By Joseph L. Garcia

A SQUAT hyper-modern concrete house rising above the Emilio Aguinaldo Highway in Tagaytay turns out to be Domicillo Design Hotel. While it looks like many of the newer structures around the hills overlooking Taal lake and volcano island, the hotel, with the rest of its structure located below the ground, is a veritable jewel in the rough, with its interiors and furnishings provided by leading Filipino architects, designers, and artists.

Last month, BusinessWorld toured the hotel, beginning at its viewing deck which the hotel plans to dress up as a wedding venue. The viewing deck offers a stunning view of Taal Volcano, while the surrounding hills and the lakeshore provide a pleasant accompaniment to the view.

The hotel only has eight rooms, each designed by a well-known designer such as Budji Layug, Milo Naval, and Tes Pasola.

The name, Domicillo, is a remnant from manager Marianito Alcala’s past as a designer himself; Domicillo being the name of his former furniture and handicrafts store. His talent and the friendships he forged as a designer working alongside the Department of Trade and Industry’s Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM) was what roped in the big names who did the rooms.

Low lighting and the rough concrete interiors envisioned by Mr. Layug give the feeling of a slow descent into a cave as guests are led to the Superior Rooms (numbering two, offering a view of the lake as well as a veranda and a pocket garden). Wood lattice elements are evident here, while in the Premiere Rooms (also offering a view of the lake, but at a lower vantage point) heavier, more solid wood accents are employed, designed by Mr. Naval. As for the Deluxe Rooms (offering a view of the garden), what they lack in the view is more than made up for by the stunning furnishings from Domicillo and Tes Pasola: for example, the bedframe features tiles made of hundreds upon hundreds of processed newspaper strips. All around the hotel are pieces made by Domicillo, designed by Mr. Alcala, such as stunning mirrors framed in nacreous shells, or else cabinets inlaid with the same shells, in the style of antique Japanese wardrobes.

The whole effect, moving in a gradient from the masculine to the monastic, is relaxing. Being set below ground offers guests a meditative silence away from the whir of the car engines gunning by the roadside, which makes the hotel favored by quiet types: Mr. Alcala said that some guests just hole up in the rooms, to finish writing or reading books.

Not all guests are low key — you might see celebrities from showbiz or the world of industry popping in and out, as the hotel has been used for meetings by television networks and multinational companies.