When my husband and I decided to move to Mérida, the capital of the state of Yucatán in Mexico, we were in search of an adventure. I had lived in New York for 24 years; my husband, Marc Perrotta, for nearly 20. We were happy with our lives and routines. I worked as an editor and writer for various magazines and websites, Marc for different architectural firms. Our weekends revolved around our dog Lily Beth, exploring New York (often on bike), and spending time with friends. Still, the idea that we would simply continue to do the same for another two or three decades left us both a little disheartened.
In Mérida, however, Marc would be able to design us a house, or renovate an existing one. I would have the chance to live in a country that I have loved since my first contact decades earlier, when I was a kid and my family moved to Guadalajara. Other factors attracted us to the city—something that has been true for many, both foreigners and Mexicans, who have decided that Mérida is the perfect place to start a new chapter in their lives.
In February 2019, we found the place that we would turn into our home in the San Cristóbal neighborhood, in Mérida’s historic center. By May, we had closed on it. While we were looking for a house to restore, this one was in a need of a renovation, and soon. It wasn’t occupied, though much of its structure remained solid, and the house had most recently been used as dentist’s office (according to the selling agent, the dentist closed her practice when she decided to become a nun).
The original house was in a colonial style and dated from the end of the 19th century. One of the original rooms, with its soaring 16-foot ceilings (typical of many of Mérida’s old houses), had been divided into two levels. The mezzanine had a treatment room while another had been added to what was previously a patio in the original house.
Marc’s plan was to remove some unremarkable later additions while preserving the original house. His design included the construction of a new addition in concrete, glass, and steel, with solar panels on its roof. The addition would cross the lot at an angle, so it would be oriented facing north (to minimize solar heat gain in this tropical city). This also allowed us to save an existing royal palm tree in the middle of the property. The original rooms (which would now serve as a home office and dining room) would open onto a patio filled with potted plants and bougainvilleas climbing the walls. The new addition houses the kitchen, a covered outdoor dining terrace, and a living room on the ground level. The principal bedroom and bath are upstairs. The new addition wraps around a second, dry garden that sits at the heart of the house. Finally, at the back of the 135-foot by 33-foot lot, a pink casita serves as a guesthouse, separated from the main house by a swimming pool and a jungle garden.
Construction began in March 2020, led by Jorge Novel Caamal of the local firm Paralelo 20. Despite a few delays due to the pandemic, by July 2021 the house was finished and we could move in.
Marc and I share a love and curiosity about Mexico and its culture. That said, we weren’t looking to recreate a little hacienda on an urban scale. The Mexican elements of the house are found more in its materials—floors of Cantera (a stone used in many Mexican buildings), tropical woods like Parota and Tzalam, plaster walls in various colors, and local pasta-tile floors in the historic rooms. We also wanted to furnish the house not in traditional crafts like Oaxacan alebrijes and heavy carved wooden pieces (not that there is anything wrong with those), but with pieces by Mexican designers working in a more contemporary style, like Chuch Estudio in Mérida and Comité de Proyectos in Mexico City. A number of light fixtures are by David Pompa, and other pieces we designed ourselves and had made by a carpenter in the nearby town of Espita. An enormous painting by Mérida painter Jorge Patrón Le Doux presides over the front room that now serves as an office.
It’s now been a little over a year since we moved in. The three gardens designed and installed by Jardines Nativos Mexicanos have grown quickly after two rainy seasons. Sitting in the living room, looking out on the dry garden in one direction and the jungle garden in the other, and with a breeze after a late-summer storm, I don’t think there could be a better place to reinvent our lives.