Exquisite local craftsmanship, a thermal-spring pool and sleeping quarters for 16 make for an ideal retreat in San Miguel
It takes a village to build a home like this one; the construction of this hacienda outside San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, kept a large number of craftspeople employed for three years. The artisans built this home brick by brick and without electricity for the first two years. "When we started this project, all the workers used to walk to the site," architect David Howell says. "Then, after a while, they had pedal bikes. About a year after that they had motorbikes, and by the end of the project they all had pickup trucks. It's a wonderful feeling to have a positive impact on the local community's economy."
The home was a collaboration between Howell and the owner, furniture designer John Houshmand. "We designed the house in a classic hacienda style with a true courtyard fully enclosed by the exterior," Howell explains. "It's a monastic, simplistic aesthetic without embellishment." Local materials stand out, and views of the surrounding mountains of central Mexico were carefully considered.
Houzz at a Glance:
Location: San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Size: 12,000 square feet; 6 bedrooms
Who lives here: Vacation home for a couple and their friends
That's interesting: No scaffolding was used during construction.
Mexico Mansion 1: DHD Architecture and Interior Design, original photo on Houzz
The home is a modern interpretation of traditional Spanish hacienda architecture, with a true interior courtyard. "We observed what worked locally and thought hard about how the home would be used," Howell says. "It was a matter of listening, interpreting and making a simple bold statement."
The courtyard and house were planned around two existing trees, and the courtyard is centered around an infinity pool fountain. "Now that there is water on the site, it has transformed from a very dry and arid landscape to one full of lush plants," Howell says.
"When you approach the house, there isn't a typical procession to a main entry; you just organically filter through different openings," Howell notes. Inside are numerous opportunities to see the big view from the courtyard through the house.
This design is also energy efficient. "The hacienda is 4 meters tall. The air flows through on the first level, and the hot air is trapped up high," Howell says. Thick walls control the temperature as well. "There is also passive solar gain in the winter. It's a natural way that's worked for hundreds of years."
Mexico Mansion 2: DHD Architecture and Interior Design, original photo on Houzz
The long dining area has views from all sides — to the exterior, to the courtyard, and to the one long axis that extends from the opening to the kitchen at the other end.
The light fixtures were custom designed by Howell's wife, Steffani Aarons; their form and materials create a beautiful transition in the space between the boveda ceilings and the metal window casements. The live-edge dining table was designed by Houshmand to accommodate 16 diners, and the chairs are local, handmade roadside finds.
These traditional Spanish boveda ceilings were created by one master craftsman on a ladder. "He stitched these ceilings together like he was knitting bricks," Howell describes. The craftsman was over 70 years old when he built them and has been perfecting his craft since he was 12. In this dining room space, he completed three domes without using any scaffolding.
Mexico Mansion 3: DHD Architecture and Interior Design, original photo on Houzz
This cheerful kitchen is at the other end of the axis that runs through the dining room. Howell wanted to avoid the busier, glossier hand-painted tiles commonly seen around Mexico, so the kitchen is full of sunny yellow handmade 2-inch by 2-inch ceramic tiles.
The boveda ceilings continue in the kitchen, and the light fixture was repurposed from a wire basket. The counter stools were locally made and a roadside find.
A natural thermal spring with a hot pool makes for an inviting spot to relax.
Mexico Mansion 4: DHD Architecture and Interior Design, original photo on Houzz
The left side of the pool has a large shelf that is only 4 inches deep and serves as a beach area.
The thatched roof pavilion offers protection from the strong Mexican sunshine.
It's also a popular spot for dining al fresco and enjoying the sunset. In fact, Howell calls this the "sunset lounge."
Mexico Mansion 5: DHD Architecture and Interior Design, original photo on Houzz
The house can comfortably fit up to 16 people. This is the main living room, complete with plenty of seating for a large group.
"The hard surfaces in the living room make for great acoustics," Howell says. "The sound bounces around." Guests enjoy playing and listening to music in here.
The live-edge cherry sofas and coffee table are by John Houshmand.
A built-in sofa provides a comfortable perch that overlooks the courtyard.
The living room's fireplace is open to the courtyard, so the fire and the view can be enjoyed from both spaces. It's just one example of the many elements that blur the transitions between inside and out.
Mexico Mansion 6: DHD Architecture and Interior Design, original photo on Houzz
The "orange room" is one of four master bedrooms. "Each of the bedrooms was designed around a color, and every bedroom has a fireplace for warmth," Howell says.
The large master bath has a spalike feel. It includes a large bathtub, a lounging area and a fireplace. "People can hang out and keep you company while you soak," Howell says.
"All of the interior wall surfaces are simple plaster," Howell says.
The sink was another antique local roadside find. For the bathtub, using concrete was a no-brainer because the artisans were able to form just about anything out of concrete onsite.
Off a master bedroom is what Howell dubs the "margarita lounge."
While the home has a very carefully planned sequence of views and axes, the influence of the local style and craftsmanship allowed Howell to relax the rigor and let the design evolve in an organic way. It's very befitting for a house that emerged from completely local materials and talent.
The home is also available to rent. For more information, visit retreatmexico.com.