Born in Venezuela to Bolivian parents, John Blanco is the archetypal global citizen. He spent his formative years in Brazil, Australia, Thailand and the Ivory Coast, thanks to the nature of work his civil engineer father was involved in. As an adult, Blanco’s 30-plus years as a hotelier took him to Atlanta, Aspen, New Mexico, Hawaii, Portugal, Mauritius, Mexico, Florida, Barcelona, Vietnam, Kuala Lumpur and now Singapore, where he is the CEO and co-founder of members-only luxury destination club Afini. Having led a nomadic existence, he shares with us his idea of an ideal home.
I have a home in Hawaii, on the island of Oahu, and one in Portugal, just outside Lisbon, in an area called Sintra. My home in Hawaii is in an area called Hawaii Kai, which is just outside Honolulu. The house is two storeys high, has four bedrooms and an open-plan kitchen-dining-living area. My first intended profession was a chef, so the kitchen is very important to me. I like having an open space, so that even as you’re preparing and cooking food, you can enjoy the company of your friends and family.
My home in Portugal is set in a 300-hectare quinta (country estate) that used to belong to members of the royal family. It used to be a papal retreat as well, so there’s a monastery – which later became part of the Ritz-Carlton-run Penha Longa Resort – as well as beautiful gardens and labyrinths. My home there is set on a big lot – one hectare in size – but the house itself is only five or six thousand square feet. It has a big fireplace and big living areas that are well-lit, facing the garden, which is planted with olive trees, lemon trees and hydrangea bushes. We’ve had rabbits and foxes come through.
I’ve lived in Singapore for a year now. It’s a rented shophouse in Paya Lebar that’s been renovated with hardwood floors, nice fittings and a new kitchen. It came fully furnished. Paya Lebar is a quirky area with lots of character. My home here is decorated with some pieces that I’ve collected over the last few years, such as antique water puppets from Vietnam and big ceramic bowls with dragon motifs that I picked up in Indonesia.
I typically spend one to two weeks a month travelling for work. It’s mostly within Asia. I carry a US passport, so I try to get back to the US a couple of times a year. My four kids live in California and Hawaii. My ex-wife is Chinese-Hawaiian, but she’s now based in Los Angeles, so sometimes she’ll gather everyone there.
Given a choice, the Afini property I would stay in is a townhouse in Sydney that’s over 100 years old. It’s near The Rocks, on a street that would have been lined with upper-class residences in Victorian times. It’s built on five levels, of which two are half-levels. It’s so full of character: beautiful wooden floors, high ceilings, original gas lamps. A couple of interior designers bought the place a few years ago and restored it.
If someone asked me if Afini is like a luxury Airbnb, I would tell them that the biggest difference is that Airbnb is a marketplace. It’s the middleman between consumers looking for accommodation and property owners looking to generate income for their properties. By nature, this business model/platform has many variables. It’s quite hit-or-miss. The inconsistencies could be ok for a certain demographic – either younger or more frugal travellers – but with Afini, because we manage and execute these points of consistencies in the properties, you can be safe in the knowledge that everything will work.
At Afini we’ll know what you love and what you hate. It’s like having a holiday home because you know everything will be the way you like it when you arrive. If there’s staff there, they’ll know that you like to smoke cigars after dinner, so there’ll be an ashtray where you like to smoke. Or if you prefer four pillows on the bed, they’ll make sure they’re there. It’s a home away from home, where you can be yourself and not worry about the dress code in the restaurant downstairs.