Her Name is Mercedes

By , on August 25, 2015

La Casita Mercedes' front gate
La Casita Mercedes’ front gate

Breathtaking in her unassuming beauty, she is the epitome of grace and elegant simplicity.

She rises from slumber before the morning sun. She brushes her long, ebony hair and rolls it up in a bun, securing it above her nape. She religiously puts on her baro’t saya, quickly inspecting her modest outfit before heading out the door.

Day in and day out, without complaint and with great dedication, she fulfills her duties and more. Her hands roughened by hard work, her muscles toughened by labor.

And her name is Mercedes.

La Casita Mercedes is located at Fermina cor. Enriquez Street in Poblacion, Makati City
La Casita Mercedes is located at Fermina cor. Enriquez Street in Poblacion, Makati City

A Story of Discovery
When Filipino-Canadian Jon Ramos returned to the Philippines a few years back after spending nearly three decades abroad, he had one purpose in mind.

“I came back because I wanted to contribute,” Jon shared.

“The things I learned from my years in Canada—the sensibility of processes, the effectiveness of systems, the importance of cultural preservation—is something I would like to bring back to the Philippines,” he explained.

“I firmly believe there’s economic value in beauty,” Jon said, quoting the late Lee Kuan Yew, adding that he wants to create more beautiful places in the metro that are accessible to everyone.

Here at home, Jon is a staunch supporter of the preservation of Philippine heritage. Jon believes that uplifting the Philippines would be difficult if we do not preserve our heritage and do nothing to improve our surroundings.

One of the rooms on the second floor
One of the rooms on the second floor

“We need to showcase our heritage,” he shared. “It’s something we haven’t done very well lately and the government has its hands full. So I think the burden is mostly in the private sector. This, in a way, is my contribution in showcasing our past, our heritage.”

Jon also has a knack for spotting diamonds in the rough and restoring things to their former glory. So when he happened by a run-down house in the corner of Fermina and Enriquez Streets in Poblacion, Makati, he instantly saw its potential.

“There were five families sharing this one-story house,” Jon recalled. “It was poorly maintained, almost falling apart. But you can still see its original structure.”

His discovery of a dilapidated ancestral house in a busy corner inside one of Makati’s oldest spots gave birth to La Casita Mercedes—a project that was two years and a couple of millions in the making.

The staircase lined with the restored abaca rug
The staircase lined with the restored abaca rug

A Story of Restoration
For Jon, he chose the name “La Casita Mercedes” because the name Mercedes is a typically representative of a Filipina in the 1930’s. That’s as far as it goes. In fact, he doesn’t even have a relative named Mercedes. He likes the air of mystery the name invokes in the repurposed pre-war home, now “made relevant and in tune with the times.”

According to Jon, the house was built between 1933 and 1939, with Spanish and American architectural influences visible in its clapboard walls, use of capiz for the windows, and intricate wooden carvings. When Jon discovered the house in 2013, he knew he had his work cut out for him, but he was never one to back down from a challenge. He took everything on as a labor of love.

To turn his vision into reality, Jon has to hire around 50 workers for a period of two years to restore the old house.

“Some parts of the house were already crumbling,” Jon recalled. “We even had to raise and reinforce the ceiling to accommodate more floors.”

The indoor courtyard lets light and air into the home and serves as an open space for al fresco dining
The indoor courtyard lets light and air into the home and serves as an open space for al fresco dining

Jon also shared how he bought another old house in Caloocan where he salvaged some parts and used it at La Casita Mercedes. For some pieces of the old house—like the wooden carvings and panels—he had the original pieces recreated in a wood shop all the way in Pampanga.

A tour around La Casita shows lots of tiny details that came from Jon’s years of collecting various knick-knacks from his travels, his life abroad, and even random finds along the street, which includes a framed piece of a vintage Philippine Airlines aircraft (by the desk at the end of the hallway in the second floor) and a long abaca rug thrown away from a restaurant. Jon and his staff painstakingly restored the abaca rug, which now lines the gorgeous staircase in the center of the pre-war home.

Other than finding the house in Poblacion, Jon has more reasons why he decided to build a bed & breakfast in this location.

“It’s in the middle of three upscale neighborhoods: Rockwell, Century City, and Bel-Air,” Jon explained, adding that the costs and practicality of opening a business in Poblacion was a lot more favorable compared to buying a property in a gated community or a more posh part of the city.

Owner Jon Ramos (left) with friends Vicky Herrera and Simon Balboa
La Casita Mercedes owner Jon Ramos (left) with friends Vicky Herrera and Simon Balboa

“I think it’s something that a lot of people are not expecting,” Jon pointed out, saying the element of surprise in finding a jewel like La Casita in the middle of Poblacion is an added motivation why he decided to pursue his B&B.

“I think this allows some commercial [function], at the same time it’s a place that needs attention,” he said. “I like places that has potential and allows for some creativity.”

Upon completion, La Casita Mercedes now has eight rooms for quests—painted crisp white with tasteful wooden accents and antique furniture. It also has an indoor courtyard to facilitate light and good ventilation throughout the house, a quaint breakfast nook next to the kitchen, and a roofdeck, which Jon plans to turn into a garden.

The four-poster antique bed in Room 1
The four-poster antique bed in Room 1

A Story of Fulfillment
Jon studied political science in California and he earned his master’s degree in education, but he never thought he would be running two properties: the PanAm-inspired Clipper Hotel (also in Makati) and his B&B La Casita Mercedes.

“I’ve always been entrepreneurial,” he said. “I’m not contented by just staying in one place. I always have to be moving.”

True enough, an afternoon spent with this dynamic visionary showed this author that he’s an extremely hands-on and dedicated businessman. Jon comments, “You have to have high standards, but not impossible ones.”

When asked about the tediousness of working in the hotel industry, he says he treats the necessity of micromanagement as a “necessary evil,” but he always enjoys the outcome.

Jon's office inside La Casita Mercedes
Jon’s office inside La Casita Mercedes

“I find it difficult, but I like the process of creating things. I believe it’s worth it,” Jon said. “I wanted to create something beautiful, something reminiscent of old Makati, old Manila. I think we did it.”

Between preserving Philippine heritage and creating beautiful spaces, this author believes that Jon and his staff struck the perfect balance with La Casita Mercedes—elegant in its simplicity, every detail adding more charm in its captivating beauty.

To experience La Casita Mercedes for yourself, check them out at Fermina cor. Enriquez Streets, Poblacion, Makati City.

All photos by Ching Dee. More photos here. All rights reserved.