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Casa Luna is a white water retreat in downtown Mérida

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Lee Steele
Lee Steele
Lee Steele is the founding director of Roof Cat Media and has published Yucatán Magazine and other titles since 2012. Sign up for our weekly newsletters, so our top headlines will appear in your inbox each Monday and Thursday.

Creamy white walls, natural stone, and an abundance of flowing water are the elements that send Casa Luna Llena into orbit.

Add lots of ironwork in black for a touch of drama and ornamentation and you’ve got a welcoming retreat.

Casa Luna Llena in Mérida
Casa Luna Llena in Mérida is a study of soft whites and grays with black accents. Designed and built by Centro Architects for U.S.-based artist William Betts. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Fernando Abreu designed and built this two-bedroom retreat for U.S. artist William Betts, who craved a new project in Mérida, where he sometimes lives. 

In a country that celebrates bold colors, Betts wanted soothing warm tones and high ceilings for his large-scale paintings. No need to agonize over color palettes. White cement is everywhere, a low-maintenance option, and an appropriately neutral hue for hanging artwork.

Artist William Betts built a home in Mérida that combines modern style with references to Yucatán’s past. Photo: Courtesy

While the overall house is modern, a graceful colonnade, ornate black ironwork and decorative pasta tiles reference Yucatán, Abreu explains. A dramatic sightline was created from the dining room and kitchen in the front through two more rooms to a master bathroom in the rear. Natural materials dominate, including the preferred granite kitchen countertops, this time in a honed black. A center kitchen island, accented by black and gray pasta tiles that match the floor and backsplash, is lit by three tall black canisters suspended from the ceiling.

Casa Luna Llena in Mérida is a study of soft whites and grays with black accents. Designed and built by Centro Architects for U.S.-based artist William Betts. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The light is also natural, at least in the daytime when skylights lined up against the north wall welcome in the sun’s rays. Rather than laying plate glass flat on the roof, Abreu created vertical skylights with jalousie windows and mosquito screens, so the sunlight bounces off the wall instead of shining straight down.

The result is more functional — air can circulate — and less likely to result in cracks in the glass.

The star of the show is the water, however. 

Casa Luna Llena
Casa Luna Llena in Mérida is a study of soft whites and grays with black accents. Designed and built by Centro Architects for U.S.-based artist William Betts. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

A water trough in the foyer sets the tone. It leads the eye toward the swimming pool, which runs almost the entire length of the property. It’s hard lines are softened by purple, leggy Mexican petunias reaching up toward the sun. A small concession to color. 

Although situated in the Centro, pretty much every space has a water view. Even the soaking tub, nestled in greenery, looks through beautiful ironwork toward the pool. Or look straight up at the sky at the real luna llena, or full moon.

Casa Luna Llena in Mérida is a study of soft whites and grays with black accents. Designed and built by Centro Architects for U.S.-based artist William Betts. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

It’s hard to imagine that such a grand house has no more than two bedrooms, but it is indeed modest in proportions. Betts’ paintings tend to be large in scale, and will easily fill the seemingly endless walls. 

Betts’ artwork comes largely from photography, or even stills from closed-circuit cameras, digitally manipulated and reinterpreted with what look like texturized pixels. Paintings that depict the Maya ruins at Uxmal and other familiar landscapes are destined for Luna Llena.

William Betts’ Uxmal painting will be gracing one of the walls at Luna Llena in Mérida. Photo: Courtesy

Abreu heads Mérida-based Centro Architects, an unusual firm in that it doesn’t bid out for contractors. This prevents finger-pointing when anything goes awry. Centro also provides interior design services as well as ongoing property management once the home is occupied. He has been in business here for around 10 years after schooling in the United States. 

Betts has been traveling to Mérida for years and sees the house as an art project in itself. The rest of the year, he resides in the Litchfield Hills of Connecticut, where a starker contrast to his Santiago neighborhood couldn’t exist. 

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