Designing beauty: Cristina Cuevas, executive director of the Sulo Riviera Hotel, created a new boutique hotel feel for this Quezon City landmark. Here she goes over a table designed by Teddy Manuel for a dinner function. Photos by CYRUS PANGANIBAN| Zoom
There is a new chic boutique hotel in Quezon City that people are discovering and talking about these days. Or should we say, rediscovering.
It used to be simply called the Sulo Hotel and it had that trademark torch light outside, beckoning guests to savor its Filipino brand of hospitality and enjoy viewing aqua stunts via its glass-walled pool.
Today, the torch is gone, and the swim shows of yore no longer create a splash.
The new Sulo Riviera Hotel — that’s what it’s called now — is brightly lit with modern lights, and its cool, young atmosphere invigorates like a refreshing shower. It stirs the once lethargic soul this side of the metropolis, giving it a big warm welcoming haven for travelers seeking comfort, elegance, good food andpersonalized service.
Industrialist and former ambassador Felimon Cuevas had the vision to acquire the Sulo Hotel from its former owners and transform it into a modern yet still very Filipino boutiquehotel. For this daunting task of transformation, he asked his Barcelona-based daughter Cristina Cuevas to come home, leave behind her 20-plus years as a furniture importer-exporter serving the European market, and help the family create a new brand in the tourism industry.
With the work ethic she learned from her father, as well as her mother Anita Cuevas, Cristina put to use her creative instincts and her global eye for fashion and interior design, to fulfill her father’s vision.
Clad in her Roberto Cavalli dress, later gamely changing into a T.C. Alvarez outfit for the pictorial, with accents from Arnel Papa, Gucci and Loewe (she admires Filipino fashion talents as well as global brands), Cristina Cuevas who still sports an Ibiza tan but matches it with a proudly Filipino heart, describes how she did the task. PHILIPPINE STAR: The new Sulo Riviera Hotel has a such a refreshing look and feel. What was the design concept behind it? CRISTINA CUEVAS: The idea was to achieve a fresh, cozy, warm and friendly hotel with a modern Filipino touch. How much of the old Sulo did you retain?
We preserved the architecture with the shape of its roof having that Asian tropical feel. Sulo has become a landmark in Quezon City, so I wanted to retain its charm, and at the same time offer modern interiors. How were you able to reposition the the 43-year-old Sulo into what it is today?
At first, we encountered a little difficulty in doing this since the property has been in existence for 43 years and the public’s notion of the hotel is that it is not at par with the current industry players. But, after undergoing a major facelift and harnessing the expertise of my entire team, Sulo offers a fresh new appeal. The hotel actually exudes a global feel now. It had that ethnic Filipino design which was a hit in the ’60s and ’70s. What native touches can we see in the new Sulo?
I decided to keep the collection of Filipino paintings that are now part of our hallways. You spent more than 20 years in Spain before you decided to settle back in Manila. Should we expect any Spanish influence in this hotel?
Absolutely! You can definitely see it in our Acqua Lounge... it has an Ibiza feel. Spanish tapas will be highlighted in our upcoming events and promotions in the Divino Lounge and Acqua Lounge featuring musicians. So much has been written about what Patricia Urquiola did for Mandarin Barcelona. Having been based in Europe the past two decades, what hotels do you consider the best, design-wise?
I consider Bulgari Milano one of the best, design-wise. The group behind it is one of the pioneers in boutique hotel concepts. Boutique hotels have such a great appeal now worldwide, especially to jaded travelers who have seen it all and want something different. They want cozy yet elegant hotels with a touch of art, or a quirky element somewhere.
I agree, boutique hotels have such a great appeal, as they offer more edgy designs. Travelers also want the personalized service one can get from a boutqiue hotel. Your new lobby carries interesting design elements. I love the daybeds and deep sofas throughout the lobby, they have that warm, welcoming effect.You also have a mini-library with books and magazines for guests.
The lobby features a metal artwork by Ravi, an Indian artist. It complements the reception tables with recycled paper artworks by Wataru, a Japanese artist. The columns are covered by crushed Philippine mother of pearl. For that comfy ambiance, we put floor lamps and cozy cushions. The bar on the right side has such a hip and modern look!
The Divino Lounge was meant to ba an informal dining set up wherein guests can have a communal dining experience which is now popular in Europe. There is a live band every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The color palette has black, mink and shades of gun metal. Oversized heather gray fiberglass floor lamps are scattered all over the lounge. How about your new cuisine? What have been the most popular dishes so far? Is there a single dish that is a must-try when one goes to Sulo?
Definitely the must-try is the bangus pate served with homemade tomato jam and aubergine dip. Then the black pasta with tiger prawns, and for dessert the banana ravioli and the almond yema are simply divine. Cafe Paraiso serves steaks, seafood. Japanese cuisine as well as the classic Filipino favorites. Wow, even the swimming pool area looks refreshingly new.
Yes, that’s what we call now the Acqua Lounge. Here, guests can enjoy a dip in pool, as well as drinks and snacks. At night, the whole atmosphere becomes very dramatic because of the lighting. The venue has become very popular with the younger crowd for events such as debuts, weddings, birthdays, and even corporate get-togethers. On Saturday evenings, we have live bands. As a foodie and a hotelier, who are your favorite chefs?
Alain Ducasse and Spanish chef Santi Santamaria — who died last February — for their natural approach in cuisine. The best! Tell us about Sulo’s new suites and rooms.
Each of our suites and rooms was designed using different concepts. Two suites — the Ambassador Suite and the Dona Anita Suite — have a private garden each with outdoor chill-out beds where guests can relax. Our deluxe bedrooms are specifically designed to have a cozy, warm atmosphere, a home-away-from-home feel. The headboards are handcarved by Filipino artisans. We heard that US Ambassador Harry Thomas stayed in one your suites before. How many suites does Sulo have?
That’s right, the American ambassador stayed in our Ambassador Suite. We have a total of five suites and 66 deluxe rooms. A tycoon remarked that Sulo Riviera is now the best hotel and the most beautiful, in Quezon City. Perhaps the only complaint you will hear is that Sulo doesn’t have enough rooms. Any plans of expanding and adding rooms?
Oh, thank you for the compliment. Yes, definitely we have plans for twin towers rising right beside Sulo, that will serve as a condotel with 52 floors. On two floors there will be ballrooms to accommodate big events. One floor will be devoted to suites, actually lofts, with swimming pools. What made your father, Felimon Cuevas, decide to purchase the Sulo when he could easily build a new one in QC?
My father acquired this property because it is a landmark in Quezon City. We feel the new Sulo Riviera Hotel has endless potentials in terms of redefining the hospitality business in the area. Sulo is the only boutique hotel in the area which has 71 guest rooms and 11 function rooms which are designed with elegance and functionality in mind. The Manansala Ballroom, with its elegant interiors and generous floor area, is a popular venue for weddings, birthdays, baptismal parties and corporate parties. We are so happy that our guests truly appreciate how the new Sulo Riviera hotel has been reinvented. Because of this, our average occupancy rate is 90 percent. Our restaurants and banquet outlets now offer a wider selection of food, plus we always aim to offer excellent service. Who would be your dream hotel guests?
I would love to have the world- renowned Spanish film director Pedro Almodovar. Lastly, it would be great if Colombian artist Fernando Botero, one of my favorites, can stay in our hotel.
* * *
The Sulo Riviera Hotel is located on Matalino Road, Diliman, Quezon City. For inquiries and reservations, call 924-5051 or visit www.sulorivierahotel.com.