Nena Tantoco, Daphne Paez interpret Bella Italia | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

From sparkling Murano chandeliers to San Marco ceramics and Parmigiano Reggiano of the highest quality, Rustan’s Department Store has again become a haven for lovers of things Italian. This was evident in the month-long Bella Patria (Beautiful Country) Festival, which ended with a lecture-exhibition of Italian-theme table settings.

Nena Vargas-Tantoco, creative consultant to Rustan’s Commercial Corp., recalled that the Tantoco family has long forged a link with Italy. Her parents-in-law, Rustan’s founders Bienvenido Tantoco and his wife Gliceria, have had a continuing love affair with Italy and its design.

“The journey of a thousand miles brought exquisite merchandise from Italy to the Philippines,” she said. Tantoco added that Bienvenido Sr. became ambassador to the Holy See and that his youngest daughter and some of his grandchildren studied in Rome.

To this day, Zenaida Tantoco, president of Stores Specialists Inc. and RCC, and Maria Elena “Marilen” Tantoco, director, Rustan Group of Companies, continue to bring Italian design to Filipino homes.

Italy has always been identified with design. From the Roman empire to the present, it has had a heritage of beautiful designs. Italian decor style is characterized by simplicity, furnished with necessities and made warm by artisanal objects and fixtures. In an understated way, the decor expresses a philosophy of art while also providing function. Colors and motifs are largely inspired by nature, be it sun, sea and sand, gardens or orchards.

To celebrate the well-designed Italian home ware, Rustan’s personal shopper and brand management Leif-Erik Hannikainen, style maven Nena Vargas-Tantoco and TV host-entrepreneur Daphne Oseña-Paez presented their interpretation of Bella Italia.

Feminine touch

Oseña-Paez’s corner was inspired by the Amalfi coastline, with cool colors of white suggesting the seaside homes and the clouds, the blues of the ocean and sea life. The casual dining setting expressed a maritime theme with coral-inspired bowls by San Marco ceramics and gilded shells for highlight. A characteristic Italian setting displayed large dinnerware serving elements, which are attractive but practical.

Major centerpieces were a ceramic nautilus shell with coral branches in a typically Italian orange-red and lemons on a coral-and-white fruit bowl. A Murano crystal chandelier with blue glass beads echoed the color of the sky.

A neutral, linen-upholstered sofa from the “Daphne Oseña” furniture collection substituted for dining chairs. Yet, both ends of the table were furnished with cane-backed chairs with turquoise frame that suggested the seaside color.

Daphne also decorated a baroque corner, which consisted of a mirror with dainty blue flowerettes above a pilgrim-style blue console and a gilt nesting table. The simplicity showed off the high-quality hand-carving of her artisan workers.

The table carried the seaside theme with the blue Murano candleholders and coral-hued ceramic cups.


Tantoco blended Tuscan decor with Filipiniana in her outdoor setting. Tuscan decor is characterized by warm tones and patterns that show connection with the earth. Even accessories are drawn from natural materials.

“Italian interiors can get gloomy in the summer, so it’s good to go outside,” said Tantoco.

Tables were decked with topiaries suggestive of cut hedges and manicured lawns of Italian gardens. Tantoco combined Italian ceramics with local elements—underplates from Mindanao, banana leaves, knotted local woven runners, clam shells with mother-of-pearl lining and Ifugao woven basket holders instead of napkin rings. Tucked in the baskets were little scrolls bearing positive messages for guests, which added an element of surprise.

With this good news, they go home with something that touched their heart, said Tantoco.

Local clam shells could serve as bread plates or for putting balsamic or cream vinaigrette. The glass centerplate was lined with a banana leaf that showcased a candle whose color evoked olive orchards. Tantoco added that banana leaves could be twisted around cutlery or cut into shapes for added decor.

“Banana leaves are abundant and eco-friendly,” she said.

These local touches blended seamlessly with the Italian glasses and plates.

‘La dolce vita’

Hannikainen presented a bachelor-style party in a Milanese setting. Italy’s design and industrial capital is characterized by severe architecture and foggy skies. As a counterpoint, his setting showcased lots of glass. “Booze is more important than food,” he said.

“Italian interiors are elaborate. People live in old houses. You have to deal with high ceilings, frescoes and big staircases. You have to keep things simple, focusing on the quality of the goods,” he said.

Italian glassware has been acclaimed for the fragility, clarity, pure color and pulchritude. Blown by hand, they’re more like objects d’art than functional pieces.

Against a photo of a palazzo with ancient plaster walls, a cocktail corner was arranged with glass pedestals on which a silver plastic lamp, octagonal silver bowls and glasses with diamanté borders were displayed. The glass dining table was surrounded by Philippe Starcke’s popular Ghost Chair.

Hannikainen said the understated design and clean lines of Richard Ginori porcelain plates do well in homes of young couples or bachelors. His favorite piece was the Luigi Bermioni martini glass because of his styling. As a tribute to the Philippines, he used a Filipino shell napkin holder.

Hannikainen said that since Italians inherit their silverware, it’s best to mix old elements with the contemporary.

The affair was highlighted with the cutting of a wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano, Italy’s symbol of la dolce vita. This aged cheese with no additives is made of unpasteurized cow’s milk. According to Bienvenido Tantoco III, president of Rustan’s Commercial Center, it was acquired from a trip to Bologna. Guests also munched on pecorino and gorgonzola between sips of wine or Delonghi coffee.