Camille Lhuillier Albani on finding homes for history's heirlooms

Published May 18, 2021, 12:05 PM

by John Legaspi

Casa de Memoria celebrates five years of bringing objets d’art and antiquities to Filipino homes and beyond

Camille Lhuillier Albani

Prolonging the life of historical art pieces has been the noble mission of sisters Angelique Lhuillier Miranda and Camille Lhuillier Albani. With their auction house, Casa de Memoria, they were able to do just that by finding new homes for the heirlooms of the past, and a family that would take care of them.

“To be able to combine both art and business is something that’s really gratifying,” Camille, the general manager of the auction house, says. “To have grown up in such a beautiful place such as Italy, I always have an interest in art. It being my work makes it less of a work.”

In half a decade, the Lhuiller-managed auction house has already seen a lot—from the variety of special pieces and antiquities it sells to the changes in its surroundings. Over the years, it found a new home in the restored pre-war mansion Palacio de Memoria, which strengthened its heritage ethos. Now it strives in its extended home online as the global pandemic puts its physical space to close in the meantime.

While this has brought bad news to many, in the case of the Filipino auction house, it also paved the way for them to broaden their service of instilling art and culture in Filipino homes and abroad.

In celebration of its fifth anniversary, Manila Bulletin Lifestyle chats with Camille Lhuiller Albani as she looks back on Casa de Memoria’s early years, its role in the local arts and culture scene, its digital adaptation, and her prediction for the house in the next five years.

Was it hard to penetrate the art auction industry in the Philippines?

I would say it wasn’t hard to penetrate. I think it’s harder to add it to the Filipinos’ education of art. Because our art market is so saturated with local and Filipino art. We had to reintroduce the Filipinos back to European art and antiquities, and other interesting pieces. That in itself was a little hard. But now that people know that we are here, they’re a lot more interested, they know where we are. If they have a certain piece that they think they could sell better with us, they come to us.

Let’s look back to what happened last year during the start of the community quarantine. What were the challenges Casa de Memoria encountered during the initial months of the pandemic?

It was really difficult. I mean, it was not just Casa but the whole business perspective of Palacio, our other brand. We had to close our doors for a bit and re-evaluate where we wanted to go. With Casa, we had to grow and move online, where we had to make sure that our partner was there with us along the way to make sure that all of our catalogs and our options were online for everybody. So I think that we were able to achieve that. That’s really important in this business, shifting from a live business to online.

Talking about shifting to online, what are the advantages now that auctions are now happening virtually?

Visibility. Prior to this, we had mostly a Filipino community of buyers. Now we have more international buyers from around Asia but also from America and also other parts of China that buy from us now. It has given us a wider range of markets. But it also allows for, let’s say, not only the younger set to be more accessible to us but as well as the older. A lot of our clients are getting older, they cannot attend auctions. With or without COVID-19, now, as they’re getting older, they have been able to connect with us without being physically there.

20th Century Spanish side chair

What are the things you considered when it comes to choosing the pieces for the house’s anniversary auction ‘Segundo’?

We were going through what we wanted for this auction. In the last few auctions, we’ve been focusing on smaller items, a little bit more fragile pieces. This time, we went more with chairs, tables, and cabinets. We have a lot heavier items that will change the landscape of your home. That’s what we wanted to showcase after five years. A lot of our popular items are ceramics and ivories and tiny pieces. With this auction, we really wanted to present the range that we have, the wonderful pieces that may even come from the 16th and 17th century, that you can have in your home today and then pass down to your children. It’s all about enriching your home. They also become conversation pieces. You may have one of our lovely boxes where you keep small things in your dresser, or you may have one of our lamps. People might ask where that came from. They may think that it’s expensive, but it really isn’t. These things have lasted a very long time and they will keep lasting long. It also gives people, you know, a small museum in their home.

Louis XVI style center table

For you, why are conversations about historical pieces and antiquities still important in our pandemic time?

It’s important because now people are more at home, that’s why the pieces we are auctioning are for home. It gives you a little bit of something different to look at. If you’re in a smaller apartment, you would want a beautiful oil painting, like one of our “Diana Sleeping In The Woods” piece. It kind of gives you a different landscape or a different painting to look at than what you look at maybe out the window or everyday that’s been in your home for a long time. It gives you a form of escapism. I think that’s really important in showing your home. Not only are we staying at home more but we have a kind of friendship bubble, when you have people over just in your group and you want to show them something different and something interesting, you’ll have a little opportunity to do that with the pieces that we have.

“Diana Sleeping In The Woods,* oil on canvas

After five years managing the auction house, what about it that continues to inspire you or make you feel in awe?

I think it’s just that we stand out and that we stand apart from the other auction houses in the things that we do have in auction. A big ethos in our brand and our business, not just Casa’s but Palacio’s as well, is the importance of history in our future. I think it’s really important to have pieces in your home that showcase an interest in that, and then you can pass it down. It is important for us to bring things to your home that’s personal, and that you will keep in your family forever.

What is Casa de Memoria’s goal for the next five years and beyond?

For the next five years and beyond, we really want to bring and showcase more items. We want to educate the younger people on the importance of antiquities and historical pieces. We also want to showcase that we have a long past, and it should not just be focused in certain areas. We were with Spain, we were with America, and all of those are showcased in the auctions, and yet still remain Filipino, because we do have Filipino items as well. As a Filipino auction house, we want to showcase everything.

Get to know more about Casa de Memoria’s anniversary auction “Segundo” here.