When you are house shopping in San Miguel de Allende you’ll normally find two basic architectural styles – Mid-Century Modern and Colonial.
As the name implies, Mid-Century Modern are homes with style originally popular in the mid-part of the last century. These homes are featured in images of Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Marilyn Monroe when they came to Mexico to frolic and forget the pressures of Tinseltown.
Mid-century Modern homes focus out with lots of large windows and sliding glass doors. The homes lines and design are clean and a welcome relief from the abundance of Mexican Baroque’s fussy and dramatic architecture featured in many public buildings and churches across town.
Gambol around the Balcones to view lots (pun intended) of Mid Century Modern offering sweeping views of the city, lake, mountains and sunsets.
At the opposite end of the design scale are the Colonial homes, from the Inquisition period or, like mine, built to look like they are. These are the mystery homes as you can’t tell from the outside what you’ll find inside. If windows face the street they are high up and not meant to be seen out of, but to bring light in to.
A Colonial home’s view is inside via the courtyard, the central element around which the house is organized featuring fruit trees, fountains and flowers. From my terrace I can see across the courtyard into every room of my house because if I were an Inquisition Era father my focus is on my family, not the neighbors.
Since lots are small green space around a home is traded for a green courtyard with walls pushed to the perimeter. Even in the countryside where there is more space, walls are used. Given much of Mexico’s history is chaotic, walls make your home like a fortress offering protection from life’s uncertainties.
For either Colonial or Mid Century, flat roofs rule (except where the boveda ceilings poke out). When you build for cold, snowy regions, you tend to end up with a house that is compact in its form, to hold in the heat, with a steep roof, to shed the snow. That latter feature is missing in Mexico. Going to your roof’s terrace is jokingly referred to as “Going to Acapulco” since you can lie in the sun and pretend you are at the beach.
Rooftop gardens often spill over into public view. Container gardening is the normal form this takes. Containers along the parapet provide a miniaturized version of the green space found in the courtyard.
The interiors of a Mexican home are usually associated with colorful walls and crowded décor of religious icons, rustic wood furniture, Talavera tiles and Mexican Folk art depicting real or mythological animals or the pre-Hispanic sun and moon’s duality.
The restoration of Mexican antiques is common and in many ways adds to the value and enjoyment of the pieces. For example, in my home all the doors once served at a local hacienda and feature hand carved dragons, lions and angels often with the original hardware. A 1920’s crib holds pillows instead of a baby under thick glass to serve as a coffee table in today’s world.
Most walls feature bright colors reflective of the warm and lively culture which we experience everyday living here. Personally, I prefer off-white walls so the eye is drawn to the colors of the courtyard, paintings or Otomi-made Maria dolls that lace my home’s interior.
According to the ever-popular and local interior designer, Lesley B. Fay, current trends include durable, natural fabrics (for homes that are rented and need a bit of durability from wine spills) and love seats. Love seats are all the rage as folks are at home more now and with social distancing outside the home people want to be closer inside. Plus the added advantage of love seats is they move easily to form conversation circles. Blue and orange, according to Lesley, are the most popular colors.
Inside or out, enjoy picking out your Mexican home, tossing in some Virgins and making it your own!
by Joseph Toone
- TripAdvisor’s top tour guide in San Miguel de Allende with History and Culture Walking Tours and Joseph Toone Tours.
- Amazon’s best selling author of the San Miguel de Allende’s Secrets book series on making your adventures around town unique.
- Creator of the Maria Dolls coloring book helping indigenous doll makers.