Building a ‘Showcase’ showstopper

Casa de las Torres
The grand and gothic Casa de las Torres is the final home on this year’s Mérida Showcase of Homes.

The sixth annual Mérida Showcase of Homes is coming up, and we noticed that one of the Centro Histórico’s most strikingly extravagant new casas is on the tour. We talked to architect Juan Carlos Alonso about the creative process that blends hacienda and high church.

Yucatan ExpatLet’s talk about Casa de las Torres, the final house on this year’s Mérida Showcase of Homes to benefit Fundación BAI and its programs to combat AIDS and HIV. It’s one of the most talked-about private residences in the Centro. Tell me what it was like being the architect on the project. 

It was a real dialog with the house, imagining if the house were alive, so, the house was telling us what it needed. I remember when we discovered the old stencils in the old part of the house, it was the starting point for deciding what kind of furniture was needed, considering all the time the churchy and mysterious ambience. I can tell you that the house represents the owner’s personality; it is an extension of him.

I am very excited about the final result, because when people enter the house the first expression is WOW! And see the happiness of the owner, that is my reward.

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Juan Carlos Espinosa is the architect behind one of the homes showcased on a benefit tour in November.
Juan Carlos Alonso is the architect behind one of the homes showcased on a benefit tour in November.

The owner, Greg Casini, knew what he wanted, and you gave it to him. What was the hardest part about this project? 

From the beginning the owner stated: “I want a very unique house.” He gave me a lot of pictures of what he wanted to incorporate in the project. At the same time, we visited around 50 haciendas and a similar number of churches in all the towns that we passed, so my job consisted of synthesizing all the information, resulting in a very unique and eclectic house, where you can find Yucatán hacienda’s elements as well as church elements.

We also visited other cities like Mexico City, Puebla, Morelia, Patzcuaro, Tlaquepaque, Tonala, Dolores Hidalgo and San Miguel de Allende looking for antiques. You can see them around the house.

{ Slide Show: See Casa de Las Torres’ sumptuous details up close }

Your portfolio is very diverse and you are obviously as comfortable designing a modern home as you are a house with a very specific theme. I see other houses in your portfolio that are very different, like a modern one at Tamanche. What do all your houses have in common, if anything? 

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The formula that I use is that clients can design their own house; my duty is to listen, understand and synthesize everything in order to create a design according their ideas, personality, lifestyle, and their dreams; a house that they feel happy because they were part of the process. I am not worried about leaving an imprint in my work, I am looking for all my works to be different from each other because, in the end, they will live in it, not me.

What is your advice for a foreigner who is deciding whether or not to move to the Centro and is looking at properties for sale? How can you tell if a property has strong potential? How do you find an architect who is right for you?

brazoshomeI think the most important thing people should ask themselves is What kind of house do I want? There is colonial, modern or eclectic: for a colonial, find the best preserved old structure with historic value, in order to take care of all the antique elements (pasta tiles and wood beams, etc.) and follow the same style for the rest of the house. It is very important that the house has an interesting layout according your needs.

For the second option [modern], you could find an empty lot or a structure without any historic value, and you start from zero.

For the third option [eclectic], you can find a house with at least the first two old rooms in a good condition. The rest is not necessary to be old but could have a good layout in order to save money remodeling. The rest depends on the ambience that you want.

If I had the need to choose an architect to design and build my house, I would see his work first. If he drives the style, I would want to see how resilient he is to involve me in the process.

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The architect pivots completely from gothic to modern, when the job calls for it.
The architect pivots completely from gothic to modern, when the job calls for it. Alonso built this house at Tamanche.

Can we ask about you? How long have you been in Merida? Where are you from? What is your background?  

I came here in 1997 to study architecture in Facultad de Arquitectura of UADY, happily married with one son.

I worked 14 years in Henry Ponce’s office designing and supervising. I want to thank him and all his team because that is where I was formed as an architect. Now I have my own office, Alonso Arquitectos,  designing and building in the Centro, city and beach.

What is the trend? What will the Centro look like in 10 years? 

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I imagine a cosmopolitan city with a very rich mixing of Mayan, Mexican, American and European culture, so it will create an excellent variety of possibilities for everybody. I also imagine a bohemian city with wonderful restaurants, cafés, galleries and obviously, good houses.

If you go

Seven homes are on the tour, which is self-guided. Ticket holders will receive a map and a bracelet identifier to gain access to each home. Homes designed by Victor Cruz, Carlos de la Barrera Cardeña, Alvaro Cervera and Mercedes Sánchez, Robert Holtby and Emile Romain, Gonzalo Fernando González and Deborah LaChapelle are also on the itinerary. After the tour, enjoy a complimentary drink at either Hennessy’s or Casa de Llas Torres.

Tour hours are 2-5 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 9. Tickets (MX$300; MX$150 students) are available at Hennessy’sRestaurante Único (formerly Vite da Bruno)La Negrita, Robert Abuda Salon, Gaiani Salón, Kate Miasik’s Salón and El Estudio. You can also buy tickets starting at 1 p.m. on the day of the event at Hennessy’s. Additionally, call 99 92 92 84 36 and a representative will discuss the possibility of delivering them to your office or home. Learn more about the Mérida Showcase of Homes.

Contact the architect

Architect Juan Carlos Alonso can be reached by email or at 99 91 29 81 28.

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