Rather than vegging out in front of the TV, Paul and I decided to spend the remaining few daylight hours of a beautiful late-summer Connecticut weekend poring over our collection of Yucatán house porn. Living in Mexico (2004) (Taschen); Casa Mexicana Style (2006) (Stewart, Tabori & Chang); and Hacienda Courtyards, Hacienda Style (2008), Casa Yucatan (2006) and The New Hacienda (2003) (Gibbs Smith) were laid out before us. We devoured these books a couple of years ago, when the books were more current and our love for Yucatán was still fresh, but during our construction process we set them aside. Now that we’re making decisions on how to finish Casa Nana, it was time to revisit all those photo spreads.
It is gratifying to see so much of Yucatán in books that are meant to characterize the entire country. Living in Mexico, which was first published nine years ago, features 21 properties; eight of those are in Yucatán. Of these, the most interesting made me look in a completely different way at that quirky Trinidad Galeria hotel on Calle 60. Once you get past the eclectic art and potted plants that fill a 1980s lobby — a sunny, corner storefront not revealed in the book — pieces of a dreamy mansion emerge. It’s kind of my ideal: a little shabby, but romantic and filled with funky and fabulous art seemingly scattered here and there. It suggests a worldly art collector who ran out of money and is hiding out in a mansion that was handed down by an eccentric uncle. And that’s sort-of the case. That art collector would be Manolo Rivero (1941-2006). As the proprietor of this memorable hotel, he would also be the eccentric uncle in my scenario.
I can’t find much information on the property, which offers basic, cheap rooms to travelers. A guest on TripAdvisor said the property “is an old mansion that was left as a cultural historical building which is not allowed to be tampered with, so the flaking paint is a testament to that as is the old mosaic tiling and artwork that stands to both haunt and inspire.” Reviews on TripAdvisor, by the way, are decidedly mixed.
The Taschen book provides commentary: “Manolo’s home is not recommended to those insensitive to the 20th-century charms of Pop Art, Op Art, Hyper-Realism and Surrealism (or) … shocked by the daring juxtaposition of a ‘rocaille’ sofa and a scattering of Versace cushions with an Art Nouveau statuette and the lurid tones of a contemporary canvas.” Next time we’re on Calle 60, we’re going to have to explore the Trinidad Galeria a little more.
But back to the volumes stacked on our side table last weekend. The books aren’t that dated, but I wonder how different they would be if they were published in 2013? These titles, which I’ve seen on shelves all over Mérida, made mini-celebrities of a few of our local designers and architects, but they were published too soon to track today’s accelerating trend toward contemporary expression. The romantic, hacienda-style city home is increasingly sharing the stage with clean lines and mid-century modern influences. We’re seeing more of the serene minimalism reminiscent of the famed Mexican architect Luis Barragán (1902-1988), who brought European understatement to Mexico through his interplay of raw materials and use of light. (The wide photo at the top of this post is a detail of one of his pools.)
So you really are embracing “local” architecture if you take your house into a modern direction, or even if you avoid the two extremes. Locals are living in bland tract houses and flashy glass high-rises with department-store furniture, just like everyone else. Expats designing anything other than a la Mexicana have braced themselves for some needling from critics who felt we were eroding the culture by designing homes as we pleased. But once enough expats noticed the new homes Mexicans were building for themselves at La Ceiba, Country Towers and the Yucatan Country Club, we gave ourselves permission to design any way we please. And just as Spirit of ’76-style Colonial styles in the U.S. have almost disappeared (who decorates with spinning wheels anymore?) you see less romantic/historical influences and more sober rationality in the Centro.
The better designers, of course, know how to blend the old and the new. We don’t want to live in a time capsule, but we don’t expect to emulate the Jetsons, either. Each extreme has its faults. It’s too easy to break the spell of a historic Hollywood set type of home. I don’t care to sacrifice hand railings on a floating staircase for the sake of preserving the crisp lines of my abode. And if I make an impulse purchase at AANY, I don’t want to worry that I’m undermining the lines or color scheme of my space pod. Our house-porn collection has inspired us, but so has Revista Ambientes, even if some of the rooms appear staged for a catalog. We are still seduced by the crunchy designs of Hacienca Style, from which we can borrow the rustic textures; juxtaposing metals, stones and glass; popping bright colors while favoring neutral tones; softening hard surfaces with foliage; and contrasting modern and antique. When Rosas y Xocolate spa/hotel/restaurant opened on the Paseo de Montejo in 2009, Reyes Rios + Larraín set the tone for honoring the past while not creating a period-piece Hollywoods set. The drama of a hacienda is not undone by the modern furniture in the courtyard, small square ponds are filled by weather-beaten half-cañons that appear ripped from an ancient aqueduct. Sitting in the Rosas y Xocolate courtyard for dinner, I feel completely modern as I appreciate the power of grandeur of a historic Yucatecan mansion.