Emma Sloley and Adam McCulloch, travel writers, bought a house in the historic center of Mérida, the capital of the Mexican state of Yucatán. The couple is originally from Australia but live in New York, writing for magazines such as Departures and Travel & Leisure. While on assignment, they fell in love with the city and wished to return to work on book projects since they were already somewhat familiar with the place. They returned several more times after, renting various houses in the historic city center where American and Canadian expats were purchasing homes and restoring them. Two years ago the couple decided they too would purchase a home, spending $85,000 on a single-story residence on a quiet block that had been in the same family since the 19th century. The property had highly desirable features, which included an unusually deep lot of about 80 yards, original tile floors and high ceilings.
Undertaking the renovation by themselves, took about a year and almost $150,000. Working with a Maya construction crew, about a third of the house was gutted, adding an extra story, a guest casita and a pool. The new design emphasizes the strength of the house, its long site lines, adding glass curtains in place of solid walls so that upon entrance to the home, one can see right through to the backyard where frangipani grow in the small courtyard of the casita. The 4,000 square foot home is now bright and colorful, with four bedrooms, and an additional bedroom in the casita, a screening room, spacious kitchen and dining area, a rooftop terrace and a generous backyard with a glassed-in pool and an outdoor fireplace. The home is furnished with a mix of pieces from New York and local antiques shops, including a bust of the former Mexican president Lázaro Cárdenas, for whom the house, Casa Cárdenas, was named.
The letters in the entryway, hanging over a 1950s vanity, spell the name of a popular Mexican boy band. The tile floor is original.
The couple bought a bust of the former Mexican president Lázaro Cárdenas at a local antiques store. It now stands guard in a breezeway, beside the stairs to the second-floor bedrooms.
The window seat in the master bedroom looks out onto a private patio, where the couple like to watch hummingbirds congregating around the foliage.
The master bathroom has two showers and a window that looks out on the garden. The door to the right opens onto a private balcony.
The brightly colored house is now 4,000 square feet.
The couple undertook the house’s renovation themselves, without the help of an architect or designer.
“Good character trumps good condition,” Mr. McCulloch said. “The view from the ground is more important than the plan. And always leave room for set dressing.”
During the yearlong renovation, they worked with a Maya construction crew that gutted about a third of the main house, added a second story and put in a 27-foot-long lap pool.
Bull-shaped piggy banks march along the poured-concrete floating shelves in the kitchen.
Mr. McCulloch often prefers to write at the antique hacienda-style dining table instead of in his office. The tile on the floor is a reproduction of what was originally there, made by hand from the original molds at a local factory that has been manufacturing tile for more than 200 years.
“We didn’t want to go somewhere we hadn’t been, because we’d spend all our time exploring,” Mr. McCulloch said. “We wanted a place where we had been, had liked and would be able to work.”
Photos: Bruce Buck for The New York Times