Mexico seems to be on everyone’s mind at the moment so in this third post about the country where lushness abounds, we travel to Tulum with Susan Jamieson of Bridget Beari Designs, who completed this retreat, Casa Yakuna, for a client in the heart of the Sian K’aan jungle. The home sits on the oceanfront and the property is edged by a lagoon, the nature surrounding it requiring the special skills of designing in Mexico with an indoor/outdoor feel. This was a new-construction project replete with a roof-top pool and spectacular views. Being a traveling designer and working on properties in other countries and cities is one of this design firm’s specialties, and it shows.
Not only is the home beautiful, it was designed to be eco-friendly with its own septic system and windmill. Jamieson ensured that the design and the selection of the furnishings reflected the aesthetic sensibilities for a client who wanted a green lifestyle. Handmade items like the carved front door, mahogany tub, and concrete sofa base were as important as sourcing green fabrics and indoor/outdoor furniture that would weather an open-air concept. We asked Susan to share with us her insight as she and her team put this rewarding project together.
Susan Jamieson on Designing in Mexico
DD: When you designed the Tulum project, did you take any particular approach that was specific to Mexico?
SJ: The region that the house is built in is called the Sian K’aan biosphere reserve that sits between the ocean and the lagoon. This is just south of the beach town of Tulum. There were strict environmental regulations on materials that could be used. The house also had to have its own water well, septic system, and windmill for power. In terms of the interior, we used local craftsmen to create light fixtures, cabinetry, a handmade mahogany tub, a carved front door, as well as the palapa roof, which is a typical Mexican thatch-roof technique that is made from dried palm fronds.
DD: Did you visit the home/locale before you began designing the project? If so, what vibe did you pick up on that made it into your designing in Mexico schematic?
SJ: Yes, I worked directly with the architect who was from Cancun. The property was covered with jungle when we started. The client wanted the house to fit into the region so the classic palapa roof was designed for the main living area. All the materials for the construction of the main house were in keeping the local building styles and techniques. The focus of my design direction was to provide a unique indoor/outdoor resort living experience with materials that could withstand the direct ocean air and salt. I think the combination of the Mexican Architect, Italian contractor, Mayan and Mexican workers, and the American designer created a unique combination of ideas and designs.
DD: The wood-tones in each space—the dining table on the terrace, daybeds and dining table/chairs on the patio, cocktail table and hewn chairs in the living room, and the incredible bathtub, for example—bring serious warmth to the home. Were these chosen to reflect the lush landscape surrounding the home?
SJ: Wood pieces were chosen to bring a more handcrafted feeling to the home. The outdoor table and the tub were handmade but the chairs and coffee table in the living room were items I brought over from the states from Teracea and Tucker Robbins—still handcrafted but not local. The construction of the house was very eco-friendly so I was determined to create that same vibe in the interior.
DD: To contrast these, there are pale elements such as the stucco surfaces on the exterior walls, the dining terrace, the dining room chandelier, the shimmering tile in the powder room niche, and the crisp hues on the walls in the living room. Tell us about why you thought this was important for designing in Mexico.
SJ: The concrete floors, sofa, and the stucco walls were typical of the construction techniques in Mexico. The base of all the rooms was the concrete; then I added color and texture with fabrics, tiles, and unique finds like the coral chandelier from Lepere that skews modern. As well as a retreat for my clients, this house is a luxury vacation rental for celebrities, so I was deliberate in having the interiors feel comfortable but with modern touches. This drove my choice of items like handmade tiles that had a slight silver coating for the powder room. The neutral wall color in the main living area was chosen because when you open all the doors and windows, you see the natural landscape all around. You really feel like you are in the jungle with the sound of the ocean waves in the background.
DD: Texture abounds in this project. Tell me about choices like the pebbly tile and stone in the bathroom with the orange mirrors, the installations behind the bedroom in black yarn, the thin tiles in the kitchen that give the wall a striated effect, and the dining table.
SJ: It was all about texture as this was a way to add interest to the rooms even though the wall colors were neutral. I loved creating focal points for each room behind the beds in different materials. The primary bedroom had bamboo sticks, guest room one has the stucco wave wall, and guest room two has a coconut paneled wall. Using natural materials was the best way to ensure the durability as the ocean air and salt is hard on all metals and fabrics. The tile choices were dictated by the marble selections we found in Cancun. I did ship some mosaic tiles to Mexico to go with the stunning blue Azul Macuba marble in the primary bath. The marble sinks for the powder room and the master bath were made in Mexico. The wave sinks in the guest bath were molded by local concrete craftsman. We really tried to use as many local artisans as possible.
DD: Tell us about the abundance of blues and orange hues, and why you chose them.
SJ: Obviously, the blues and blue-greens were chosen for the beautiful ocean reference, but I did not want the house the feel cold. The warm woods, the palapa, the green landscape, and the mahogany decking played off the orange colors in the fabrics and light fixtures. The orange sunsets are gorgeous, so the touch of warm colors just adds to the glow at night. Even the pool tiles were chosen for their blue-green color that matches the ocean so perfectly.
DD: With the doors thrown open, it must be a luscious experience to feel the tropical breezes. How did this play into your choice of materials for designing in Mexico?
SJ: The house is all about open-air living. The outdoor living space and the interior living space are almost one in the main area of the house. The bedrooms are more private and off to the sides of the main area. Everything that was chosen, from plumbing to fabrics, had to withstand the salt air as well as the heat. The pool is on the roof of the house above the kitchen and from there you can see the lagoon and the ocean. That is where the homeowners live and entertain.
DD: What is your favorite thing about how this home turned out?
SJ: This house is so private that you feel you are in your own tropical paradise. It has such a causal and relaxed feel from the layout to the unique places to relax and enjoy the sun. It was a learning experience for me on eco-friendly design choices as well as working abroad. I am lucky enough to have visited the home several times as a guest, and I can say it is a true luxury experience and that I am very proud of the project. The feedback from guests has been amazing, even from some of the celebrities.
DD: Are you working on any other projects you’ll be designing in Mexico that we can share with Design Diary readers?
SJ: A visitor who stayed at Casa Yakunah is now building a house further down in the Yucatan Peninsula and has asked me to help with the interiors so it looks like we will be working in Mexico again soon.
A Mexico Mood
We can’t wait to see the result of this new collaboration and we thank Susan for sharing her process with us, as it always fascinates us to delve into the creative way designers work on different projects. This is the last of our three posts exploring different aspects of Mexico that we see as a trend. We hope you’ve enjoyed them. If you missed the other two, our first post was about a vintage Mexican dress collection and our second was a review of a new monograph published by Mexican designer Gloria Cortina.