A Cebuano's Life

Islands Souvenirs owner Jay Aldeguer talks about his passion for design, Porches, homelife and his family's travels  

By Mari-an Santos

“I come home and I’m very thankful to live in a place like this because it’s very quiet,” says Jay Aldeguer as he ushers us into his one-storey house nestled on the edge of a hill surrounded by a wide lawn and mature trees.

Aldeguer owns Islands Souvenirs, a company that introduced hip, trendy, and colorful T-shirts for tourist destinations in the country in 1992. Since then, Aldeguer’s Island Group has expanded to include island hopping services, Islands Banca Cruises, a budget boutique hotel, Islands Stay, and a food pasalubong chain, Islands Pasalubong.

Island Souvenirs store in SM City Cebu pinched from Islands Facebook page

“All of these concepts were brought about by just observing…and frustration that many of the tourists’ needs were not met when they visit the Philippines. There are several gaps in the tourism service sector therefore there's a lot of untapped opportunity.” he said.

Aldeguer’s house, which used to be the warehouse in the family compound in Ma. Luisia Park in Cebu, was converted into a proper house 15 years ago. “It’s about 30 years old. It took me about two months to convert the warehouse into this. The bedroom and ante room were redone a couple of years ago, and the deck and garage were an afterthought. I designed it myself. I’m a frustrated artist and designer,” Aldeguer said.

The layout is simple: a foyer leads to the kitchen dining room on one side, and on the other, the living room. Many of the walls facing the lawn are glass, which allows sunlight to flood the interiors.

“It was pretty limiting to design a home with an existing structure. However, it wasn’t too difficult to establish the orientation of my place since I live on the ridge of a mountain overlooking the ocean. Early on, I was certain that I wanted my home to optimize the view of the trees and the ocean, so the use of a lot of glass. I also like the feeling of the sunlight seeping through almost every portion of the house. It was important that the house felt fresh and clean. Some of the wood of the furniture and doors were salvaged from our ancestral home, which makes the pieces more meaningful and at the same time adds character to the house. I just wanted clean lines and a few accessories,“ he said. Aldeguer has several furniture by renowned designer Kenneth Cobonpue, who is also a good friend of his. “Kenneth and I go a long way. We were schoolmates." There’s a red Yoda at the foyer. I ask why he chose this particular piece, if it was based on the visual impact, and he says "it's either I like it or I don’t like it.” It’s the same criteria he applies to other works of art that adorn his walls.

On the wall of the foyer are huge black and white photos that he took while on travels abroad. One wall of the kitchen is almost covered in framed black and white photographs of the London Eye, the Oakland Bay Bridge in San Francisco, a boy shooting a basket into a makeshift hoop somewhere along the Trancentral Highway in Cebu City, and a boy with a toothy smile in Boracay taken some seven or eight years ago. “He must be grown up by now. He must be a boatman by now,” Aldeguer laughs.

Artwork by Ronald Ventura, Lindslee, Mia Herbosa, Elmer Borlongan and Cebuano sartists, Tito Cuevas and Vidal Alcoseba are on the walls, and perched up on chairs and stools.

A wide bookshelf covers one wall of his living room. There are books on travel, design, non-fiction, and some fiction books. But there are also miniature cars and furniture pieces. Sculptures by Herbosa, a friend who is based in New York, and Ramon Orlina, are displayed prominently. A Cobonpue croissant sits in a sunny corner of the room, where Aldeguer loves to lounge and read.

Jay with his children Anton, Andrea and Ariana pinched from Jay Aldeguer's Facebook page

“If not for the fact that my children are growing up so fast, I wouldn’t have minded living at my present home for a long while. But we will soon be moving on to a new home.” The family property extends up to the foot of the hill. “I’m building in a couple of years.” He envisions his new house to be in the same mold as his present home, only bigger to accommodate his family. “I still want to keep the clean structure with clean lines and use a lot of glass, highly inspired by modernist architects Philip Johnson and Mies Van Der Rohe. The house will be built on the fringe of the mountain and will be surrounded by large trees.”

Aldeguer's recently purchased beachfront property in Malapascua, Cebu
Aldeguer has three children: Anton, Andrea, and Ariana. “I spend a lot of time with my kids because they are growing up really fast! We’ve been going to the beach a lot especially recently since we bought a beach property in Malapascua, an island north of Cebu. We built a bungalow for the family uniquely situated in a peninsula where there’s water on both sides of the island, almost like a sandbar. This place is paradise to us” We also enjoy having meals together. We alternate between a nice fancy restaurant and a hole-in-the-wall, cheap barbeque stand – so that they’re exposed to different types of food. They’re not the picky type.” Aside from eating, traveling is a favorite Aldeguer family activity. “We travel a lot together, as a group or individually. The dynamics are very different when you go one-on-one." So one day, he’ll take Anton and Ariana, who like roughing it up, to Bohol or Bantayan. On another trip, he’ll take Andrea around the city. “Abroad, they like going to Tokyo - for the good and very considerate people, which you don’t come across very often these days - and Hong Kong - just because it’s very familiar and accessible."

“We go on long drives a lot, during weekends and the afternoons,” he says of bonding time with them. “I come home early from work and if they’re not too busy, we go for a short drive. One of my favorite places is the Transcentral Highway.” The road cuts through most of Cebu and is perfect way to enjoy Cebu’s mountainside. “We buy corn and vegetables there. There’s also a flower plantation along the way. The whole drive is very picturesque.”

Jay Aldeguer in his Porsche pinched from Jay Aldeguer's Facebook page

I ask Aldeguer about this car collection, which happens to consist of only Porsches. “I really like cars, and I like driving them a lot. I started collecting about 18 years ago. My first was that white 1974 911S.” I count a dozen or so cars from vintage to contemporary. “I’m biased towards Porsche. It’s a purposeful car, especially for Cebu since our roads are not the best in the world. They’re rugged but great performers on the road.”

He, together with a few friends, founded PACE.” PACE stands for Performance and Classics Enthusiasts, a very small club of car enthusiasts. “Our main common denominator is that we like to drive, we don’t just park our cars… we drive them inter-island.” They have taken driving trips all the way to Bohol, Boracay, Iloilo, Dumaguete, and Leyte… all via roll-on-roll-off (RORO). “It’s pretty convenient,” he says.  PACE also tries to give back. For 10 years now, it has been engaging in an annual charity project with SM called "Gear and Glam" where earnings of the event go to charity. 

Tour de Cebu 2015 pinched from Jay Aldeguer's Facebook page

“Just recently, we organized the Tour de Cebu, a 1,000 kilometre Historic rally around the Visayas. Vintage cars from all over the country converge to Cebu every October to join this unique event patterned after Italy’s historic Mille Miglia.”

We walk to the adjacent deck where a huge langka tree provides shade. A balcony provides a nice view of the mountainside. “This is my favorite part of the house. I spend a lot of down time here,” Aldeguer says. “This is where I work early in the morning, where I take meals. I also grill here.”

I enjoy the businesses I get into. My businesses are like a hobby for me.” I ask how his day usually goes. “There’s nothing routinary about me. Because my business is in Tourism, I find myself travelling a lot” He has set aside a few hours for this interview, but he plans to go back to do more work at the office. “There are days when I go straight to Mactan Island to inspect a banca that we are about to acquire, or visit an island that will be part of the island hopping tour that we offer, or there are days when I go to the mall to check on the stores, so there is no typical day for me.

PACE is holding its third Tour de Cebu in October 2016, which will cover a 1,000km drive from Cebu to Bohol and back. It's open for everybody but the screening process is tight. To be able to join, one of the requirements is to have an authentic vintage car no younger than 1972. For more information, visit Tour de Cebu Facebook page.

Read more about Jay Aldeguer's favorites list in Cebu

Originally published in InFlight Traveller December to January 2011. Updated March 2016