Friday, March 12, 2010


If buying a ‘fixer upper’ house in the US is a challenge, buying an old colonial in a foreign country and restoring it amid language and cultural barriers should be at the top of the five most stressful life situations list.

Naturally only adventurous souls even consider such moves, but it never ceases to amaze me how many such enterprising folks there are in the world. I consider myself adventurous, if not a little crazy, since I bought a fixer upper colonial in Mexico. I didn’t undertake a complete renovation like some foreigners I’ve met. Although I could have made more aesthetic improvements, I took a more practical route. With the help of my (honest and reputable) realtors, I hired a good contractor with reliable competent workers.. They resurfaced lots of cement, painted, retiled some areas; oh it was a disaster site for months. Plumbers and electricians worked along side them. It was nuts.  But then it was over.

I understand that many renovation or restoration projects require architects, their official designs, lots of stamps and permits, etc. I picture architects like attorneys, a necessary evil, and should I require their services, I would seek the most honest and least greedy of them. I didn’t feel the need for an architect for my project so when a potently perfumed, spiffy dressed one showed up unsolicited I was taken aback. Our one meeting didn’t really go too well.

To wit,
This sink is in my dining room.
The room is connected by arches to the tv room and the kitchen. The first words the architect spoke were, “That doesn’t look good, it has to go.” I strongly disagreed. It is the handiest, most convenient sink in the house and invites guests and/or diners to frequently wash their hands. In my opinion, that is a good idea for a dining room.
Moka likes it.

These are glass doors between the two front living rooms and the tv room.

This glass and the doors are one of the back entrances to the house.
The architect said all the glass had tobe removed to restore the colonial look of the wide cement arches. I see the arches through the glass, and I think the glass partition is another great idea…for privacy if nothing else. Those two rooms closed off with the half bath provide comfortable living quarters for our renter. When I use the rooms to write, I can close out other house noises with those doors. I like ‘em.

The back entrance has sliding glass doors and screens. Those come in very handy in the rainy season. When closed, they protect the house from the pounding sideways tropical afternoon rains and winds. Not to mention possums and other vermin seeking catfood at night. The glass is protected by a huge wall of iron work. In case of hurricane the iron would minimally deter larger flying objects, and the glass would stand a chance of helping, not hindering, as a wind break.

So that is as far as I got with the architect. I decided that my contractor and his brothers were not only more practical, but incredibly more creative. When I came up with a hair-brained idea, they had the nerve to tell me. We’d discuss it and find the best solution.

Other people buy houses needing total restoration, and often want the outcome to be upscale and trendy. I feel that people new to the area are easy prey for a fast talking realtor or a greedy architect. They arrive in a state of overwhelm, often foreign to tropical living, even foreign to foreign living. They create impractical visions of their dream houses in their heads. They turn to the architect for his or her expertise, and in turn are provided with plans specific to their original ideas. I would say they design mostly eye candy. Their designs are aimed to please and look good on paper, but don’t spoil the customer’s visions with any harsh realities. Most of these professionals are bilingual which increases the level of trust they receive from their clients. After three years here I am sorry to say that much of the work of the name-dropped designers doesn’t impress me. (I don’t like name droppers to begin with,tho.) I have also seen some fabulous architects' results, so honestly I am not trying to badmouth the profession.

I am not going to go into any specific design snafus that may have spurred this post, because this is not meant to be a personal slur against anyone in particular.  It is just an eye opener in general.  We have to be very careful and become 'Mexican street wise' to successfully achieve great results and be charged fair fees.

I am an oddball, I know. I came here to live Mexican style, rather than create a north of the border sterile trendy ambience. I had more hammock hooks cemented into the walls than the house already had. I picked out the brightest colors and  have a life size palm tree on one wall. But I came with decades of tropical living and the ability to communicate in Spanish. My project lasted about four months, and my home has been livable and comfortable ever since. I am not saying that I haven’t had any problems, or that nothing had to be redone…. but I am grateful that compared to the nightmares other folks have gone through with builders and contractors, I have been lucky and my first three years’ experience has been quite benign.

I may require the services of an architect. The person would have to offer me a balance of practicality and beauty. I would prefer an honest person who told me if my visions were faulty, who would work with me not just for me. An honest architect with realizable visions would be a valued treasure, and if I ever come across one I will be sure to spread the word.

1 comment:

Merida Mikey said...


I wish that everyone considering remodeling a home here in Merida would read this blog. There's lots to be learned from your experience.

This is great information and a bold new look at how to go about things in Merida.