The receiving hall or lanai, now Tahanan Bistro, is set in a tropical garden. Beneath it is the game room where wife Careng Reyes sells vintage curios like telephones, fans, and Bakelite radio sets. The extension to the left is the verandah beside the family dining room.


Tahanan Bistro is the fruit of artisan carpentry and tremendous attention to detail

Wood sculptor and furniture maker Benji Reyes opens his finely crafted Tahanan to foodies looking to dine with art and soul

  • May 3, 2018

  • Written by Manuel Vergara

  • Photographed by Ed Simon of Studio 100

Singular furniture creator Benji Reyes refers to his home as “Tahanan”,  a very Tagalog word for “home”. Growing up in the suburbs of Metro Manila myself, and not being a Tagalog, it was always “Uuwi na ako sa bahay,” or “Tutuloy na ako sa bahay.” Reyes is the only fellow I know who has always referred to his home more intimately as tahanan, which is correct because tahanan is to home as bahay is to house.

Reyes, as longtime readers of BluPrint may recall, has had his home featured early on in the magazine. His home has aged nicely since then and his unique furniture collections have been featured a number of times in BluPrint as well. While being very friendly and accommodating, Reyes is a private person and his home had only really been shared with family and his closest friends.

The idea for a restaurant or an events venue in his property had been mulled over by family and friends for almost a decade and it was the return of his daughter, Keesha, from her studies in Australia with her partner, chef Kevin Tuason, that brought Tahanan Bistro into fruition.

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Tahanan Bistro diners have a view of Laguna Lake as they dine on chairs that are fine examples of artisanship, some, veritable works of art.

Tahanan Bistro is a study in woodwork of Reyes’ personality, his aesthetics, and his capabilities. There is nothing, apart from his collection of art and artifacts, in Tahanan that has not been designed or supervised or carved or finished or constructed by Reyes himself to his liking. Tahanan is evidence of his uncompromising drive to produce beautiful work that is wonderful to behold. When you walk through Tahanan, the tremendous amount of wooden artwork, artisan carpentry, and attention to detail before and around you from floor to rafter shall give you pause.

READ MORE: French Culture, Cuisine, and Art Deco in La Maison Rose in Cebu

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Reyes’ front gate is a rustic affair made from old, old reclaimed timber embellished with a carved sun face medallion. The baybayin script (it’s not alibata, says Reyes) reads: “Tahanan Reyes”.
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The five and a half-level Tahanan was built around the natural contour of the property, which descends some 30 meters down from street level to a stream below. The first level holds the receiving hall, a half-level down is the family dining room, kitchen, and verandah. On the second level beneath the receiving hall is the game room. The master bedroom is on the third level, the children’s bedrooms on fourth, then the guest room and pool on the fifth and lowest level. Photo by Mark Jacob, 2009.

Reyes’s personality, informal and all at once dignified, is entirely reflected in the construction of his home. Tahanan is open in plan, wrought in natural materials, and finished impeccably. Sections of Tahanan have been opened to bistro guests so they can take in, first-hand, Reyes’ renowned work.

To enter Tahanan, guests step onto a wooden walkway clad in glass traversing a lovely koi pond fringed with bromeliads. The wood-rich receiving hall with an idyllic view of Laguna, for many years an extension of the Reyes family’s hospitality and graciousness, is now laid out for informal private dining. Further on, there is a breezeway which takes you right into the family dining room with a wood decked verandah on the left and a working kitchen on the right. The verandah serves as another area for airy dining and looks out to the garden and Laguna Bay.

In the kitchen is cabinetry the envy of many for their salas or dens, let alone a working kitchen. Moving further on from the dining room decorated with art and artifacts, there is a whimsical but handsome staircase that leads to their bedrooms. One of the bedrooms has been converted into a showroom sampling some of Reyes’ best pieces, which clients drive all the way to Antipolo to view by appointment.

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The walkway from the lanai to the main house. The rafters are center-gusseted with shaped plates. Hardwood doors with freeform joinery.
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Chef Kevin Tuason preparing for the evening booking.

Reyes’s aesthetic reveals a deep respect for Filipino tradition and also exceptional innovation. He takes the best practices of traditional wooden joinery and creates fluid forms and shapes that are uniquely Benji Reyes while still being undeniably Filipino.

READ MORE: The prolific life and house-studio of Abdulmari Imao

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Fluid, fanciful, freeform balusters and handrails anchored on old house posts lead from the dining room to two levels of bedrooms.

Through the years, the designer has painstakingly developed his own techniques and methods in woodworking and is now a master of his craft. Integrity is very much in Benji Reyes‘ person and this you will see in his methods and execution of construction. There are simply no short cuts. He has, at this point in his career, already contributed considerably to the body of Philippine design and art. Tahanan, and now, Tahanan Bistro, shall be very much considered an important part of his body of work, having invested much, much time and expert labor through the years on his home. It is a meld of art, design, and architecture. 

Original articles first appeared in BluPrint Volume 2 2017. Edits were made for Bluprint online.
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