Latest Stories

Michel and Amparito Lhuillier take their gardens to lofty heights in Cebu

She is an extrovert, he an introvert. How they show their distinct personalities in the landscape they created through the years makes for an interesting visual story


A certain mountaintop in the Visayas might still be a patch of wild terrain today if Michel Lhuillier had followed a divergent career path in his youth. “He wanted to become a farmer when he graduated from De La Salle (University),” revealed his wife, Dr. Amparito Llamas Lhuillier, the light-heartedness evident in her voice as she shared the fond memory. Instead, his dream of a pastoral life was deferred for a few decades while he pursued a more lucrative trajectory in jewelry and finance. Now, after raising their family and building a business empire together, the indefatigable couple is enjoying that long-awaited bucolic lifestyle in the hills high above Cebu.

It took nearly a decade of planning and building, but Michel and Amparito eventually transformed nearly a hectare of steep, mountainous environ into a surprisingly intimate residence by distilling their shared love of nature into three unique gardens that surround the family home.

“It took two years just to fill in the slope and build up a level area for the house,” explained Amparito. That stunning structure, designed by the eminent architect Filoteo Jacinto and decorated by noted interior designer Conrad Onglao, features an expansive, airy lanai that blurs the boundary between indoor and outdoor spaces. With a stunning panoramic view of Cebu and Mactan islands beyond, the home’s interior flows out to a lush greenspace that is as welcoming and elegantly sublime as its namesake.

Amparito’s Garden was the culmination of her close collaboration with Cebuano landscape artist Jaime Chua and is a verdant reflection of the lady of the house. Her longtime support of

A SHARED PATH Sweethearts since college, Amparito and Michel Lhuillier share a love of nature that is evident in their thoughtfully designed gardens.

native Filipino resources, for instance, found an organic interpretation in turf. “This is carabao grass, a common grass,” she said of the thick expanse of lawn. “You will never see bald patches because we take care to fertilize it well.”

When the garden serves as a gathering place for friends, the natural carpet is soft underfoot as guests mingle among the rest of the fanciful foliage.

Neatly rounded topiaries of Fukian Tea provide a subtle foreground to the magnificent mountain views while stately Phoenix Silvestris palms, their trunks bristling with previous growth, stand sentinel around the house. Exotically named plants conjure equally exotic environments, like the Fish Tail ferns that would look right at home swaying beneath ocean waves, or the potted Xanadu philodendron and its ruffled fronds, whose mysterious origins were recently traced by botanists to distant Brazil. Even rarer South American specimens are the Peruvian ferns that grace the Lhuilliers’ lanai. “I have never seen them in any garden I’ve been to and now we’ve propagated them from the first three pots my husband bought,” divulged Amparito.

Just as her space reflects her sociable spirit, so does her husband’s oasis echo his introspective nature. Fond of solitary hikes in the mountain, Michel worked closely with Jacko Zialcita, who is responsible for the greenspace in Makati’s Rockwell Center, to preserve the original sloping terrain with terraces, waterfalls, and paved walkways lined with dainty Vanda orchids that invite carefree meanderings. “It is a place where you can forget all your problems,” Amparito described, adding that she always knows to look for him there. “Every day when he comes home, he goes down with a flashlight or he’ll take naps. It is his treasure.”

A ROOM WITH A MAGNIFICENT VIEW The lanai provides refreshing shade and a vantage point from which to admire the lush carpet of carabao grass in Amparito’s Garden and the spectacular panorama beyond.

Michel’s Garden has a vein of wildness threading through its meditative aura. Canopies of branches filter the sunlight while giant ferns reach out to brush against passers-by. Plants harbor tiny insects and sometimes larger denizens: much to the Lhuilliers’ surprise and the consternation of their gardeners, the aptly named Staghorn ferns apparently found favor as a habitat for local snakes. Amparito accepts it with a Gallic aplomb surely learned from her husband. “Maybe they like our garden. After all, we must share the mountain.”

In hopes that their children might spend more time in Cebu, the couple constructed two smaller abodes within Michel’s Garden with the help of architect Celine Borja. The contemporary houses feature the clean modern lines favored by Michel and are executed in natural wood and stone materials that honor their organic surroundings. Floor-to-ceiling walls of special storm windows from Kenneth and Mock Designs, Inc. withstand mountain gusts and provide some of the most spectacular views in the whole property.

They lent their names to sanctuaries meant to be shared with loved ones, but Michel and Amparito have one more special place—a secluded spot they call simply the Oriental Garden. “We are always inspired by nature. In the morning, we open our shutters and from our bedroom we look out over this beautiful place,” she said of their private back garden where slender reeds of Golden Buho, Horse Tails, Thai and pole bamboo stand amid graceful stone statuary and large shallow vessels of bromeliads.

The Lhuilliers are lauded as incomparable hosts and prominent figures of society, but they also consider themselves to be grounded and approachable folk. “Michel is more the quiet type, but I love to talk to people of all walks of life,” Amparito declared candidly.

GOLD IN THE HILLS The adjacent peaks seem pale in comparison to Amparito’s Garden as the setting sun burnishes the foliage with a golden glow.

Nevertheless, it is clear that they prefer each other’s company above all others. Married for more than 40 years and still as affectionate as the college sweethearts they once were, Michel and Amparito cherish the life and home that they have built.

Her pride in the beauty they’ve created is clearly conveyed. “We got the right people (to help us) plan well to create a work of art,” she affirmed, but made it clear that these sanctuaries bear more than just their names. “Our touch is in everything. We did what we wanted, not what others wanted.”

“On Sundays, we will sit in Michel’s Garden and have drinks and canapés,” Amparito continued to confide. “Every night, we walk around the gardens for an hour and see the sky, the lights of the city.”

“We are not enclosed by walls and we never feel tired. We live in nature and what God has given us is in front of us every day.”

COCOON Magazine is available in leading newsstands and bookstores nationwide.


Photos by Louie Enario for Needs and Solutions

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: Amparito Lhuillier , Cocoon magazine , landscaping , Lifestyle , Michel Lhuillier

  • ThudOthwacker

    I financed that house partly. Thanks for my three percent interest per month.

    • andresa igbac

      hahaha. well they didn’t tell you to use their pawnshop. it was your choice :)

  • mamamiamia

    Ano ba kayo mga hija! I don’t care about the cost. It’s the ambiance and serenity that is important!

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
  1. How to enjoy Buntod
  2. Kim Atienza: At home with art and design
  3. Life lessons I want to teach my son
  4. No tourist draw, Malang the croc will remain wild
  5. ‘Wild West’ Masbate’s pristine marine gems
  6. The best flavors of summer in one bite, and more
  7. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  8. Homemade yogurt, bread blended with pizza, even ramen
  9. What has happened to Barrio Fiesta and Singing Cooks & Waiters?
  10. Haneda International Airport: A destination on its own
  1. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  2. How to enjoy Buntod
  3. Historic Fort Bonifacio tunnel converted into a septic tank
  4. How Margie Moran-Floirendo keeps her dancer’s body
  5. Are your favorite malls open this Holy Week break?
  6. Miss America: Don’t suspend teen over prom invite
  7. ‘Wild West’ Masbate’s pristine marine gems
  8. Kim Atienza: At home with art and design
  9. ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  10. Life lessons I want to teach my son
  1. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  2. Mary Jean Lastimosa is new Miss Universe Philippines
  3. Did Angara ruin Pia Wurtzbach’s chances at Bb. Pilipinas?
  4. Dominique–Gretchen and Tonyboy Cojuangco’s daughter–now an endorser
  5. Vinegar test helpful vs cervical cancer
  6. From Jeannie to mom of suicide victim
  7. San Vicente beaches hidden but not for long
  8. Borgy and Georgina are back; others are off–again
  9. Why is the lifestyle set now afraid to wear jewelry–before Kim Henares?
  10. Sen. Angara: I thought Pia Wurtzbach gave a good answer


  • Security in place for Obama as police hope for ‘peaceful’ visit
  • Retired SC justice Lorenzo Relova; 98
  • Ligots fight 2nd forfeiture case
  • PH will be partly cloudy in afternoon, evening—Pagasa
  • Ex-COA chief nabbed for plunder
  • Sports

  • Sharapova advances to Stuttgart quarterfinals
  • Galedo caps ride of redemption
  • Beermen, Express dispute second semis slot today
  • Lady Agilas upset Lady Bulldogs in four sets
  • NLEX roars to 7th D-League win
  • Lifestyle

  • ‘Recovered’ Banksy works on display ahead of sale
  • Marinduque: Visiting the ‘palm of the ocean’
  • First at Vatican in 60 years
  • How Jing Monis Salon gave Krissy the pixie
  • Want to be a supermodel? Work on your inner beauty, says Joey Espino
  • Entertainment

  • Paul McCartney to play at Candlestick concert
  • Kristoffer Martin: from thug to gay teen
  • Has Ai Ai fallen deeply with ‘sireno?’
  • California court won’t review Jackson doctor case
  • Cris Villonco on play adapted from different medium
  • Business

  • PAL hailed for ban on shark fin cargo
  • BSP to change tint of P100 bill
  • Nielsen sees car buying boom in the Philippines
  • How author of best-seller exposed ‘one percent’ economic elite
  • Bangko Sentral readies new bank lending rules
  • Technology

  • Cloud strength helps Microsoft earnings top Street
  • Vatican announces hashtag for April 27 canonizations
  • Enrile in Masters of the Universe, Lord of the Rings?
  • Top Traits of Digital Marketers
  • No truth to viral no-visa ‘chronicles’
  • Opinion

  • Editorial Cartoon, April 25, 2014
  • No deal, Janet
  • Like making Al Capone a witness vs his gang
  • MERS-CoV and mothers
  • A graduation story
  • Global Nation

  • Only 4 Etihad passengers not accounted for
  • Abandoned in Malta,15 PH seamen return
  • Senator hopes PH will also get same vow
  • HK victims to get P115M; traders raised money
  • Afghan hospital guard kills 3 US doctors, including Fil-Am pediatrician