The River House was patterned after the abode featured in the book Philippine Ancestral Houses. Photograph by Paul del Rosario
Culture Spotlight

This safari-style home in Pampanga looks like a movie set with Hollywood pedigree

In scale, drama and attention to detail, the house of Prizmic and Brill’s Matthew Brill undoubtedly approaches the dreaminess of a Hollywood film set (maybe that of Indiana Jones?). Who knew it all just began with a book cover.
Devi de Veyra | Jan 20 2019

Chances are you won’t find anything like The River House anywhere in the Philippines, or in the entire world for that matter. Sure, the shell is modeled after a Bacolod plantation home that graced the cover of the 263-page coffee table book Philippine Ancestral Houses, but the interior style and the evocative atmosphere echo the singular sensibility of The River House’s creator, Matthew Brill.

“I bought the book in National Bookstore many years ago,” Matthew recalled, “because it had a large contribution of photos by Neal Oshima, who is my good friend.” The American-born Matthew, who first came to the Philippines at age 22 and stayed on to found the iconic furnishings brand Prizmic & Brill, was so fascinated by the hefty tome that “I kept it close to me,” he said, “as most treated a bible.”

The pool at the back of the house is bordered with Philippine slate and travessia wood. The long balcony allows for a view of Mt. Pinatubo and the surrounding Zambales mountain range, which is a volcano belt. Terra cotta tiles were used as roofing to cool the structure.

He started to build his dream home around 2004, in a lot inside one of Angeles City’s once-upscale villages left in ruins by Mount Pinatubo’s epic explosion in 1991. As per Matthew’s original intention, The River House—so called because of the gentle stream at the back of the property— was patterned after the abode featured on the book cover; “four stories high, with a tower on top,” as Matthew described it. He scaled up the structure’s dimensions so that it is large enough to house the self-confessed hoarder’s collection of vintage cars and motorcycles, antiques from travels all over the world, as well as heirloom pieces from the Brill family. A long balcony on the second floor as well as a viewing deck  were essential to the homeowner’s vision: he wanted a view of Pinatubo, “the infamous volcano,” and the surrounding Zambales mountain range.

American Matthew Brill moved his manufacturing base to Pampanga in the 90s and built his dream home in one of the province's villages. He is pictured with his dog, Blackie, at the main entrance to his home, it's walls lined with volcanic stones.

It took about two years for Matthew to finish his dream home. The delay was partly caused by making decisions on the fly. “We (the homeowner and a Pampangueno architect) improvised finishes and materials as we went along,” he said. But he knew he had an advantage. “Being in the furniture business, I had access to great resources, finding both craft and natural materials around the Philippines, that includes recycled wood, volcanic stone, bamboo and terra cotta which became the main focus of the finishing details.”

A third floor nook is decorated with  Vietnamese dining table and chairs; a Chinese tapestry hangs on the wall. All around are the geometric forms that Matthew picked up from Filipino ancestral homes.

Mount Pinatubo’s monumental explosion left so much damage in its wake that some parts of Pampanga became “one big salvage town,” according to Matthew. He was able to purchase a lot of his raw materials from what survived, including the entire flooring of a duckpin bowling alley partially buried in lahar. “What’s amazing about it is the combination of hardwood that they used - kamagong, molave and narra,” Matthew said, “which now covers the entire second floor.”

The brick fireplace houses an exhaust fan that draws warm air to a chimney. The metal mobile sculpture once belonged to Matthew's interior decorator mother who bought the piece from a New York artist in the 70s.

Close friends and relatives regard the finished house as Matthew’s magnum opus. “It’s all him,” his wife Carol said. The RIver House captivated guests, as well as editors who featured it in their publications. Apart from its spectacularly photogenic character, Matthew’s dream house epitomizes his persona: a man with an adventurous spirit and nostalgia for histories. The wistful mood envelopes the entire property, including a stylish bungalow that Matthew built for the loyal caretaker Jimmy Morales and his family.

By adding a customized top, Matthew's billiard table doubles as a work desk. The African tribal flag with an image of an elephant and Sterling silver spear once belonged to Matthew's stepfather who initiated the coffee trade in Africa and South America.

After so many years as Matthew’s quiet and private haven, The River House is being readied as it transitions to its new role. “The time has come to allow The River House to be enjoyed by the public,” Matthew revealed. He plans to convert the space into a showroom for Kapampangan craft and design, with a part of it serving as “a gallery of sorts.” He’s considering opening it up for small events as well. By the end of the year, Matthew hopes to introduce his home’s next life as Third Street by Prizmic & Brill.

Matthew is in the middle of creating another haven for himself, a loft in one of Pampanga’s new high-rises. He intends to keep the master’s bedroom in his old home though, so that once in a while he can guide visitors to the chapters of his life as they unfold from room to room, one adventure at a time.

Click on the image below for slideshow

A painting by J. Elizalde Navarro hangs on the wall in the dining area. Next to it is an African mask. The entire second floor is lined with various hardwood planks (kamagong, molave, narra) salvaged from a bowling alley damaged by Mt. Pinatubo's eruption in 1991.

Brill in the company of furniture and accessories his company designs and manufactures.

Matthew's only son, Max, installed his drum set in his bedroom. The Prizmic & Brill bed is made from hardwood and trimmed with leather and brass.

The kitchen. On top of a table connected to the center island is a leather-covered portable bar set by Prizmic and Brill.

In the master's bedroom, a Prizmic & Brill Serengeti bed is draped in cotton gauze. The casted aluminum lamp on the bedside table is by French Vietnamese Quasar Khanh, before it a prayer mat from Matthew's own collection. The door leads to a walk-in closet and bathroom.

Opposite the gym on the third floor is a room filled with Matthew's antique and vintage collections (including the rickshaw on the left), Prizmic & Brill prototypes such as the reproduction of a Mathiago Club armchair on the right. "It is a gentleman's club that dates back to the 30s," Matthew said, where we replicated all the original furniture. Mathiago armchair on the right made from arurog and trimmed with leather and brass rivets.

The dojo room is named after the tatami mats used for the floor. The baseball glove leather sofa and hardwood barbells are part of a vintage-inspired athletic line developed for Adidas international's visual displays in the 90s.Wood veneer, bamboo and rolled banana leaves (mainly for acoustics according to Matthew) line parts of the walls and ceilings.

The main entrance opens to a foyer, it's flooring lined with vigan and cement tiles salvaged from demolished ancestral homes. Matthew decorated the space with prototypes and his own collection of vintage items that includes the 1954 BSA motorcycle leaning against stairway. The steel stairway is lined with acacia wood planks.

“The time has come to allow The River House to be enjoyed by the public,” says Matthew. He plans to convert the space into a showroom for Kapampangan craft and design.

Photographs by Paul del Rosario 


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