Paul and I once stayed at a cute, charming Victorian-type guest-house in San Francisco. Staying in a charming Victorian guesthouse is, like sex in a bathtub, is better in concept than in reality. The clutter and discomfort, in everything from showering to hauling luggage up narrow stairs, was disappointing. Up next to the bed (almost touching my frilly pillow) was a tacky cardboard box with snacks, and a slot to insert coins to pay for them on the honor system. The bed was pushed up to a wall, boxing in one of us (me, if memory serves). Our host seemed indifferent, and wasn’t very helpful.
One night, we went to the modern, Hotel Nikko for dinner. The Nikko seemed geared more toward business travelers. The servers were alert and attentive, everything around us was working smoothy. The contrast couldn’t be more clear. At first, you might think the modern hotel would seem pretty cold and soulless compared to the cute guesthouse with its ruffles and ornamentation. But the modern space was more workable, and gave off an energy that Victorian charm would crush. We wished we had
stayed there, and the lesson learned was that efficiency trumps charm every time.
Now, we’re designing this house that we’re building in Mérida. At first I thought of it as a renovation, but 80 percent of it is new construction. We’re starting from scratch, which means we can go in any direction we want. You’d think we’d be enticed by modern design, wouldn’t you.
I’ve probably been reading too many of those hacienda photo books, but Paul and I are in love how historic Yucatán borrows and twists haute European motifs. There’s no reason we can’t blend some modern elements, and live an uncluttered existence, in a house like ours.
But then, we get ideas. Let’s put this thing here, and add that element there. Without some restraint on our part, that spare and relaxed ambiance we said we wanted has disappeared. Victorian design’s undoing is being weighed down with embellishments.
Recently we got 3-D renderings of the floor plan we agreed upon. By their nature, computer-generated renderings and their generic doors, windows, etc. make everything look ultra-modern. Everything is in white, and all lines are crisp. They pasted in a photo of a tree, which looks out of place because it’s the one painterly element in the composition.
The house actually looks pretty cool as a modernist home. I worry that the rustic charm of worn edges, gently battered doors and fading paint will grow old. Then, I worry that the crisp lines and bright white pallet of mid-century design will also grate on my nerves. We need to strike that balance. We have seen plenty of homes, and some public spaces, that succeed in doing just that. Erich and Rob’s Casa 49, or Stan and Brent’s Remixto home, are cases in point. Their architecture is dynamic, its elements are harmonious, and the overall effect is stimulating.
So already, it’s getting a little tense back at Casananaland. Our decisions are so very critical right now. I’m really loving our architects so far. They have done a good job reinterpreting what we say, rather than taking notes and spitting them back. They are avoiding cliches and giving us some delightful surprises. There bits that I’m not so much on board with, but I want us to talk it all out respectfully. I do creative work myself, and a bad client can poison the atmosphere with clumsy feedback. It’s all a little tough to do over Skype, however.
Maybe it’s time for another trip to Mérida.