As I’ve previously written about here, I have been building a house in Merida, Mexico on the Yucatan peninsula. Now it’s done!
I just returned after being in Merida for 6 months finishing up construction on Casa Cisterna.
Over two years ago, beginning in the fall of 2020, after visiting Merida multiple times in the last several years, I found an amazing property online in the neighborhood of Jesus Carranza, just a few blocks from the city’s main thoroughfare, Paseo de Montejo. It’s over 50 feet wide on the main entrance side, 100 feet deep with a separate entrance on another street. The 30 x 40 foot “bonus lot” I will eventually build a guest casita/ artist residency/ gallery.
Over the past year three years I’ve been working with my friend, architect Erik Gonzales of Gonzales Estudio on refining the plan for the main house restoration and additions with a new facade, courtyard, parking area, office with a 2 bedroom, 2 bath guest “casita” (little house) with its own kitchen next to the 36 foot lap pool at the rear of the property.
In May of ’22, architect Abraham Cotaparedes took a video tour of the property with architect Erik Gonzales for his YouTube channel (which has over 800,00 followers!) This is the best documentation of the midway point during construction. Cotaparades will return this summer to shoot the finished project.
Erik just had an open house for friends and colleagues at Casa Cisterna which you can see here…
I have remodeled and restored various projects over the years. Before becoming a full-time artist, I was a designer and art director for magazines like Vogue, Vanity Fair, Allure and Us Weekly, so deadlines and “punch lists” are second nature at this point. (FYI, in the early 90s I also created the interiors for the first Bliss Spa in NYC.)
Over the years I’ve also worked on remodeling and restoring various project for others and myself like; a Brooklyn brownstone, a Carpenter Gothic church, a 1940’s barn conversion and a converted Sinclair gas station in Upstate New York that is now my live/ work space.
But nothing could really prepare me for the undertaking of buying, restoring and adding on to a ruin in a foreign country. Once I closed on the property in May of 21, construction began almost immediately, with an initial target date of finishing in Dec of ’21. Well, that did not happen for a myriad of reasons, but as with anything, the end result speaks for itself.
But no matter how long it takes it’s either great or it’s not. No excuses.
So many people worked so hard on to see this project to completion. The contractor Russell Zumarraga was tireless in satisfying every request. And the masons, who built just about everything you see here in concrete, were amazing. As well there were metal workers, carpenters, and various tradesmen who put in long hours to bring everything up to the high standards you see evidence of in these pics.
Early on in the process I settled on a minimal pallet of grey black and white with concrete walls and glass and steel casement doors. There was a vibe I was after. Maybe it was the NYC industrial loft I always wanted but here, I could do almost ANYTHING, within reason and my budget. (I won’t disclose the budget here, but it would surprise you, I’m sure.)
Many restored colonials in Merida have beautiful cement “pasta” tiles. Casa Cisterna had original cream and rust check tiles in the main rooms, no pattern (Thank you!. The private wing, which became my bedroom, bathroom and studio had some badly damaged blue tiles. The ceilings were also bashed out so, those floors all became polished concrete, as in the guest casita, which I’ve always loved.
The tile I did use in my bathroom, in the main house kitchen, in the guest house upstairs bathroom and in the guest house kitchen were all black white and grey with the exception of a tiny blue star design in the casita kitchen. With gray concrete walls throughout and concrete floors, I felt the ceiling in grey concrete was too blah, so they all got painted black which works well with mostly black fixtures and ceiling fans. Contrary to what you might think, a black ceiling actually lifts up a space and it appears as a void rather than lowering the already tall 4 meter ceilings.
The garden is fairly large and I wanted primarily bougainvillea, Royal palm trees and some flowering vines to keep it simple. My friend Lisa Gaffney has created some truly incredible gardens in her houses here I Merida and she was kind enough to consult with me on the specifics of the landscape. She kindly took me to various “Viveras” (nurseries) in and around town and she also recommended her fantastic gardener, José (no last name, I don’t want to lose him!) and his amazing crew, who will now take care of everything while I’m away. They all assure me that I won’t believe how much everything will grow during the summer rainy season.
I won’t recap the rest of process here as it would take forever, but if you want to see even more (as if this is not enough?!) there are over 200 posts on my Instagram @casacisternamerida. And/or you can check posts on my personal website & The Wow Report below;
For now I will divide my time between Upstate New York & Merida. I miss Casa Cisterna, my friends and Merida already.
OK. Here goes. I did my best not to make this the world’s longest blog post… start scrolling.
Facade, Entry Courtyard & Parking
Entry, Gallery & Dining Room
Blog post on The Wow Report about my 80s Polaroids opening in April at Galeria 40 here…
Main House Kitchen
Primary Bedroom/ Bathroom
Studio/ Guest Room
Casita Pop/ 2 bedroom, 2 bath Guest House with Full Kitchen
Casita Pop/ Haring Room
Casita Pop/ Guest House Kitchen
Casita Pop/ Downstairs Bath, Closet & Outdoor Shower
Casita Pop, Upstairs Warhol Suite
Casita Pop, Warhol Suite Bathroom
Casita Pop, Marilyn Dressing Room
Pool & Garden
Instagram Viral Post
This is odd. So, at one point after the pool was finished and filled it was leaking and wouldn’t hold water. The workmen decided to use red dye to see where the water was leaking out. I shot a short video and posted it (below) not thinking much of it. I began to notice a week or so later that I was getting 10-15 followers PER HOUR on that Instagram account. At first getting 2,000, 5,000, then 10,000, 20,0000 likes.
Then the post just took off and now you can see it topped off at around 204,000. Many of the comments were ill informed, as to what was going on with my specific pool, and some were even a bit racist. I eventually showed my workers and they though it was really funny, their newfound social media fame.
If you’re interested in seeing Casa Cisterna in person, it’s available for rent on Airbnb here.
Merida was named the #6 Best Large City in the world by Condé Nast Traveler in their 2021 Reader’s Choice Awards. (1-5 were Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Singapore & Istanbul)
6. Mérida, Mexico
The streets of Mérida are bursting with the colorful facades of Spanish colonial architecture, but the capital of Mexico’s Yucatan state is also steeped in Mayanhistory. Centrally located on the Yucatan Peninsula, the city is an easy day trip to UNESCO World Heritage sites, such as the ancient cities of Uxmal and Chichen Itza, and the beaches on the Gulf shore in Progreso.
Locals recommend visiting Fundación de Artistas, a nonprofit featuring art exhibits in a 19th-century home; Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, a modern cultural museum; and the traditional Yucatecan food at the super casual Manjar Blanco.–Condé Nast Traveler, Reader’s Choice Awards, 2021
Vogue put Merida at the top of their “8 Places to Visit in 2022” list:
“Merida, Mexico still manages to fly under the radar, despite its proximity to incredible Mayan ruins and neon-blue cenotes. Plus, it has a unique culinary scene that runs the gamut from perfectly fried street cart churros to haute takes on traditional dishes by chefs like Pedro Evia, whose restaurant Kuuk is a critical darling.
Look around for some excellent lodging options, including rooms in sprawling historic haciendas and sleek little city apartments.”–Laura Motta, Senior Director of Content at Lonely Planet
(Renderings, Gonzales Estudio; before photos, Erik Gonzales, Trey Speegle; finished photos, Luis Sosa Campos)