A 1970s home in Mexico gets a mod update when writer Barbara Sgroi and her husband leave Canada for year-round sun and sand
“Be careful what you wish for,” I thought to myself as my husband, Alex, and I pulled out of the driveway of our Fergus, ON house in 2012 headed for Ajijic, Mexico. Hitched to the car was a trailer crammed with all that was left of our life in Canada. We had sold our beloved home and were driving down to sign the deed on a house I had fallen head over huaraches for. Restless for change and a refuge from winter, we had discovered the beautiful little former fishing village through friends, and after spending five balmy winters there, decided to make it our year-round home. The place I´d found was a rarity in this rustic part of the world; a mid-century modern diamond-in-the-rough. But in real estate, as in life, things don´t always turn out the way you hoped. After a long four-day drive, we arrived in Ajijic and learned that our final offer was refused, leaving us homeless.
Faced with a packed trailer and nowhere to unload it, we scrambled to find our next dream home in a hurry. Alex, an Italian-born chef, and I, a fashion and design writer, had been happy wanderers over the years, buying, decorating and selling houses as easily as most people change their socks.
There was the modern Italian villa near Milan, the Victorian cottage in Toronto I filled with Colefax and Fowler chintz, a 300-year-old French farmhouse on the outskirts of Tours that inspired our collection of copper pots, a Victorian Gothic farmhouse in southern Ontario decked out in buffalo plaid, a 1973 Airstream and, finally, the townhouse we had now left. I enjoy the process of starting over – of planning, dreaming and ferreting out the finishes and furnishings that transform an empty house into a home. The move to Mexico was a welcome challenge, but finding another house wasn´t easy.
We were beginning to panic when, three anxiety-filled days later, our real estate agent found our unicorn. “Is this what you´re looking for?” she asked as we stared in happy disbelief at our hearts´ desire: a two-bedroom, 3,500 square-foot home built in 1975 complete with a guesthouse, pool, garden and spectacular view of Lake Chapala. I have long believed there is a certain destiny to real estate; you may not get the house you think you want, but you´ll get the one you need. This house was bigger and had all the advantages of indoor-outdoor living. With our children scattered (our son, William, lives in Toronto, and our daughter, Tara, and her son, Lupo, 8, are in New York), the extra space would make them and friends feel comfortable during their holidays here. It didn´t matter that the stucco walls were a retina-searing shade of orange or that the kitchen was compact; I knew we´d be happy here – I just needed to get my hands on a lot of white paint! For this house, I wanted a calm, neutral vibe. Mexico is filled with bright colors and lively music; minimal decor and a spare palette would bring some balance.
A move is the perfect excuse to pair new treasures with long-loved pieces. The furniture we carted from Canada coexists with items bought locally, creating a very personal mix that feels like home – so much so that when we designed Alex´s Pasta Bar, the Italian restaurant my husband opened in Ajijic last year, we simply duplicated our home´s decor. The last three years have been an amazing evolution. Now, our home is a happy collision of who we were and who we´ve become; style magpies without regret, ready to make room for something new.