Rica Peralejo's two-story home in Filinvest Subdivision, Quezon City, is a charming repository of things that once belonged to another era. "I really wanted it to look like almost everything is mana or given by somebody," says Rica. "I want it to be a house of stories na when somebody points at something, I have a story to tell about that little thing."
The 150-square-meter space that Rica has called home since November of 2006 is relatively large for one person. But there's hardly a time when she's all by her lonesome. She almost always has company over—relatives, friends, and members of Victory Christian Fellowship, or VCF, the church Rica attends.
The first thing you notice when you enter her place is a 14-foot-long dining table dominating what would traditionally be the living room.
"I don't need a living room in my house," Rica volunteers. "In our old house, we have a big living room, but my mom and dad only use it to watch TV. The rest of the time, the whole family goes to the small dining table, and make kuwentuhan there for ever and ever. Inaabot kami ng five or six in the morning, puro chikahan portion. Na-notice ko, it's because the dining table is where the food is, and people always gravitate kung nasaan ang pagkain."
That old house, the Peralejo family's main house, is now Rica's next-door neighbor. Rica's own place is on the adjoining lot, and it's half of a duplex, the other half being occupied by her married kuya, Conrad, and his family. The duplex was once the residence of another brother, Philip, who has since moved to the U.S.
Rica has made a conscious effort to depart from her mother's design of choice: country style.
"When I moved in, the first thing I wanted to do was make it look like mine talaga. Kailangan mukhang ako. Hindi mukhang mommy ko, hindi mukhang ate ko...
"I don't know a thing about interior design. I absolutely don't have the talent to make a house look a certain way. But I knew I did not want my home to have a country-style interior."
And she adds, laughing: "Masuka-suka na kaming lahat magkakapatid dahil all our lives nakikita namin puro country style. Purgang-purga na ako."
Rica refers to the interior design of her house as Havana Style. That's also the title of the coffee-table book that Rica and interior designer Joby Belmonte happened to see when they were working on Rica's place. The book showcases houses in Havana, Cuba, where old furniture and decorative pieces have been recycled, repainted, or converted into something different.
Inspired by the book's photos, but at the same time acting on gut feel, Rica brought in things she loves—mismatched chairs around the dining table, silk scarves in an assortment of colors and designs used as curtains. The result is a relaxed atmosphere, an abode filled with varied elements that seem incompatible. Yet everything looks pulled together.
The place does not have one single dominant color. It comes in different shades of greens, browns, blues, and reds.
"Gusto ko talaga may kulay. Hindi ako mabubuhay ng, sabihin mo, black and white lang ang buhay? Mahihirapan talaga ako sa ganoon. 'Yong color scheme ko dito, no limits ako, because that's me. I'm not a plain person. I may be simple, but I'm not plain."
The non-plain Rica—currently one of the three lead stars of Palimos ng Pag-ibig, the ABS-CBN drama sineserye in which she co-stars with Kristine Hermosa and Diether Ocampo—has had a career as colorful as her house. She's a former child star turned sex siren turned horror-movie screamer turned sitcom mainstay turned dramatic actress. But her love life is colorless at the moment.
She had a four-year relationship with actor Bernard Palanca, but they broke up in 2004. Bernard went on to marry Meryll Soriano, who is now pregnant with Bernard's baby, but that marriage lasted only four months. Tabloid rumor had it that Bernard began texting Rica even before the official announcement of the split-up with Meryll.
"It's not true," Rica says. "Kami ni Bernard, hindi kami nagkaroon ng still-friends-after-the-relationship kind of thing. Hindi ako galit sa kanya or anything, but ni hindi talaga kami friends."
And that's all she wants to say about the whole thing.
Then there's Piolo Pascual, her co-star on the ABS-CBN drama Pangako sa 'Yo, where Rica played villain to Judy Ann Santos. Rica admits she and Piolo—who also happens to be a VCF member—became close during the making of the teleserye. But they were never really an item.
"Nanligaw siya," she reveals. "And that's past tense. Hindi ko siya sinagot. So never naging kami. But I am not saying na binasted ko siya. No. It was our decision na huwag na lang. 'Cause both of us, we're both very, very blessed that we were on the same level of spirituality noong time na 'yon... 'Buti naman pareho kami ng thinking that time na we're parang better off muna na hindi kami. 'Yon 'yong napagkasunduan namin. Kasi mas fruitful kami pag magkahiwalay kami."
Rica says she does not have a boyfriend right now, and getting one is not on her priority list. What has her excited these days is going to college.
"The desire to learn, and the fire in my heart to learn wherever I am and whatever I do, hindi namatay 'yon. For a while, parang ang feeling ko, going back to school didn't seem attainable na, dahil nga my schedule is crazy.
"Pero I had a little vision. Doon lang nag-start, sa little vision na maybe I can go back to school. Hanggang sa nag-grow nang nag-grow at naging intense. Then I prayed about it and the Lord told me to go.
"I never had formal learning in high school. I never went to a regular high school. So I had to pass the DECS [Department of Education and Culture] acceleration test to get a high-school diploma." That diploma qualified her to take college entrance exams—and she got accepted at the Ateneo de Manila, where she plans to take up creative writing.
Rica feels her passing the test at the Ateneo was a Valentine's gift from God.
"Before I took the entrance exam, it was our one-week fasting in our church. So seven days akong walang solid food sa stomach ko. Pray ako nang pray Imagine, nagre-review ako, pero hindi ako kumakain."
She was informed that the results of the entrance exams would be released on February 14. The day before, her taping for Palimos ng Pag-ibig lasted until the wee hours. When she got home, she went straight to bed to sleep. And when she woke up on Valentine's Day, her cellphone was loaded with text messages. The first one she opened was from her mom. It said, in capital letters: "CONGRATS!"
It was, Rica gushes, "the best Valentine's Day of my life, ever!"