We earlier alluded to the small, seemingly insignificant objects that the architect and his team identified throughout the house and incorporated into the design, whether for practical or aesthetic reasons. The house as we first found it had no distinctive architectural element. It was left to the wooden doors, metal beams, old hammock hooks and even scrap metal from the old house to be scrubbed and strategically deployed. Wait, back up … scrap metal?
As construction began, one of our weekly photographic updates included this image. We didn’t give much thought to it, though, and we moved on. Now as I review the 1,200 or so pictures that we’ve collected (the most photographed house project in El Centro perhaps?) we think we see what this photo was foreshadowing.
It’s this cerebral approach to design that I like best about the architectural firm we enlisted. The architects (whose identities will be revealed eventually) work on the philosophy that a house’s history should be honored in a renovation. What first appeared to be a throwaway photo was actually foreshadowing this. Small bits of scrap metal were built into the wall where the outline of an old arch was also preserved, jutting out to catch the morning light and cast shadows on the chukúm in our enclosed courtyard/future tortoise sanctuary. (Since our first trip to Mérida, staying at Casa Esperanza, we saw Sergio and Claudette’s mopey little collection of tortoises living carefree in their courtyard and we knew we wanted some, too. Marc’s recent post about the vulnerability of these species when they lay eggs reminded us of how the enclosed center courtyard might be a safe haven for animals that might not make us sneeze or itch.)
Another piece of salvage, that was more significant to the architect than to us, was the base of a stove’s chimney in the wall. I had to really hunt through my photos to find an early image of it.
Here it was before we broke ground, camouflaged at the top of the wall over the sink. I never paid it any real mind. At some point in its history, this house was a doble, divided vertically to form two narrow units under one roof. Even the yard had a stone wall running down the middle. This was more of a utility room when we saw the house, but I can see how it was a second kitchen when two families split the residence.
And months later, during a particularly gruesome phase of construction from which we were thankfully absent, the roof is gone and there’s rubble everywhere. But the niche and the chimney base survive, and not by accident. They are two of the “witnesses bearing testimony to the house,” as the builder calls it.
This is the main wall of the kitchen. And look. Is that the same chimney? Did they move it? No. Looking more closely, I see it is new. And it directly faces the old chimney base across the room. Funny thing is, early on, the one thing I was hoping to salvage from the old house was the old concrete chimney.
Here’s the original chimney in the original kitchen. I really loved it, but it was set too low. No one over five feet tall could properly use it, and it was sad to see it taken away. The new kitchen will use a modern stainless steel range hood, which will use a filter instead of a venting system. Still, they rebuilt the chimney’s base right where the original vent was. The house’s former existence as a doble will be honored. The remnants of two chimneys will continue to face each other in the unified house.