Monica Calderon, Ezequiel Farca and their four sons at Casa Escuela.
In their 13 years of living in California, product designer Monica Calderon and architect Ezequiel Farca have always had one foot back home in Mexico. The creative couple moved to Los Angeles for its close proximity to Mexico and the similarities they share. “Los Angeles is a hub for creativity; it nurtures professions like ours by connecting us with like-minded people,” Monica says. “Merida is very similar in the way that it brings people together.”
Merida is the vibrant capital city of Yucatan in Mexico and the setting of Monica and Ezequiel’s recently completed family retreat, Casa Escuela, which is situated inside a former school – Casa Escuela meaning ‘School House’. The family split their time between here and Los Angeles. “We love Los Angeles, but we wanted to give our boys the opportunity to experience their culture on a deeper level,” Monica says.
The kitchen’s size and amenities make it ideal for hosting cooking classes. “Food is a huge part of Mexican culture, so we wanted a kitchen that endorsed that,” Monica says. The bright yellow lacquered cabinetry references mid-century design, which contrasts with weathered stone walls and floors.
A built-in concrete bar and seating area connect onto an alfresco courtyard via steel-framed doors.
Beyond just being a family retreat, Casa Escuela is a multi-disciplinary residency for artists, designers, yoga instructors, writers, chefs and any other ‘right-brain thinkers’ to go and further their passions, either by teaching or learning from others. “We always had this dream of creating a cultural hub in Mexico, which could serve all different kinds of creative disciplines,” Ezequiel says. Merida’s rich history of craftsmanship and thriving community of creatives made it the perfect place to do this. “This is our way of reinvesting back into the community,” Ezequiel says.
The school’s historic features were something the couple were committed to preserving when they first bought it. For this reason, they left most of the structural features exactly as they had found them, including any imperfections and discolourations – anything that showed the building’s age.
In some areas, there is a very clear distinction between old and new. In the kitchen, for example, the patinated walls and ceilings contrast with bright yellow lacquered cabinetry – a homage to mid-century design. Other areas, such as the dining space and outdoor space, are timestamps from when the school was first built in 1919.
“We felt that we had a social and environmental responsibility to honour Mexican traditions and celebrate local craftsmanship.”
– Ezequiel Farca
The dining table was designed by Monica, who specialises in polyester resin furniture and accessories, while the dining chairs were designed by Ezequiel.
The patio and dining space are timestamps from when the school was first built in 1919, with traditional Mexican tile floors, eroded concrete walls and tall ceilings.
The couple sourced pieces from their own personal archives; “25 years of marriage is a long time to collect!” Monica laughs. In keeping with their mission to honour Mexican traditions and celebrate local craftsmanship, they also sourced many pieces from in and around Merida. The design, as a result, is imbued with a strong Mexican sensibility, proudly conveyed through the region’s signature materials and earthen tones.
The couple share their hope for a future where schools are more accommodating to creative minds. “Having a place like Casa Escuela, where the things we are teaching are so important, yet so commonly undermined in education – hopefully, it can have a ripple effect,” Monica says.
Materials are warm, earthy and imbued with a strong Mexican design sensibility. The beds were designed by Ezequiel.
Raw stone basins and a concrete-clad shower evoke a sense of craftsmanship.
The school’s facade has not changed since it was first built.