It was right after watching Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward in Against All Odds, a movie filmed in the Yucatán Peninsula, that Italian couple Elena Ponzi and Dino De Larocca decided to organise their first trip to Mexico.
‘We immediately felt at home,’ they confess. ‘It was the colours, scents and the warmth of the people, but above all it was the rich and fascinating culture of the country,’ says Elena. Several trips later, the duo took the plunge and chose the historic centre of Mérida, Yucatán’s capital, to build the villa where they now live part of the year.
While Elena and Dino started their professional careers as fashion designers, they both studied architecture and attended art schools in Milan, so designing their first house was, in some way, a return to their roots. Occupying a 600-square-metre plot of land, the pair’s completed home – a mixture of restored original features and striking contemporary interventions – is heavily inspired by the colourful modernist designs of renowned Mexican architect Luis Barragán, whose work they both admire.
‘There wasn’t a lot we could save, except for a few parts of the crumbling mamposteria (masonry) walls,’ Elena notes, but that didn’t stop her and Dino from searching out new ways to hark back to ancient local building methods. ‘We tried to choose traditional Yucatecan materials and finishes and interpret them using modern Mexican architectural styles,’ adds Dino.
‘In the bathroom, kitchen and across all of the floors, we opted for a local limestone called Maya Cream, while to plaster the swimming pool we chose chukum, a limestone-based stucco mixed with resin obtained from boiling the bark of a native tree.’ Not only is this age-old formula naturally waterproof, it also produces the warm, pinkish colour that looks so striking against the blue of the water and sky.
With its indigenous kuka palm trees and two benches adorned with hand-painted Mexican talavera tiles, this outdoor space is actually the centre of the couple’s home. It leads into the kitchen and, via a grand outdoor staircase, to the mirador, a place for reading, relaxing and taking in the exceptional views of the city and wildlife.
The decorative style is pure and minimal, with much of the furniture designed by Elena and Dino and made by local craftspeople. Other pieces were purchased locally, such as the two stone sculptures in the living room – a horse’s head and a fish – crafted from fossilised shells.
‘Mexico is a continuing source of inspiration for us, from the geometric shapes of the pre-Columbian sculpture and architecture to the paintings of Frida Kahlo,’ says Elena.
She wants to honour what she calls ‘the true character of Yucatán, where the Mayan language and traditions are still alive’. With this home, she and Dino have achieved just that – a love letter to Mexico’s past and future.
This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration August 2020
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