Australian journalists Adam McCulloch and Emma Sloley wanted somewhere they could write undisturbed. They wanted somewhere with few distractions – and Mérida, capital of the Yucatán state, Mexico, seemed like the perfect spot.
“Emma and I were on assignment in Mexico for Australian Gourmet Traveller about six years ago,” recalls Adam. Their guide hailed from Mérida, so, “as part of our trip we ended up spending a couple of days in the city and loved its faded grandeur.”
When, the following winter, they were looking for somewhere to hole up and type away in, Mérida was a logical choice: they had been there before and therefore “wouldn’t be distracted by exploring a new place,” says Adam. “We tried it for six weeks and found it to be a very fertile environment for writing, so we kept coming back. After four years it made sense to buy our own house.”
So they bought a single-storey house on a quiet street; the home had been in the same family since the 19th century, and it had lovely, painted tile floors and high ceilings. Adam and Emma decided to do the renovation themselves, despite only knowing a smattering of Spanish. Most of the construction work was done by hand rather than machine. The local workmen they hired would “carry 60kg sacks of rubble on their shoulders and lift cement beams by hand,” says Adam. “They cut down trees with a machete and mixed all the cement with a shovel. That’s a serious workout.”
Luckily, Adam and Emma had some experience of renovating, and the by-hand efforts of the workmen proved surprisingly effective. “My training in product design and background as an art director gave me the necessary skills,” says Adam, who has worked in production on films like The Matrix. Emma, too, had some relevant experience: she previously part-owned a mid-century modern furniture store in Melbourne.
Together, the couple pooled their knowledge and the result is a strikingly beautiful home with grey, tangerine and aqua walls. “I wanted to restrict the design to two feature colours,” says Adam. “The blue was to accentuate the cool, grotto-like interior and the orange was for the exterior and where the exterior space flows inside, as with the dining room.” The grey, meanwhile, comes in at the front of the house, which is the oldest section of the building. “The grey walls of the front four rooms accentuate the drama of the transition into the modern kitchen and dining room,” says the homeowner.
Old and new are perfectly juxtaposed, with a modern, linear pool and guesthouse sitting in easy contrast with the older parts of the house. The tiles, too, are old, and, when combined with the clean lines of the furniture, they create a harmonious and laid-back whole.
The tiles are, for the most part, original: Adam and Emma managed to preserve the beautiful, painted floor tiles that were in place when they bought the house. “Most of them haven’t even been altered in any way. We just polished them,” says Adam. They had to replace the kitchen and dining room tiles, but luckily the same factory that made the originals (and that had been operating for several centuries) was still in business, and produced the same ones “in a matter of weeks,” says Adam.
After all their hard work, Emma and Adam clearly love their Mérida home away from home. Testament to the project’s success is the fact that they’ve just bought another house in this pretty Mexican town. “It has some wonderful triangular spaces on a trapezoidal lot,” says Adam. Only time will tell what exciting ideas the pair come up with – watch this space.
Photography: Bruce Buck | Living Inside