Casa Buenas, a Filipino-themed restaurant, opened early this year with fanfare, with guests raving not only on its food, but also its interiors, which evoke elegance and sophistication.
Located at Resorts World Manila, the new restaurant is now open for dining guests from Tuesdays to Sundays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. It is also open for takeout and deliveries. Observing health protocols, diners can now once again savor its interiors, created by top global hospitality firm Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA) Manila Design Office.
“Working on the design brief with the owner and the operations team, we developed the interiors of a destination restaurant that we hoped to redefine the Filipino style,” says Norman Agleron, the design firm’s Manila principal.
He explains that the restaurant’s main dining hall is inspired by the azotea, which is part of traditional Filipino ancestral houses built during the Spanish colonial era or a bahay na bato. The azotea is where one would go to hang out with other family members or receive and welcome guests, and have casual conversations over a meal. Some would call it a “lanai” – an informal living room.
Complementing the dining hall are the gazebo and cigar lounge areas that are inspired by a conservatory where the design group visually brought the outdoors in.
What would complete any design concept are the details, which if overlooked, could spoil the overall effect of what could be an indelible experience.
“The part of the Okura Hotel building’s shell where Casa Buenas is gave us an opportunity to carve it into an immersive and functional space. An integral part of the design, which is less apparent than the decorative elements of the interiors, is the way the restaurant is laid out. As a designer, I firmly believe that the soul is in the planning,” Norman says.
As planned, going through the space gave guests the feeling of walking through the traditional ancestral home. Beyond the ornate double-doors is the entrance hall that leads the guests to the tapas bar. Across it is the island bar that serves drinks and anchors the lounge seating, which is much like the sala where guests could sit, wait, have coffee or welcome refreshments until they are led to the main dining hall when their table is ready.
Like the traditional house, the show kitchen (cucina) directly oversees the dining room (comedor) so guests could watch their dishes being prepared by a team of chefs. At the center is the gazebo (la cupola), and on its axis is a long communal table (la familia) that could sit larger groups.
The restaurant’s prominent corner location provides the space plenty of natural light reminiscent of the azotea, which is a semi-outdoor space. The lush gardens encapsulate the restaurant, providing a refreshing tropical backdrop while creating a barrier from the driveway outside.
Tall sliding lattice screens filter any harsh sunlight during the day. The double-volume height ceiling gives a sense of grandeur balanced by the scale and proportion of the elaborate and bespoke chandeliers.
Visible from the outside are the ventanillas – the top panels above the double-height sliding screens along the exterior glazing that are a modern iteration of the traditional capiz shell windows. The screens are adorned with diamond-shaped capiz accent panels.
The palissandro stone-cladded walls and columns are reminiscent of the bahay-na-bato, invoking the same warmth of a home. Adding to these subtle references are the hand-carved wood flooring with intricate wood inlays and the machuca tiles with wood borders.
The iconic ceiling with the swooping curved timber beams and painted wooden planks, the fabric paneling with arched and floral frames, and the double-height draperies were all designed as acoustic treatments for the expansive space, so no modern-day clink, chatter, or merriment can detract from the overall feel of the place.
The bar counters were articulated to mimic carved wooden balustrades of a house, while the show kitchen is encapsulated with blue lattice screens and solihiya wall panels. Behind the tapas bar is a tall arched showcase with antique glass cladding and capiz-patterned panels.
The gazebo was designed for a small group or family desiring some privacy, as the space could be divided with tall sliding panels. The stained glass ceiling that filters the sunlight highlights the conservatory feel from the panoramic windows. At night, this room becomes an interesting beacon with the illuminated multi-colored glass when seen from the outside. Hovering above the dining table is another custom-designed chandelier made of metallic branches and crystal butterflies that change colors when viewed at different angles.
The contemporary furniture pieces chosen are the final touches to the Filipino style inspiration. Sacrificing neither form nor function while staying with the concept, the seating in the lounge area is a combination of leather-upholstered lounge chairs and rattan couches with tables that are suited for cocktails or light meals.
The minimal-style bar stools with slim bronze metal legs were intended to expose the details of the bar counters. The rattan dining chairs with solihiya backrests add to the guests’ comfort while enjoying a sumptuous meal.
The lighting design of the restaurant adds to the drama that the space evokes in the evening.
HBA Manila Design Group’s design aimed to capture the feeling of being home. The relaxed, warm feel of the interiors is inviting and conducive for both festive get-togethers and intimate conversations.
“Among the sentiments that we want the guests to walk away with is the nostalgia of childhood days visiting their grandparents and enjoying the company of the family over a delectable home-cooked meal.”