Recently I spent a week in Tulum and Playa del Carmen, Mexico, as many of my friends are all to aware from all the travel-porn/travel-bragging I did on Facebook. It was fun! beautiful! laid-back! boozy! and really, really relaxing! It is the type of place where you can check your shoes and wallet at the door, grab a swim suit, and forget about everything.
But you’re here to get my views on design. In my dreams we would all be able to escape to a tropical paradise. I would design your space with air-conditioned bedrooms, living spaces protected only by thatched roofs, and plenty of lounging options in the sun and shade. All of my design would be based on sand and palm trees, crashing waves and Negro Modelo.
Back in reality, there are several design lessons which I can incorporate into my practice, and you can incorporate into your lives. Here are some of my take-aways.
Blur the lines. Indoor-outdoor living rules the day in Mexico. Bedrooms and bathrooms might be in indoors, but after that all bets are off. In California, we have the luxury of design living rooms which open directly onto patios and decks. The goal here, is to blur the transition from inside to outside, thereby making a space appear larger. This can be done with using the same stone inside/outside, or using wood flooring or carpet which matches the exterior material in color tonality. Pull the color of the sky, trees and sand (still thinking of Tulum) inside with a color palette based on warm beige, sage green, blue sky and yellow.
Less is more. Even in Mexico, where colors are bright and tiles are patterned, great design is simple. Mexican designers go bold, but with restraint. If you’re using a lot of hot, vibrant colors, then pair it with something neutral. If using super graphic tile (or fabrics), then pair it with something calming. And always, bold, clean architecture beats out ornamentation in my book any day.
Use local, natural materials. This is good for the economy and ecology, and it makes sense in your home. Use what is around you will often cost less, and the design will naturally blend with the local environment better. One of my local favorites is Heath Ceramics: stylish, fun, and made in San Francisco and Sausalito.
Unglazed tile are beautiful. In Tulum, there was an abundance of hand-made cement tile, which unglazed added variation and depth to a space. Here in the California, there are few options for unglazed tile, but Waterworks has a product which offers saturated color in a variety of shapes. These would be great in a bathroom, kitchen, or inside/outside room.
Bathroom sinks should be located on the outside of bathrooms. OK I had to put this in here, for as a germ-a-phobe, it just makes sense that you wash your hands after you’ve done your business and excited the WC…I even wrote a paper at CCA about this! Outside you don’t have to worry about grabbing the door handle, and public scrutiny will ensure that more guys actually wash their hands! It’s a design trend which you’ll see locally at the Slanted Door; Perbaco; and Locanda restaurants. Enough said. No photos necessary!
Design matters. A great design will look great even if the materials are inexpensive and execution is sub-par (not if the sub-contractors are working for me!). Because the reality is that most of the “look” of a space comes from the design, the visual story of the space. Materials and fabrication are supporting characters. So my advice is that even on small projects, set a little money aside to hire a designer/architect for their visual input. A little guidance will set you straight in your aesthetic journey.
David Bjørngaard, March 2015