Entering a well-preserved Filipino Ancestral House is like boarding a time machine. Our generation is fortunate because heirs of these remaining antique houses have made tremendous effort in preserving and opening up their ancestor’s dwellings for us to experience the past and learn from it.
So when traveling back in time through ancestral houses, avoid getting lost by knowing about the things to see in a fully furnished bahay-na-bato.
Rooms in a typical 19th century ancestral house consists of a caida, the sala mayor, comedor, oratorio, cuartos, cocina, and azotea. These rooms are located on the second floor living quarters. Some houses have mezzanines or entresuelo that have function rooms like the despacho and a couple of guest rooms. The ground floor with the zaguan that looks like a dungeon serves as parking space for the family carriage and carrozas, and storage for farming supplies and sacks of produce. It also houses the stable or cuadra for the horses.
The following is a list of common furniture and furnishings found in each room of a bahay-na-bato. Those who want to recreate the look and feel of an ancestral house in their own home may also find this checklist helpful:
1. Caida (Receiving room): A hat and cane rack or bastonero, a grandfather’s clock, framed portraits of the landlord and his lady, a round marble topped center table, an escritorio or desk, and ceramic Chinese stands with potted plants.
The Villavicencio Wedding Gift House in historic Taal has these furniture in the first three steps landing of the staircase called descanso and in their caida.
2. Sala Mayor (Main living room): A large crystal chandelier, a marble topped center table, smaller than the one in the caida, oval or rectangular side tables or consolas, small tables or mesitas, a mariposa sofa or divan, a set of caned chairs, lounging chairs like the sillas frailuna and perezosa and butacas, rocking chairs or kolumpyo, Vienna bentwood chairs, a pair of high chairs by the window, a piano and a harp, landscape paintings and Venetian mirrors, porcelain vases and bronze statues on pedestals, and a gramophone, which gives the set a modern feel the equivalent of a LED TV in the living room today.
Grouped in the crowded sala major of the Jose Bautista House in the Kamistisuhan District of Malolos are furniture in different styles.
3. Comedor (Dining room): Mesa or a very long rectangular table for 10 to 36 sitters with matching dining chairs, a toothpick holder and the epergne cast in silver as table centerpiece, an unusually tall glass fronted display cabinet with for porcelain plates and glassware called the vajillera, display cabinets for silverware called the aparador de platera, a serving table or trinchante, one or two overhead cloth fan called the punkah, wooden divider or persiana where the operator of the punkah hides, and a gong.
The original owners of 1914 Bahay-Nakpil Bautista in Quiapo built a ‘house’ to match the Viennese Secession dining set furniture given to them as a gift.
4. Oratorio (Prayer room): Life-size saint’s statues, kneelers, a mesa altar, a carved altar to enshrine the saint’s statues of wood or ivory, statuettes or a diorama of a biblical scene incased in a virina, a crucifix with ivory corpus and silver trimmings, relicarios in silver filigree with relics of saint, silver candelabras, prayer books in silver frame or casing.
House museums like Casa Gorordo in the Parian District of Cebu and Casa Manila in Intramuros have formal altars in their oratorio.
5. Cuarto (Bedroom): a four poster cama, a massive aparador with mirrored doors surmounted by a crown of fretted work, a chest of drawers or a low two-door cabinet called the comoda decorated with bone inlay, a baul, a ropero for dirty clothes, a lavadera or a freestanding wash basin, a pillow rack or almario, a dresser with mirror called the painadora or a full length mirror with two adjustable side mirrors called the tremor.
See how the descendants of Segunda Katigbak arranged their matriach’s cuarto in Casa de Segunda in Lipa.
6. Cocina (Kitchen): A slatted wooden cupboard or paminggalan, a nivera or ice-chest, a kitchen table with matching plain backless benches or bankos, over-sized clay pots and metal kawas, pans and chocolatera in beaten copper, different baskets, a coal powered flat iron called the prensa, and cookie mold made of wood.
The Casa Villavicencio in Taal maintained their cocina just like how it looks a century ago, complete with a bulbous pugon, palayoks, garapons, etc.
7. Azotea (Service kitchen): Wicker chairs, several tapayan or clay water jars, a cast iron bathtub, and potted plants.
Bahay na Tisa in Carcar, Cebu has charming azotea that is perfect for al fresco dining.
8. Zaguan: Gallinera or bench with a built-in chicken coop underneath or a much longer bench with backrest, resembling a church pew called the capiya
There is a calesa parked in the zaguan of the Leon Apacible House in Taal.