The great room of La Maison Rose is a visual delight with the multitude of colors and decor. The exposed wood joists overhead, the Vietnamese lamps and paper lanterns, antique high chairs and shabby chic seat cushions, posters from Shanghai, the stair handrail and arched doorways, and the original baldosa floor tiles all combine for an over-the-top ménage à trois of L'Indochine, Art Deco and Philippine Spanish colonial design styles.

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.

Sitting by the entrance is a 1920s upright piano previously owned by Michel Lhuiller, the honorary consul of France to the Philippines, who instigated the opening of Alliance Française in Cebu. The high table with mismatched high chairs is the main setting of the great room, favored by guests who love to see people coming into La Maison Rose, and to be seen.

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.

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An arched porte cochère shades the main doors of the pink house, with two half-naked female figures, whose do’s and poses are reminiscent of 1920s Flappers, minding each side of the entrance.

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.

A red jar that was in danger of being junked was instead repurposed into a lampshade, and now serves as an accent piece in one corner of the great room.
A Chinese moon gate (the round doorway) by the main dining area leads out to the al fresco dining area.

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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.

A niche by the staircase painted in red and containing a trio of brass faucets with LED lighting is one of the quirky accents that Parisian painter (now based in Cebu), Delphine de Lorme, introduced to La Maison Rose. The wood railing of the staircase is original.
Soft pink walls with white wall molding run through the second level and provide a mild backdrop to the hot pink cane chair outside one of the classrooms.

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. 

Original article first appeared in BluPrint Volume 5 2013. Edits were made for BluPrint online.
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