Anyone familiar with the work of Mérida’s most respected architects and designers has probably guessed a long time who we signed in late 2011 to renovate Casa Nana.
The work of Salvador Reyes Ríos and Josefina Larraín was introduced to us back when we were devouring any book we could get our hands on about hacienda styles or courtyard designs. I mean, some of their rooms actually made my heart ache, and raised our expectations of a successful restoration. We couldn’t be nearby while the house was being rebuilt, so we needed someone with solid references and a sense of aesthetics that were compatible with ours. Something I read gave me the impression that they didn’t take on smaller residential projects any longer, but at one point I decided to give it a shot and ask to meet them. The meeting went well, but I still thought of them as a wildcard among our list of potential architects, all of whom we liked and would have been comfortable working with.
The next day we met both of them at the house, for which we were under contract, but was still the residence of a family that had been there for many, many years. When they first explored our property, they — and I don’t know how else to explain this — were so obviously engaged with its humble details, and with the thick forest out back. With reverence, they conversed with the current owner at length and took photos of the house and the grounds. Their enthusiasm for the project and respect for the history of the site was palpable. Telling us that they were committed to the Centro and were interested in its development, they asked us for the job. How could we say no? We still took our time, but by the end of the week we gave them our answer. Within six months we had a working floor plan. Six months after that, their preferred crew was available and assembled to start work on Casa Nana.
Early in the project, a visit coincided with their exhibit, Visión Periférica, or Peripheral Vision, at the City Museum. It showcased their previous 10 years of work, including floor plans and some installations representing their use of bamboo, i-beams, and tile.
With the help of staff architects, mainly an impressive young professional named Zaida, they kept a list of all the things we wanted, everything becoming a line item on an increasingly long and complicated punch list. Always ready with a rapid reply to our questions, Zaida seemed to remember the entire list by heart.
Before receiving the first draft of the floor plan, I wondered how they would fit in four en-suite bedrooms, mop sinks, two laundry rooms, an infinity-edge lap pool with its own full bathroom, pond, grill area, casita, terrace with a wet bar, center courtyard and garage, with a nod to indoor-outdoor living and a monastic aesthetic, whatever that means. We wrote a creative brief that stated that the house must serve the function of calming our jangled nerves. It should not be too much maintenance, either. We ended up with all that, plus an extra pond, a second roof terrace, and a water feature. (OK, maybe there will be a bit of maintenance involved.) They all somehow flow wonderfully in a property that is maybe just slightly larger than most lots you see in the historic district. And when we threw them some minor curve balls throughout the duration of the project, they accepted our ideas graciously, willingly and in stride. A lamp with sentimental value would be added; a statue for the pond. We were never left to feel bad about imposing our ideas; in fact, they seemed to thrive on collaboration. When we prescribed an idea they had us back up a bit, having us consider the purpose, the desired outcome of that particular concept. Everything we did was for a reason, whether that outcome was aesthetic or practical.
When we started integrating more aggressive colors to our neutral-color zone, I started getting nervous, but our trust was well placed. Practicality and livability was never sacrificed for style or visuals; in fact, it was quite the opposite. They have raised a family in the Centro, and are well aware of what works and what doesn’t and are sympathetic with the challenges of living here. As we went along, they kept us on budget and protected us from price-gouging vendors. As we approach the end, we see that we got just what we wanted and more than we expected.
Some of the most interesting moments of the project are when Salvador and Josefina disagree on something. Should the courtyard run this way or that? Should the kitchen island be perpendicular or parallel to the sink? It’s healthy to have a devil’s advocate. Together, they are informed by personal and professional experience in locales that include Mexico City, Chile, Germany, Miami, and New York City. Their work on haciendas and resorts, which demand comfort and economy along with eye appeal, also benefits in Casa Nana, which is at once pretty and romantic and grounded in today’s world.