INTRODUCTION

Founded in 2011 by Franco-Japanese school teacher, Samuel Maruta, and Vincent Mourou, a Franco-American former advertising executive, the Marou Chocolate Company has scooped up a raft of international awards and tickled the world’s imagination about cacao from Vietnam. Since crafting the first bar of Marou Chocolate in their kitchen in early 2011, the duo’s chocolates rose to fame after the NY Times dubbed them the makers of the world’s most exquisite bar.

In 2016 they opened Maison Marou, a cafe, patisserie, and gourmet chocolate factory in the heart of Saigon, Vietnam, which soon became a favourite spot for locals and tourists alike, and the pair set their sights on expanding the concept to the nation’s capital, Hanoi.

OUT-2 Design was commissioned to create a new space with a life of its own. One that would forefront the next chapter in their story of success; building on their strengths, and blending in characteristics of Hanoi, its unique café culture. Our challenge was to elevate the design, and the experience, to another level. ‘At Maison Marou Hanoi, you get the full 360-degree experience, we take you from cacao bean to chocolate bar and beyond.’ said Marou co-founder Vincent Mourou.

THE PROJECT

Marou’s new Cacao Embassy is located at the site of a former restaurant below a residence in the heart of Hanoi’s to diplomatic quarter. Buried amongst years of organic renovation and extensions were the remains of a 1920’s colonial villa, undetectable from the outside, and still occupied by its owners. Previous extensions added to both the front and back of the villa offered little character or value to the space, whereas many of the original features of the villa had been preserved, including a central fireplace, windows and detailing.

Despite the significant challenge of fitting all the functional requirements into the available space, it was fortunate that the existing building configuration; 3 zones being the front extension/shopfront; the remains of the existing villa; and the rear extension/courtyard, worked well with the narrative we wanted to create of three interrelated spaces: a boutique, a café and a chocolate factory.

Planning restrictions required that the front area was kept largely intact, however, the removal of a low mezzanine space on one side allowed us to create a double-height shopfront for the full width of the property. Our approach to the existing villa space was to retain and improve as much as possible, whereas the entire rear extension was demolished to give us the freedom to create the showcase chocolate factory.

The biggest challenge was to fit all the required program within the existing building fabric while creating and exploiting opportunities to draw people into and through the long, narrow space to the showcase chocolate production area planned for the rear of the site. Fortunately, a clear line-of-sight existed from the front entry, through the old villa doorways, to the rear courtyard space which we intentionally exploited to entice people into and through the sequence of three experiences we planned.

The Boutique is located at the front of the site and occupies the full street frontage. The language of this space shares a consistency with its sister store in Saigon, with improvements, and some familiar iconic features.

The Café/ Living Room is a new space drawing on the remains of the 1920’s villa that occupies the site. A warm, cosy, homely feel pervades, offering customers respite from the chaotic traffic and inclement weather that characterise Hanoi.

The Theatre of Chocolate (factory), where the magic happens, occupies the rear of the site. Here, we designed a series of intersecting platforms, to create an amphitheatre space overlooking the full bean to bar chocolate production process. Contrasting cosy internalised living room, this space is generously lit from skylights hovering above the terraced seating.

THE DESIGN

We wanted to create spaces that celebrated the making and enjoying of Marou chocolates, in a space that was quintessentially Hanoi, but true to the Maison Marou experience. All three customer areas, plus the showcase kitchens were considered as equal parts of a unified experience; each receiving the attention they deserve.

Across the full width of the site, we created a double-height shopfront to showcase the Marou product. By demolishing an existing mezzanine level, we were able to expose the hidden charm of the original 1920’s French colonial villa, creating an intriguing backdrop to the retail boutique. A palette of neutral timbers, marbles and concrete flooring allows the distinctive packaging to shine. The signature layered plywood cabinetry, chocolate library and dynamic billboard take the success of Maison Marou to the next level.

Contrasting the vibrant, lively boutique, the living room space of the old villa evokes a warm, cosy welcoming feel, as you are drawn up a small flight of stairs into the main café lounge area. Here, we wanted to create a more intimate, domestic feel. Elegantly detailed furniture in oak sits on traditional patterned cement tiles that were commissioned for Marou.

In keeping with the domestic theme, a large, shared table was designed for what was once the family dining room, and a large bespoke chandelier, made from repurposed Marou chocolate moulds, takes pride of place above the table. The original timber windows opening onto a small external garden were restored and reused, as were the original doors.

The climax in this trio of spaces lies at the rear of the site where the terraced amphitheatre is framed along two sides by chocolate making; where artisans concoct combinations of local fruits and spices to invent new bars and recipes that furnish the shelves of gourmet shops all over the world. Natural oak floors add warmth to the industrial space, as do the marble benches and tabletops, with live cacao shrubs adding the final touches.