Immediately after landing in central Mexico, Roberto and Santiago (their acquired Mexican names) caught a common malady known as San Miguel fever. In short order they found a house that they loved and began negotiating its purchase. Only when a friend hesitantly pointed out some structural and design flaws did the retired Americans begin to realize they had plenty of other options for acquiring a home.
"We told ourselves we weren't going to build a house, that we'd buy one," Roberto confided. "But those we looked at were either too expensive or didn't meet our design needs. We wanted a place that would accommodate our requirements as we grew older---namely stiff joints and grandkids. So we decided to build."
Eventually the pair found a perfect parcel of land with the potential for excellent views. Not comfortable with brokering a deal in Spanish, they asked a Mexican friend to negotiate with the seller of the 10x20m lot. Much of the allure was the neighborhood: Colonia San Antonio is a lively mix of Mexican families, gringos, and small shops and businesses. It is also a flat, easy walk to downtown San Miguel de Allende.
In addition to the neighborhood, Santiago and Roberto were attracted by the possibilities for light and warmth offered by the south-facing property. A skylight installed along the east side of the house brings morning light to the kitchen and dining area. The glass wall at the back brings light from the garden-patio into the house. An open floor plan connects the large kitchen with the adjacent dining area and comfortable living room, the latter anchored by a gas fireplace.
Make it Practical and Peaceful
Upstairs, the master bedroom (with terrace and bathroom), guest room, and study form a square around the stairwell. Both guest room and study connect to a bathroom so that when family members visit, parents can occupy the guest room and their offspring the sofa-couch in the study.
Looking toward the future, the backyard patio---with full bath---can be converted to a master bedroom if the need arises for exclusively first-floor living. Everything has been thought through with an emphasis on comfort and hospitality, and an eye to the future.
Santiago and Roberto wanted an oasis of peace in a neighborhood that, filled with children and businesses and weekend parties, could easily produce its share of noise. A two-story, metal fountain in the garden and a ceramic fountain (by Fedelio Herrera) in a small interior courtyard keep the outside world at bay.
A Good Working Relationship
The ex-pats figure they interviewed 13 to 14 architects before hiring Javier Mojarro, a native of San Miguel and an admirer of the innovative Mexican architect Luis Barragán. Barely 30 years old, Mojarro has built nearly 40 homes here. Roberto and Santiago contacted those homeowners whose houses shared a design aesthetic with their own, and found that all were satisfied that the architect had created a quality home on time and within budget. Mojarro served on this project as builder-contractor as well as architect. The clients heartily endorsed this arrangement, stating that "This gave us one person to deal with and talk to for design and construction questions and decisions."
One idea suggested by Mojarro was a non-traditional foundation. As opposed to a stone-and-cement foundation normally built around the building's perimeter, his rebar-and-cement foundation was built deeper and stronger under all of the weight-bearing walls. Beams from these extra-reinforced areas connect to the rest of the foundation. An engineer reviewed the plan and agreed that this foundation would be both stronger and less expensive to build than a traditional one.
Roberto and Santiago found Mojarro receptive to their ideas as well. Instead of one of the cement ceilings typically installed in modern Mexican homes, they proposed a tile and wood beam ceiling that in the end cost no more than the cement one would have.
Other features of this Mexican contemporary home are radiant floor heating (which warms the cement-slab house by means of hot water running through pipes under the floor) and LED lights glowing up the stairway. The walls were hard-wired for solar panels, Internet, and cable TV during construction; Wi-Fi was added later. On the roof, a skylight of thick glass can be used as a seat or a table.
The house is approximately 279 square meters (3,000 square feet) of construction, including the garage. While the owners didn't specify the cost to build, a similar house in the United States, Canada, or Europe---if it could be built at all to these specifications and with so many custom features---would easily cost twice the price.
The work was completed in seven months by a crew of 12 to 14 full-time construction workers who, by all reports, whistled while they worked like a crew of Snow White's dwarfs. I asked if there were many changes or surprises during the intense process of building a home from scratch. "There were surprises," said Roberto, smiling. "But mostly pleasant ones. The house we've built is not only aesthetically pleasing, but suits us better than we could have ever imagined a San Miguel de Allende house would."