A restored haciendero’s home in Iloilo is now a café 2
Inspired by its name, Regine Espinosa says she envisions Balay Sueño to become a venue for dreamers like her.

Iloilo’s newest café and cookie shop is housed in this stunningly restored haciendero’s home

How a political family restored a storied ancestral home in 1940s Iloilo to its former glory
RHIA GRANA | Jan 28 2022

The structure was built by the haciendero Don Modesto Ledesma, the father of Demetrio Ledesma, who served as mayor of Jaro, Iloilo from 1920 to 1931. Located close to the plaza and the municipal hall, the two-story ancestral home has been a landmark in the area since it was built in the 1940s. Previously called Balay ni Papa Kú—Papa Kú being the Ledesma family’s term of endearment for the old Modesto—it has taken on a new name, and with it a new purpose. 

Balay Sueño
The decades-old ancestral home built by Don Modesto Ledesma before the restoration.

For a time up until the 1990s, the residence was inhabited by the last living daughter of Don Modesto. After her death, the structure remained vacant and unused. Until the family of former Iloilo City Mayor, now congressional aspirant, Jose Espinosa III, acquired the property in 2018. Now assuming the role of its custodian, the Espinosas have rechristened the home “Balay Sueño”—sueño being the equivalent of dream in Spanish—as they were told it was the dream house of Papa Kú.

Balay Sueño
“Part of the walls were being held up by bamboo stilts to keep it from falling over. Paint was chipped already,” Regine says, recalling what greeted her the first time she stepped in.  

Regine Espinosa, 31, the eldest daughter of the former Mayor Espinosa, recalls passing by the house as a young student back in the 90s—but not once did she dare enter. “[From the outside] it looked like a haunted house,” she recalls to ANCX. Over the years, Regine would hear stories about the property, how it’s taken on different roles at different points in history, this house right at the corner of Benedicto and Washington Streets. It was a Japanese outpost during World War II, a Korean school at one point, an office, and so on. 

Balay Sueño
 The house remains structurally safe despite the years, so they only needed to reinforce everything beginning with the foundation.

In later years, people took pity on the house’s neglected state. “Part of the walls were being held up by bamboo stilts to keep it from falling over. Paint was chipped already,” Regine says, recalling what greeted her the first time she stepped in.

Balay Sueño
The Espinosas preserved the original design of the house, along with its ventanillas, stilts, wooden floors, and color, which was a combination white and gray.

A lover of history and artifacts, the Espinosas decided to embark on a mission to restore “Balay ni Papa Kú” to its former glory. They wanted to preserve the original design of the house, along with its ventanillas, stilts, wooden floors, and color, which was a combination white and gray. The were happy to learn the house remains structurally safe despite the years, and they only needed to reinforce everything beginning with the foundation.

Balay Sueño
Gina Sarabia Espinosa, president of the Museo Iloilo Foundation, breathed new life into the space with her collection of furniture and art pieces. 

The family started the restoration work in 2019 without first knowing how the house will be put to use. Regine’s mother, Gina Sarabia Espinosa, president of the Museo Iloilo Foundation, breathed new life into the space with her collection of furniture and art pieces. “We initially thought of turning it into rentable spaces, but we thought more Ilonggos can enjoy it if we just open it as a venue for events,” says Regine. 

Balay Sueño
“I would like it [Balay Sueño] to inspire and nurture a community of creatives and artisans,” says Regine.

Recently, Regine decided to turn a portion of the ground floor into a cookie shop and café called Sunday Bake Night. While she’s really a designer of fine jewelry, during the pandemic, Regine had taken up baking as a hobby. “In other countries, they turn old houses into cafés, hotels, restaurants. Sabi ko, if other countries can do it, why can’t I do it here?”

Balay Sueño
The Espinosas opened Balay Sueño as a venue for events.

The Espinosas are slowly preparing for the influx of people. They are happy that Don Modesto’s great great grandchildren get to visit the place and relive their childhoods. “They bring their friends over and just talk about happy memories. They are part of this house’s history and I want them to be proud of it,” she says.

Balay Sueño
A portion of the house's ground floor was turned into a cookie shop and café called Sunday Bake Night.
Balay Sueño
The café offers a variety of cookies and beverages.

Inspired by its name, Regine says she envisions Balay Sueño to become a venue for dreamers like her. “I would like it to inspire and nurture a community of creatives and artisans,” she says. “It’s one way to not only keep the memories of the house alive but to also share it with the rest of the community in the generations to come.”

[Photos courtesy of Regine Espinosa]