In our continuing series featuring the unique homes and neighborhoods of Mérida, Yucatán, we are proud to present Paseo de Montejo neighborhood. Our host is Keith Heitke, a senior sales agent for Mexico International Real Estate.
Each video episode on our website features a different residential neighborhood of this interesting and beautiful city, focusing on a home which exemplifies the best of that neighborhood. While we’ll give you lots of great footage and design ideas, we hope it only whets your appetite to see more, and of course nothing beats experiencing these amazing homes in person.
If you would like to savor the details about the neighborhood of Paseo de Montejo, and the house itself, scroll down for a written summary. And if you would like to post a comment, you can do so at the end of the article.
Now, let’s have a look!
This home is located just two blocks from beautiful Paseo de Montejo, in one of the neighborhoods of Mérida’s Centro Historico, or historic district.
Paseo de Montejo, and the areas around it are officially considered part of Merida’s Centro Historico, even though the area was developed much more recently than the tight urban grid of downtown. Merida was founded in 1542, but this grand boulevard didn’t come to fruition until 1888.
The boulevard was constructed to commemorate the founding of Merida by Francisco de Montejo y Leon, and is by far the longest, most important avenue in Yucatan. It begins in the nearby neighborhood of Santa Ana, and stretches all the way to the Gulf of Mexico in the town of Progreso, considering all the extensions that were made in the intervening decades. Along the way we find many public and private institutions, including some of the most important in the city.
This boulevard was loosely patterned after the Champs Elysee of Paris. It’s lined with huge old trees and has a divider in the center filled with flowers and tropical foliage year round. Paseo de Montejo also features several historic, decorative, and functional roundabouts along the way, each with its own decoration and story – like this one, commissioned in 1943 to portray Mexican history.
Henequén (Sisal fiber from the agave)
Thanks to Yucatan’s prosperity in the late 1800s, a result of the enormously lucrative henequen industry, many beautiful palaces and mansions were built along the city’s main thoroughfares, with no thought to their cost. Scores of them are still standing today – and many of the grandest line Paseo de Montejo. Some have been converted to banks and investment houses, and one even serves as the centerpiece of the Fiesta Americana hotel. Probably the grandest mansion in the city, the Beaux Arts-style Palacio Canton, is now home to the city’s excellent Anthropology museum.
…But be ready for a surprise. Mérida is anything but staid and uniform. It is and always has been an eclectic melting pot.
Just two blocks from the French grandeur of Paseo de Montejo is the amazing modernist home in this video.
Notice the rich wood used for the entry door.
Tornillo (“Maro Macho” or Brazilian mahogany)
The doors, cabinets and even the stairway of this home are made of solid tornillo, sometimes known as Brazilian mahogany – a very dense tropical hardwood. This of course is very beautiful, but has its practical aspect as well. Less dense woods warp in this environment and are prone to insects. The wood used in the home’s doors is three inches thick, and hand-fabricated in a beautiful pattern that makes them even stronger.
This is a recently completed, impeccable tropical townhouse, created to embody sensual elegance and simplicity throughout. Like most homes in Centro Historico, this new home presents a blank façade to the world, keeping all the beauty a well-guarded secret from passers-by.
As you can see, it is thoroughly modern, yet totally in keeping with its location and local building traditions, including soaring ceilings, polished floors and a sweeping flow between indoors and outdoors. The plan of the house was also carefully conceived to take advantage of the prevailing breezes – so important in Yucatán’s climate.
There is not another house remotely like this in Merida’s centro historico. Mexico City architect Fernando Vasconcelos created a modern masterpiece with a thoroughly tropical feel.
Patio central (inner courtyard)
Immediately after entering the home, you pass through this tranquil inner courtyard. The plantings of lemongrass bring it to life – but they also play an important role. Just beneath this area is a large pit of sand and pebbles. This is where all the gray water from sinks and showers is filtered so that it can be reused to water the home’s three gardens – just one of the many eco-friendly details the architect included in his design.
And the design was indeed a challenge, which you realize when you see the home’s Croquis, or floorplan.
Here you can see the narrow sliver that the architect had to work with. Instead of looking at the lot as a hindrance, he worked brilliantly with its slim form, creating flowing spaces and passageways. Mérida’s ancient urban grid layout means that even if a façade on the street is quite narrow, like this one, the house behind may be very large due to the fact that the lots are so deep. It also means that the centers of the lots are the quietest part, far away from street activity, making that the perfect location for bedrooms or a tranquil garden and pool. The front part of this house is dedicated to service areas and a two-car garage – a luxury here since most houses in the historic district were built when horses and buggies were still the rule.
Recámara principal (master suite)
Located on the main floor, this completely separate master suite is an oasis within an oasis. As with so many houses in the historic district, to get to this master suite it is necessary to pass through the outdoors, giving it a sense of privacy and separateness from the rest of the house. The bedroom features 18 foot ceilings, doors and windows that open in a number of ways to catch the breezes, and a bright and sunny master bath and walk-in closet – another luxury in Centro Historico since the old colonial homes never featured closets or built-ins. In the past, even wealthy homeowners had few clothes, and those could all easily fit into an armoire.
Segunda planta (second floor)
A dramatic Tornillo-wood staircase leads to the second floor, where two more bedrooms give the owners’ children their own private space.
Sliding doors from each room open onto a spacious shared terrace with a view of the pool and garden – all with a focus on visual drama. A large, airy bathroom features a sunken tub and lots of light.
Planta baja (first floor)
The main house features soaring spaces with lots of room, and a totally indoor/outdoor living experience impossible in so many climates. Kitchen, living and dining areas all connect, and huge sliding doors completely open the rear of the house, joining the living space to the ample garden and pool. Sitting in the living room is just like being outside.
Chukum (Maya resin finish)
The swimming pool features a typical Maya finish on the interior, called chukum, which is a natural, non-toxic tree resin. Chukum was used by the Maya people to seal their cisterns, and is now coming back into vogue for pools and fountains. Although uneven and irregular in its coloring, it gives a beautiful depth of finish, is as smooth as glass and totally water impermeable.
Here in the peaceful walled garden, it’s easy to forget one even has neighbors. People unfamiliar with this building style might think that the owners are all looking at each other as you often experience in suburban tract housing. But the truth is that even in this bustling urban setting, these high walls give you even more privacy than you would have in most suburban homes.
So here we are – right in the middle of Mérida’s historic district, just a few steps from the cosmopolitan Paseo de Montejo and squeezed into a thin sliver of land with neighbors on either side. And yet you would never know it thanks to ingenious design, flowing spaces and soaring architecture. Instead, you have your own private tropical oasis to enjoy, right in the heart of the city.
Click here to see the rest of the videos in Keith’s series.
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