. Nuts and leaves were placed in an exquisite silver tray. The ones I’ve seen are all highly ornamented and oval-shaped. Naturally the chewer would need to spit every so often, as would gentlemen enjoying their cigars. A spittoon therefore had to be nearby, usually placed under a table. The chewer-spitter’s aim would have to be good.
Processional chairs. In the absence of TV, Netflix, texting, and Facebook, gossiping and observing goings-on in the street was a major pastime. A processional chair, one with long legs, was invented to make people- or procession- watching more convenient. Ordinary chairs are too low and an occupant would need to stand from time to time to see what was going on, particularly if the house is high. The solution was to lengthen chair legs. Without standing or straining one’s neck, the householder can see what was happening below.
A piano and a harp were handy for the tertulias that homeowners held to entertain themselves. These were literary-musical programs performed by family members and guests. The late Alita R. Martel (sister of FL Imelda Romualdez Marcos) related how the Romualdezes held tertulias and that her specialty was declamation (“O Captain! My Captain!”).
Lavadór and Orinola. Without en suites, the rich had furniture in a narrow corridor between room and windows (called volada) that held porcelain basins for light ablutions and orinola, chamber pots allegedly sometimes used as soup tureens by social climbing innocents. Status was clear if one pissed on imported English porcelain (probably Derby or Minton).
Notes: (a) The quote is from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1926 short story, “Rich Boy”; and (b) The Lardizabal home of Boac, Marinduque burned down a couple of years ago.
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