Interior designer Rachel Mann had hoped to one day own a home on the coastline of Baja California Sur ever since coming here on holidays with her mother as a child. The thought of sharing this magical Mexican peninsula, where desert sands meet the Sea of Cortez, with her family – partner Matthew Vallone, son Rainer, 11, daughter Wren, five months, and their four rescue dogs, not to mention the two cats – was one that was impossible to shake.
How she eventually settled on the plot of land to make her dream a reality, however, was somewhat unconventional.
‘We had driven to the beach for a picnic and wild donkeys came to visit us, right there on the shore,’ recalls Rachel. ‘They stole our umbrella and I think it was at that moment we decided this was the place for us. The views were spectacular and the gradual incline of the cliff made it the ideal spot to build a property.’
Together with architecture studio Roca Arquitectos, run by local husband and wife team Adrian Romero and Doriana Cabrera, Rachel has created something quite special. ‘I could close my eyes and picture this house in my head, long before it was built,’ she says.
‘Modernist Mexican architecture is having a major moment right now, so I drew inspiration from that revival. I’ve never been attracted to the fake replica hacienda look or the thatched palapa style of building you see a lot of here in Baja. I wanted to create a monument that felt significant and bold.’
Sitting on a slope above the waves, Casa Sonama, as it’s been named, is just that. By matching the concrete to the exact colour of the earth, Rachel has managed to make this brutalist property appear both striking and completely at one with its surroundings. Sand and rocks that were collected during the excavation of the site have been embedded into the walls to add texture, and the colour scheme favours dark, autumnal shades.
The glass of the windows has been tinted with smoky films, while the doors and much of the cabinetry have been finished using the Japanese shou sugi ban technique, where wood is blackened by flames – it not only lends a moody quality, but also protects against termites.
‘Black is quite unusual for the beach and, yes, it is always dusty,’ admits Rachel, ‘but it’s definitely worth it.’
Originally intended as a holiday home to be enjoyed during the summer months, this property’s pull was impossible to ignore. At the beginning of the pandemic, Rachel and the family decided to leave their base in San Francisco behind to live here full-time.
‘Now, Mexico feels more like home to us than California,’ she says. ‘Each season is so different. From November to April you can see whales migrating. They jump from the water directly in front of the house and slap their tails so hard it can shake the windows. It’s very special, and not something we will ever take for granted.’ en.roca-arquitectos.com