At the end of their useful lives as family residences, many old houses are either simply abandoned or demolished. The more fortunate houses are given the chance to repurpose themselves by adapting to accommodate new uses.
Casa Roces stands out as an excellent example of the adaptive re-use of a heritage structure.
What was once a family residence before World War II has been reincarnated as a restaurant, Casa Roces. It hides discreetly behind a high fence along J. P. Laurel Street directly across Malacañang, in a neighborhood so genteel that for generations its residents still prefer to live there quietly, resisting the move to the newer suburbs around the city.
A two-story, pre-World War II family home in one of the most discreet areas established in pre-Makati days that still remain in Manila was repurposed into Casa Roces restaurant.
The structure, dating to the 1940s Commonwealth era just before World War II, is not a grand house by any means, but spacious enough to provide a comfortable lifestyle for the Roces-Legarda family that built the house.
The repurposing of the house into a restaurant is to be noted, especially since it respects and maintains the original simplicity of the structure and builds upon its quiet strength, a quality that establishes a timeless feel to its 21st-century existence as Casa Roces.
Commendable is its faithfulness to maintaining the original simplicity of the architecture, keeping strictly within the Commonwealth style in interior detailing, finishes, and furnishing.
More importantly, it avoids any reference to the out-of-place (for the Commonwealth period) florid Spanish colonial style that has become today’s cliché image associated with heritage.
Its design team has approached the structure’s change of function with untypical restraint.
On the ground floor is the main dining area and coffee shop. What used to be windowed exterior walls separating the house from its garden have been opened up, replaced with wide doors having large glass openings that flood the interior with light and bring the tropical garden into full view.
The garden is special. It’s designed in a manner that visually expands its boundaries beyond its limited space, and planted with verdant tropicals reflected on pools of water.
Garden pathways open out to semi-private patios which are outdoor dining areas.
One of the little patios is paved in antique piedra china, flat granite blocks once used as ballast on trading ships coming from China. A wooden deck defines another patio that is almost hidden in luxuriant foliage.
The architectural changes introduced onto the ground floor are subtle. Original patterned cement tile flooring remains, as well as existing partitions retained as much as possible to allow different dining areas to coexist within one large space, a scheme that provides a bit of privacy to dignitaries or VIPs who come to the restaurant from presidential halls across the street.
On the upper floor, reached by plain and solid, handsome wooden stairs, former bedroom suites still retain their original hardwood flooring and now are spacious function rooms. The interiors, subtle and elegant, continue the same restrained look at the café below.
That’s how it is at Casa Roces, quiet, laid back, calming. Everything is in its place, nothing screams for attention.
We can all identify with the place and the surroundings. It is comfort architecture that looks and feels like it could be anyone’s old home where he or she grew up.
Casa Roces shows that heritage does not have to be monumental or out of reach. What Casa Roces celebrates is everyday heritage, the kind of heritage that we all share and take for granted.
The simplicity of the house and its nostalgia-based comfort menu are both so familiar that being there is like going back to have a family lunch or dinner at lolo and lola’s house.
It’s worth a visit, Casa Roces is, even if it probably is the only restaurant in town where you have to surrender your driver’s license before being allowed to enter the street that it’s on.