A refuge from urban life, this one-story home is simultaneously solid, open and serene. Owner Danny Cameron wanted a quiet space for relaxation and reflection, with a Zen-like vibe that would accentuate the bucolic setting.
Typical of central Mexico's high plateau region, the surrounding landscape supports hardy huizache and mesquite trees and other high desert plants. During the rainy season the Laja River swells from a trickle to a respectable stream, and the scrubby landscape greens up, "as pretty as Ireland," Danny says.
Several years after relocating to San Miguel de Allende, the North Carolina native bought this house a few kilometers beyond the quiet town of Atotonilco and its famous pilgrimage center. Although his place has the best views of the three properties on the parcel, the original owners had not taken advantage of the setting; the remodel took about a year.
Emphasizing the scenery was a primary design goal of project architects Tim Wachter and his sister Theresa, both raised in San Miguel de Allende by ex-pat parents. Although neither has a degree in architecture, both are accomplished in the field. Tim also excels in landscape design, while Theresa's forte is interiors.
"Tim and Theresa's congeniality and easy-going personalities made the project fun," said Cameron, "and as low stress as a total remodel can be."
A good portion of the original structure--with thin walls and no feeling of mass--was demolished. Exterior walls were fortified with another layer of brick to give the monastic feeling the owner was looking for. Interior walls were finished with cemento pulido: cement mixed with color and, in this case, little bits of black tar to darken and give character to the surface. (Pulido walls are polished but not painted; the color is mixed right into the cement.) A few walls were left raw--but faintly colored--cement.
The original home also lacked outdoor living space. Many tons of rubble and dirt were brought in to level the steep slope beyond the back door, making room for a patio with valley views. Most days Danny sees sheep, cows, goats and/or horses grazing, often with someone on horseback looking after them.
The Wachters and Danny designed the home together, modifying plans as new ideas cropped up or unique materials were found, like the amazing marble slab--with threads of gold, browns, greens and blues--used for kitchen counters. No blueprints were used. "The whole thing was done really organically," Cameron explained. "An idea might be sketched on the wall to show the maestro, but other than that there were no drawings or architectural plans. The way Tim works, he could just describe to the maestro what he wanted, and the maestro got it."
Each team member occasionally insisted on a design idea that the others resisted. For example, the original plan was to put a dark stain on the existing, traditional tile floors. Theresa felt this was all wrong, while the idea seemed perfectly suitable to the two men. The interior designer prevailed and painted them (the tiles, not the men) celery green throughout the house. It looks divine.
While Danny mainly deferred to the excellent taste and ideas of the two professionals, he occasionally insisted on his own aesthetic. For example, he chose a very dark stain for the 12 six-foot-tall window casings in the dining room. Rather than overpowering the space, the windows beautifully frame the bucolic scenes outside. To maintain a feeling of simplicity, Danny decided to hang not a single piece of artwork on the polished cement walls. The outdoors is the art.
Tim made sure that every room has at least one perfectly placed window. He also designed easy access to the outdoor living spaces, all beautifully landscaped with native plants: mainly succulents, cacti, and yucca. The back patio has a hot tub that doubles as a colorful fountain; built-in cement banquettes on the front patio face a below-ground fire pit and overlook a front garden and cozy guest house.
Outdoors and In
The household's two rescue dogs, Daisy and Mac, fill their days exploring the arroyo while scouting for lizards, tortoises, and squirrels. Rabbits are currently wreaking havoc on the kitchen garden's strawberries and carrots, providing additional challenges for two full-time gardeners. Two kinds of plum trees, loquats, tiny peaches, and an apple tree are interspersed with large clumps of lemon verbena and other herbs. A beautiful mesquite provides shade for garden conversations and quiet contemplation.
The lemon verbena often finds its way into the open kitchen, which has a mix of cupboards and open shelving. There and throughout the house, many of the light fixtures are recessed, and all are energy-conserving LED. Solar panels soon to be installed will take the home totally off the grid; they should pay for themselves in about five years. Extra energy stored during the day is sold as credit to the electric company and purchased back as needed at night or on cloudy days.
Tim and Theresa Wachter were able to translate Danny's concept into a placid, Santa Fe-style home with thick walls, plenty of windows, and exposed dark-wood beamed ceilings throughout. Fireplaces are open, furnishings are modern and simply designed, unlined drapes are natural muslin. The color scheme inside is cream and sand, outside walls are sage, doors are sturdy mesquite. The connection to nature is conspicuous, and a huge part of the home's appeal.
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