Cultural Explorations in Interior Design and Architecture
(The mantel the Great Room. Photos by cell phone: bear with me.)
San Miguel de Allende is a colonial-era town in Mexico’s central highlands. It is a thriving arts community with a backdrop of 18th Century baroque Spanish architecture and cobblestone streets. When I visited my mom there, she took me on a mini tour of her friends’ homes. Architecture and design in San Miguel are quite different than in the US and it was eye opening and exciting to be in these unique spaces.
If I had to put my finger on what is different about the design and construction of homes in San Miguel, I’d say that they’re sculpted where they stand. Rather than imposing a grid of rooms on a rectangular property, the homes start where they are and grow to fill unusual corners. The experience and the flow of each home is one-of-a-kind. The home of Sue Griffin is a delightful example.
Sue lives in a San Miguel home that is one part existing house, one part organic imagination and one part local craftsmanship. Sue is an experienced interior designer who later turned to a legal career. Her passion for visual interest, spacial harmony, and local artistry is on full display in her rustic colonial home. She has been inspired by the historical architecture throughout the town and she appreciates that every home in San Miguel de Allende is one of a kind.
When Sue first bought her home it was a 3 story house on a single lot. A few years later she acquired the lots on either side of her, creating an L-shaped plot at the end of a dead end street. She hired an architect from Mexico City. They worked together for two years, incorporating the original building into a brand new plan.
(Sue and Hannah’s mom Annie talk sculpture in the remodeled kitchen of the original building.)
In a nod to the historic haciendas of San Miguel, the home’s gardens and terraces are sculpted within the property walls and around the house itself. Each unique space exists because of the confines of the unusual plot of land.
(A narrow walkway passes by the master bedroom.)
(The outdoor washbasin is nestled into a corner near Sue’s sculpture studio.)
The temperate climate of the region invites indoor/outdoor transitions for living and gathering areas. The living room for the guest suite on the 3rd floor has no wall on the left. Instead it extends onto a terrace with a view.
With all this fresh air flowing around, Sue is free to use unusual doors that don’t fuss much about sealing out the elements. She found these old wooden jail gates in one of the antique markets of Mexico. They now guard a staircase that leads from the ground floor patio to the guest quarters upstairs.
Sue hunted for antique doors and windows to use throughout the house. Each one is made of mesquite wood and they are astonishingly heavy. In cases where the old doors were too small for modern requirements, Sue had them built out around the edges.
(A living room window is created from old shuttered doors, providing privacy while letting light in from the street.)
For Sue, the most surprising aspect of designing and building in Mexico was that everything was hand-built. “The only electrical tool they used was a tile saw. The rest was entirely done by hand. It was fascinating to watch.”
Her two Boveda ceilings, arched brick masterpieces, were built by a father and son team who lived on the property during the 10 day process.
(A Tunnel style Boveda Ceiling tops off the master bedroom.)
For the bathroom vanity, Sue found an old cabinet but she wanted two. Local woodworkers made a copy. I’ll let you guess which is which.
Sue is careful to curate things that function well. If you can see the craftsmanship and the passage of time in an item, all the better. Her pantry or ‘bodega’ is a small altar to organization, but it is adorned with art and antiques nonetheless.
Sue collects folk art and handmade tools. Sometimes she finds things that go with specific themes in her home such as the Catholic folk art seen throughout. But whatever it is, it has to be original and unique. She says, “It could be a lizard. Or it could be an egg, something you don’t see everywhere.”
(Dining chairs are upholstered in old feed sacks. An angel blesses the table.)
(We’re not sure what these spindly beauties are. Reply in the comments if you know.)
(An old mill wheel gets a base to become an outdoor sculpture.)
To wrap it all up, I had to ask Sue this question: Do you ever find yourself falling in love with an antique or art piece that you don’t have a place for? Do you have to cycle out the old things? She said, “Not very easily. I’m in love with all of them. I call it highgrading. If I stumble across something unique and different, I’ll buy it and put the old thing in a resale shop.”
Because that’s just the point, right? Treasures are treasures because they are treasured.