Friday, November 07, 2014

the house

How did I fall in love with this place?

It is a silly question.  How do we fall in love with anything?  Or anyone? 

Can we ever really understand such things analytically?  It is like asking scientists to describe why poetry and peonies are beautiful.  They simply do not have answers.

But I knew the moment I walked through the front doors that I was going to live in this house.  Because I had been living in it for the past fifty-five years.  Or living in the idea of it for that long.

While daydreaming in Miss Dix's sixth grade class one day (something I did a lot), I drew a plan on graph paper of a house I knew I would build one day.  A house with a central atrium with a pool surrounded by the rooms of the house.

That was the era I was infatuated with everything Roman.  My bedroom looked like a set from Ben-Hur.

Stop for a moment.  Imagine, if you will, a square.  One hundred feet by one hundred feet. 

Create sides for the square.  Simple.  Austere.  Massive in its proportions.

Then fill the square with color and light -- using the very structure to manipulate the light and create an introverted space to control and enjoy what is natural.

And take comfort in the contradictions of the monastic and the sensual.  The part and the whole.  The spacious and the intimate. 

Knowing it's not the building, but the beam; not the garden, but the stone.

That, of course, was not my philosophy in designing my school-boy dream house.  They are the precepts of Luis Barragán -- the architect who have overshadowed all contemporary Mexican architecture.

I have referred to my house as being a Barragán house in several prior posts.  One of my readers-in-the-know has chided me for that hyperbole. 

It was a clumsy phrase on my part.  She is correct.  It is not Barragán.  But it is certainly Barragánesque.

The Mexican-Canadian architect who designed the place took Barragán's principles, put them through a postmodern strainer, and made the place her own.  A very contemporary house with the specter of the master builder hovering in the background.

Now, all of that may seem like a bunch of romantic gibberish.  But the philosophy is what created my relationship with this house.  I can remember looking up and seeing the clean lines of the place.  I knew those lines would soon be mine.

Now that you have imagined that square with its walls, let's talk about what is inside.

Barragán was infatuated with Moorish architecture.  When the Moors conquered Spain, they brought their building philosophy with them.  Especially, their theological love of water.

Every Moorish home welcomed guests with water.  It was the very social center of the house.  Its heart.  Its soul.

And that is what the pool in my courtyard offers.  It is a thing of beauty in its own right.  But its water offers my guests (and especially me) respite from our usual hot and sticky weather.

The courtyard also contains the social center of the house.  Two large grills, a large table for ten, and a giant umbrella.  Color and light.

And then there are the rooms.  An en suite bedroom in each corner with a screen of plants in front of each that provide privacy to the bedroom and nature for the courtyard.

On one side of the house is the kitchen.  On the other the living room.  With all of the rooms having one full wall of glass opening onto the courtyard.  Manipulated light.

I will tell you about the rooms over the next few days.  But let me take you upstairs right now.

The stairs follow the Barragán model -- simultaneously massive in proportion, but classical in execution.

They lead to what would normally be the roof.  It does form the ceiling to the rooms below in exactly the same footprint.  But the second floor is living space in its own right.  Not simply a roof.

A pavilion tops each bedroom with uncovered transitions spaces between each.  The architect had considered adding four more bedrooms to the structure, but I have no need for that much bedroom space -- unless I get far more visitors than I have had in the past six years.

My vision is to make each pavilion a separate conversation area.  Echoing the eventual decoration scheme of the bedroom below.  Considering the cost of outdoor furniture in Mexico, that will be a long-term project. 

But it is too early to start talking about decorating.  I need to get a better feel for the personality of this house.

I should (and will -- as I am now doing) thank my reader who took me to task for my use of the Barragán label.  If I become too slavish with the "what would Barragán have done" question, I will not create a house that was created in an individual style -- eventually for this Lockean individual.

There is much work yet to be done to make the place shine.  But, for the moment, I am content to call the place mine.

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