Real Estate FYI / Colonial Renovation in South Merida

Colonial Renovation in South Merida

Colonial Renovation in South Merida

11 March 2010 REAL ESTATE, Real Estate FYI 21

South of the Plaza Grande = SOME

In the last few years, more and more extranjeros are finding and buying colonial homes south of the Plaza Grande. When we first moved here, we were warned that "the south" was a place that was dangerous and not a place that we would want to live. No longer dangerous, and full of colonial homes at lower prices, SOME (pronounced "SO-may", short for South Merida) as we sometimes call it, has become a fashionable place to buy and renovate.

Areas like L'Ermita, San Sebastian and San Juan are all south of the Plaza Grande. While the streets are often not as elegant as in places such as the Santa Ana district, living in SOME provides some of us (Working Gringos included) with a chance to buy larger homes or homes for less money that are every bit as beautiful and interesting as the ones of our uptown neighbors. An added bonus of living in these neighborhoods is the chance to experience authentic Merida life, with all its quirks, problems and delights. Some of these neighborhoods are the sites of city-sponsored music performances, and L'Ermita, with its beautiful old church, garden and park has become one of the most important areas to visit during Day of the Dead here in Merida.

The home we chose for our sixth episode of Houses of Merida is located on Calle 60, a few blocks directly south of the zocalo, which puts it a few blocks east of San Juan Park. The neighborhood includes lumber stores, ice cream shops, schools, cocinas economicas and during the day, the streets are bustling with the business of Merida. Next door to this particular house is an art gallery, and the street is lined with old colonial buildings, many of which have been repurposed into commercial spaces. We don't call this area SOME for nothing... it is reminiscent of New York's SOHO district before it became the upscale enclave that it is today.

Exemplary Preservation

The colonial home that is the subject of our latest Houses of Merida video was in a typical sorry state of disrepair and neglect when the owner bought it. Designing it long-distance with architect Victor Cruz, he created a home that we think is exemplary in its preservation of the feel and charm of old colonial houses, while still providing the comforts of the 21st century (air-conditioning, hot water, dishwasher, swimming pool, etc.). The owner and the architect worked well together to keep all the old mosaicos, the old wooden doors, and many of the iron windows. Even when rooms were built from scratch, like the kitchen, they were designed in a way that blends seemlessly with the older rooms.

This home was built as a second home or a vacation home for one person and his guests and friends. The simple four-room square house at the front of the lot was preserved almost exactly, though the rooms were repurposed. An open area between two structures was turned into the kitchen, and the back structure was turned into three bedrooms with two bathrooms. An open patio on the side of the lot provides access to the outdoors from all but the two front rooms, and another patio was added in the back, lined with arches and columns looking out to a backyard with a lawn and garden. In the very back of the property, they built a pool and a poolhouse, while managing to preserve the mature palm trees that they found there. The entire property is surrounded by old stone walls, some of which were added to in the back to make them taller.

Three of the most sought-after features in a colonial home in Merida are probably the original mosaico pasta tile floors, original wooden doors and tall, beamed ceilings. This house had all three, and all three have been renovated and preserved. In the front rooms, for instance, they preserved the original mosaico tapetes (the tiles in the center of the room that form a kind of "rug"), but removed all the dark surrounding tiles and replaced them with newly-minted light-colored tiles, giving an entirely new look to the rooms. There are original wooden doors throughout the house, matched by some additional doors that look as if they are old but were created for the house by local craftsmen. The beamed ceilings in many of the rooms only had to be cleaned and repainted (and probably also needed minor repairs). Even when certain iron doors were replaced, most of them were repaired and repurposed, sometimes delightfully, as in the master bathroom.

The owner, who is a designer from New York, has an eye and an appreciation for antiques and other memorabilia from Merida and other parts of Mexico, so the house is decorated with a bevy of interesting objects. Every single light fixture was purchased from local antique and junk dealers. Many of them are blown glass hanging fixtures, fairly common in older Merida homes, and some are wrought iron fixtures which the owner painted white instead of the traditional black. The handles to drawers in the kitchen and bathrooms are also from local antique and junk stores, and at least one of the bathrooms has an old porcelain sink and toilet, complimented by newly-made mosaico tiles created in the same Caribbean blue.

When you are in this house, you feel you are definitely in Mexico and in the Yucatan, and if you look around you in most rooms, you won't be able to tell what year it is. Is it 1920? 1955? 2010?. The combination of architecture and interior design leaves you pleasantly unsure.

For information on mosaico tiles (old and new), how they are made and where to buy them, visit our article on Mosaicos.


  • R.W. 12 years ago

    I believe there is no definite right or wrong area when purchasing a home in Mérida—a little research and personal preference goes a long way. Almost all I know who live here loves their neighborhood the most. When someone endorses a specific area, he probably has something to gain by doing so. Mérida is wonderful city with many diverse neighborhoods.

  • Patti 13 years ago


    I am so with you. I recently purchased a home on C 54 X 73A Y 75. I love the area. I am only 3 blocks from the market. I did not care to live in Gringo Land either. I will begin renovations after the first of the year.

    I also think that the iguanas and scorpions will take a bit of getting use to.

  • Georgina 13 years ago

    I bought a small house on 56 at 79 in 2006. I fell in love with the house and never considered the "right/wrong side of the tracks" [Plaza Grande]. Victor did my house too, and it's a wonderful little casita with lovely courtyards behind. We restored more than renovated. I can't say enough good things about Victor, Atta and Luis and everyone else at Estilo - young, talented, passionate...

    I'm the only non-Mexican on my block, and as my neighbours have become used to me their kindness has grown, to driving me to get chlorine for the pool, inviting me into their homes and generally keeping an eye on the house when I'm not there. This suits me; I wanted to live in Mexico, not in a gringo bubble in Mexico!

    Now I just have to stop freaking out when I see iguanas and scorpions!

  • Working Gringos 13 years ago

    Whenever we can provide this information, we do. Most owners are reluctant to share it, however.

  • gina 13 years ago

    Can you provide infp about the cost of the home and/or renovations. It would be appreciated a lot!

  • Linda Brotkin 13 years ago

    My husband and I visited Merida many times over a 10 year period before making the decision to purchase and renovate a Centro Historico casona. Having the benefit of traversing the streets of almost all of the colonias during our many visits, we are able to confidently aver the charm, warmth, and pleasantness of living, working and/or just enjoying all areas of this great city: there is not a "bad place" to be in Merida. Coincidentally, after interviewing several architect/builders following the purchase of our "project" house, we chose Victor Cruz of Estilo Yucatan to propose, design and rebuild the home. Victor demonstrates passion and love for his work, and we visited several of his completed re-do's which only validated what we already intuitively felt about him: the complete package of talent and empathy we required for this long-distance challenge.

  • CasiYucateco 13 years ago

    Our several 'southern' friends are farther south than Fabio mentions. Near the military zone, the sports stadiums, in the south-east and the south-west. Still never had any problems. Still never had any worries staying in friends' homes in any of those locations.

  • fabio fortuna 13 years ago

    it seems to me that there is a confusion between 'south merida' and 'south of the zocalo- colonia centro - merida'. while south merida includes the colonias south, (south of the airport too), south of the zocalo is being renovated, the street where we live (camino real campeche) or 64 south of the arco de san juan is most likely one of the most beautiful streets in merida, with downlights in front of the newly renovated facades and pebble stones, and joines san juan to la ermita. the area close to the CAME ADO station used to be ' a bad area' in old days and now it is just charming, between santiago and san sebastian. san cristobal is beautiful and the area is really 'authentic merida' - the only area i would avoid is 58 x 69-71 , the little 'red light district' on 58 which taxi drivers call 'calle de las caricias'... we enjoy closed streets during sunday bicicle route , with many people strolling by. i wish more people would partake and enjoy the south part of the centre.

  • Patti 13 years ago

    Congrats to Working Gringos and Eric. Another wonderful house renovated in the beautiful city of Merida. I also had heard many negative comments about the south end of the city. I am very glad to see an endorsement by Working Gringos. It seems that Ermita would be considered south but we do not seem to hear much negative about this area. Ermita is simply charming.

    As for the renovation as always very nicely done. What a great idea to use the glass garage doors in one of the rooms. I very much liked the idea of the cisterna built to replicate older/vintage Merida. How great to have it where you can elect to use it rather than having to incorporate it into your plan with its unplanned location. I have forwarded this info to my architect, Mercedes Sanchez, for her review. Though it is known that she and her team are amazing. It was cool to see such an eclectic flavor in the decorating. Can you tell us the size of the lot?

  • susan loeppky 13 years ago

    This home looks lovely. I hope to have one of my own someday in Merida where the sun shines every day. Thanks for sharing your home with us Merida lovers.

  • CasiYucateco 13 years ago

    The "us" versus "them" complex is alive on every corner of the earth. In Merida, it seems to take the form of "North" versus "South."

    We've been lost on the tinyiest streets and the scariest corners and dead-ends in South Merida (and elsewhere in Yucatan) and the people were always friendly, pleasant and helpful. Human nature is what it is, everywhere in the world. Both the good (helpful, friendly) and the bad (don't get close to those people...) are in Merida too.

    We'd encourage people to use their own eyes and see reality. There are certainly people who are extremely elitist and racist, even in Merida. Ignore them and enjoy life. We have friends "in the south" and I've never worried for a moment staying there with a nice rental car outside, etc.

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