French Culture, Cuisine, and Art Deco in La Maison Rose in Cebu
The pink Velez House fully embraces la vie en rose as a home of French contemporary cuisine
April 10, 2018
Written by James G. Jao
Photographed by Estan Cabigas
Alliance Française by day and hip French restaurant by night, La Maison Rose, or The Pink House, is more than just a language school and a hot new place to dine. The two-storey house sitting prettily on a half-hectare property on a hill along Gorordo Avenue in Lahug has been a Cebu landmark for over 70 years, home to one of the province’s most prominent families. As far as the old-timers in Lahug can remember, the house has always been pink—an expression perhaps of its owners’ love for good living and lighthearted outlook on life—la vie en rose.
Completed in 1939, La Maison Rose was a gift to young couple Jose Velez and Juanita Velhagen by their parents. Jose’s mother, Doña Esperanza Velez y Paulin gave them the prime property on which to build, while Juanita’s German relatives contributed funds for the construction of the Art Deco house.
The Velez heirs lived there until 2006, and the house stood empty until Louis Thevenin, director of Alliance Française de Cebu (AFC), managed to persuade the Velez family to lease the house to the French cultural and language center. What convinced them was Thevenin’s promise that the AFC would keep not only the architectural elements of the house intact, but also restore and be faithful to the home’s esprit and joie de vivre. “I will open it to the people of Cebu, and make it a center of French culture and cuisine, exhibits and events,” Thevenin said.
Thevenin shares that when he and his wife, Honey, first entered the house it seemed “frozen in time.” The Velez family had maintained the house well, even years after they had stopped living there. With the exception of the ceiling eaten by termites, all the other wooden parts of the house were in good shape, like the old wood floor joists and beams that Thevenin decided to expose.
The original flooring in cement tiles or baldosa was maintained as well. The different colored tiles are laid out in two distinct geometric patterns subtly defining the two main areas of the ground floor, the original living room and the comedor or dining area. The wooden arched door that leads to the veranda is a signature Art Deco element of the house.
After being granted the lease, Thevenin commissioned Delphine de Lorme, a Cebu-based Parisian painter and decorator, to help with the design of the interior. L’Indochine was the adopted style, with bold colors, intricate details, and fascinating furniture pieces completing the 1930s interior of the restaurant.
French Art Deco with Asian flourishes was used throughout the interiors, together with décor and accessories from Vietnam, Burma and Shanghai. Filling every nook are various vintage items such as a gramophone, a white upright piano, and colorful jars. Pop art by Delphine accentuates the Tiffany blue dining areas and gives it a picturesque ambiance. The dining area can sit 45 guests and the outdoor dining can accommodate 10-15 guests.
Only a few square meters were added to the already generous kitchen area where two young French chefs create and experiment. The toilet on the ground floor is in its original location, except the tub was removed and replaced by a gilded vanity table for lavatory.
The downstairs bedroom was converted into a reception area for AFC, and on the second floor, the four bedrooms were used as classrooms and offices. The family room was converted into a classroom as well.
According to Thevenin, the greatest challenge for them was how to be visible from the street, as the narrow gate along Gorordo Avenue was almost inconspicuous. The addition of a bakery solved this, becoming a ‘window’ into the fine dining inside the property.
A year after its launch in August 4, 2012, Thevenin is delighted with La Maison Rose for serving as the Cebuano’s home of authentic French contemporary cuisine, where dining the French way can be experienced. It’s a colorful cocktail of French culture that Cebuanos, who are no stranger to the arts, good food and good living, are quite simply tickled pink about.