The Quema Residence, Vigan


When readers found out we were headed to Ilocos on a sightseeing trip a few months ago, many sent fantastic recommendations of things to eat, where to stay and what to see. One reader, through private emails, very kindly invited Marketman & family to visit their ancestral home in Vigan, a historical and heritage home, that while open to the public, is typically only visited by prior appointment or arrangement. Of course, we were thrilled and jumped at the chance. In the course of confirming our planned visit, it turned out that the reader’s husband was an old schoolmate of ours from HS days…how’s that for a small world kinda story?

When we checked into our hotel, Villa Angela, we asked about the Quema Residence and were told it was just a few steps away, not more than a five minute walk, in fact, though we didn’t have an exact address. We did have the name of the caretaker who was going to show us around. Not knowing any better, we tried our hands at the door knocker at one home we thought might be the Quema home, but no one answered the door, so we crossed the street to a much snazzier and well painted and jazzed up residence and knocked there. Nobody came either, and we asked a nearby sari-sari store and were told we were knocking at the door of the residence of Congressman Singson, Chavit Singson’s son…oops :).


So we returned to the first home on the corner and at that point a construction foreman met us and agreed to let us have a look around as the lady we were supposed to meet had stepped out for an errand. The house was WONDERFUL. But it was also undergoing serious renovation and construction work. The first floor was where the calesa or two was parked in the old days, and it had a stone floor. The cement or stone walls gave it a solid feel and one got the feeling that all the less refined things in the home were stored down here, along with extensive staff quarters.


We then climbed an impressive carved wooden stairway which led to an expansive second floor with public drawing rooms, bedrooms, dining room, kitchen, etc. The home is well described in this article from the International Herald Tribune by Katherine Tanko (Tanco?). The wide hardwood floor planks were INCREDIBLE, some two feet wide and up to 12-15 feet long in some cases… utterly stunning pieces of wood dating back a century and a half or so. Probably cut from the virgin forests nearby, I can only imagine what it must have been like to have such an abundance of building material, at wickedly low prices, I bet!


The Quema Residence had stunning wooden wall panels, capiz windows, high ceilings, and natural air vents on the side of the house. One of the cooler features were “peepholes” in the floor so that you could see if someone was downstairs, and if you didn’t want to see them, you could tell your butler or major doma to shoo them away…. heehee. Furnished with lovely old pieces and some interesting artwork, I can see how if fully renovated and cleaned up, this would indeed be a stunning residence to spend some time in…


Mrs. Marketman looked around the second floor and she discovered my favorite part of the visit by FAR… this very old “refrigerator” or “icebox” (photo above) where one puts a huge block of ice from China or North America (brought in by ships, covered in insulating materials), and as the ice melted, the items in the shelves below would keep cool. NOW isn’t that the absolute coolest find??? If any of you have a relative who wants to sell Marketman an antique like this old refrigerator, I would definitely be interested in acquiring it. It is just too neat… A quick look around the second floor kitchen yielded a huge painting job in progress but one couldn’t ignore the wonderful tile floors that must have dated back 100 years or so…

It was truly a pleasure to spend a brief 15 minutes in this home. The Kid probably thought she was being dragged through a museum but the peepholes, the old fridge and other practical touches made this very real for her… I think she got it that people (very lucky people at that) actually lived in this manner many, many years ago. Thank you, thank you to the reader and her family who made this visit possible, you know who you are…Maraming Salamat!!!

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16 Responses

  1. This reader of yours happens to be a friend and I was told that the renovation is almost complete – we have been invited to visit and now I am already excited to see the cool “ref”!

  2. That ice box is pretty interesting, imagine we had to import ice back then? I’ve read in one of Ambeth Ocampo’s books that one fellow (an American, I think), truly became rich by importing ice to different parts of Asia.. He would like start with 300 tons and by the time they get to Asia, about 3/4 of that already melted.. yet he still made money.. History is really interesting.. ;)

  3. Blaise,

    Would you believe, they got the ice from the Great Lakes (near Boston) in the US and had them shipped aboard special ships. One wonders why we didnt get them from closer sources like say, Manchuria in China or even Japan or Korea (hmmm, cold be cause they were closed countries at that time)In any case, guess our love for PX goods started way way way longer than we could have imagined! Hee Hee.

  4. I share your awe at the excellent materials used for construction once. Do not forget that we supplied Imperial China with their most revered hardwoods for furniture long before the arrival of the Europeans. And we were so incredibly prodigal with them, we sold them away as logs for the major part of a century for our balance of payment. Just like selling one’s own blood if you ask me. Now we are importing lumber from Malaysia that we would not have considered using for picket fence before.

  5. alicia, I don’t recall the story completely, but if I am not mistaken, the stairs are from China and the house was built to accomodate the height of the stairs — descendants of owners who read this blog please correct me if I am wrong! :) Apicio, yes, I am at awe at what we gave away… My grandmother was a GP Doctor in the 1930’s onwards and one family was so grateful for her assistance to a member of their family and my lola never asked for compensation but one day they showed up and said that their mother/father had instructed that a fabulous narra tree on their property should be felled and the wood given to the Doctora as a “thank you”, so she received wood enough for 6 large dining tables and a wall relief that was carved by a well-known artist on a single piece of narra that was about 5 feet by 12 feet in size! There were truckloads of other narra pieces also given… while I feel badly for the tree, I must say, it is probably the most amazing gift she has received from a patient… ivan, yes, I did read somewhere that the ice came in blocks on steamers…amazing. Jong, lucky you, enjoy your visit to Vigan!

  6. There’s an interesting post about the ice blocks on Senor Enrique’s blog Wish You Were Here. I’ll email you the link when I find it. It may have been an Ambeth Ocampo article originally, but the story of the ice trip is interesting. Would be a great movie don’t you think?

  7. Apicio,

    Our local hardwoods being used in Imperial China (the Forbidden City..woohoo!?!)? Can I have your source on that? That sounds VERY interesting…

  8. Dear MarketMan,
    Thank you very much for featuring our clan’s ancestral home in your blog! We are very proud of this house, and continue to maintain it through family contributions, careful to preserve the old.

    There are four generations of Quemas who now enjoy this house as a year-round retreat from our hectic lives in Manila. Yes, we still live here which is why we prefer knowing when we will have visitors! We have to keep a schedule though, with the clan as big as it is.

    It is funny what you and your astute readers notice. You really have an eye for finer things. You noticed the heladera – believe it or not, once when the president of Westinghouse visited the house he wanted to exchange it for the newest model they had! No way, of course!

    As for the staircase, I have asked the more senior members of the clan: they are not sure where it came from. Our matriarch now says “I was born it was already there!” We will investigate further regarding the history and maybe have an answer for you. It is unique because of the greenish hue. Many houses reworked in Vigan have this replicated by local artisans.

    The peephole is a favorite among the kids. I have pictures of mine crouching over that exact spot you photographed, looking down into the garage.

    Again our apologies that the renovation was at its height during your visit. Please do come back early next year. By then, we can be sure that the house will be in order. And we can have our cook make some of the more esoteric Ilocano dishes for you.

    Dios ti agngina! That’s our way of saying thank you and Godspeed.

  9. In the Chinese Domestic Furniture by Gustav Ecke (1944), there is a very good discussion of Chinese Cabinets woods in pages 22 to 25 and more extensive and up-to-date in the Connoisseurship of Chinese Furniture by Wang Shixiang (1989), Vol II, Materials, page 148 to 153. You would be surprised, jusi was even mentioned in the Jin Ping Mei.

  10. I too am one of the descendants of Enrique and Teresa Quema. It is a pity that you were not shown one of the oldest Underwood typewriters which is almost as big as the desk where it is encased. For your information, this was “destroyed” by Tom Cruise when he shot a movie nearby many years back. I feel like sending him the bill when and if it still can be repaired. I was told that he was so fascinated by it, he began tinkering with it. The caretaker did not know who he was by was smitten by his good looks that she forgot to call his attention to touching the typewriter. The furniture are real Vienna chairs and the toys of my Father and his siblings are still preserved in a cabinet. These are all made in Europe. Thank you once again for featuring our ancestral home. Take care and God bless!

  11. I grew up in this house from early 50’s until 1965 and remember polishing the staircase rails. The house looks great and very attractive. I am impressed with all the changes after 40 years. Seeing the pictures brings back many memories as a youngster. Thank you to all who worked so hard in making this happen. My husband and I, with some American friends plan on visiting Vigan in April/May 2008, and we are very anxious in meeting everyone and reliving old memories. Again many thanks to everyone.

  12. It really touches our hearts to find people who appreciates our vigan ancestral home, the quema’s are super proud going there at the time we decided to preserve and conserve the house and now reading favorable comments, makes us only do our very best to continue the grandeur of don enrique and dona teresa quema….thank you …

  13. I love the quema house. My cousins are the quema’s in blue ridge qc. That square in the floor is not exactly a peephole. You 1st peep through the sliding panel under the window…if you decide to let the visitor in, without having to go all the way downstairs…you simply open the square and pull a thick chain that’s connected to unlatch the bar of the dungeon style door/wooden gate.


  14. Yeah Annaise I love the concept of this peephole. I want one of that! You can just look and not open the gate hehe =P

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