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Casa Oliva — A colorful renovation in San Sebastián

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Veronica Garibay
Veronica Garibayhttp://yucatanmagazine.com
Verónica Garibay Saldaña is a Mexican columnist, communications major, and poetry enthusiast. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.

Casa Oliva, just around the corner from Mérida’s San Sebastian park, is a celebration of the colors of the world inside and out. The original facade is currently covered in a lilac tone, which the first owners chose to preserve. 

When architectural firm Arkilätt first arrived, the house belonged to a couple from the U.S. and Canada. Kimberly Harris and Tyler Melmoth favored bold, shiny patterns.

The living room of Casa Oliva. Photo: Cobaltoesazul

“They met while traveling,” says Mariana Martín, an architect at Arkilätt. “They first found each other in Turkey and started wandering together. After some time trotting they found Mérida, and Casa Oliva, which they chose as their new retreat.” 

Architects Mariana Martín and Edgar Solís, from Arkilätt. Photo: Fernando Duarte Montero

The couple got referred to the architects by a friend, and they got started on a large renovation project together. When they first arrived on the property, the design was heavily influenced by the 1970s.

The tall walls had no windows or views to the street and because of INAH restrictions, they couldn’t really change the outer structure of the building, which meant they couldn’t add windows to aerate the space. Instead, they chose to incorporate an atrium. 

Lounge overlooking the atrium. Photo: Cobaltoesazul

“We had to find alternative ways to create a flowy environment,” says Mariana. “We worked around the ceiling slabs to create high connection windows. And opened the space to the backyard in order to illuminate and ventilate the space.”

Growing from the main atrium, the home is made up of two separate axes. The first axis holds the dining room and kitchen, and the second is made up of a studio and the master bedroom.

A colorful bar with orange cabinets rescued by Kimberly. They were originally a wooden closet she chose to paint bright orange. Photo: Cobaltoesazul

Color became central to the project. Mariana says that Casa Oliva is one of the most colorful homes they’ve done, and notes that most of the inspiration came from the owners themselves.

“They had a very colorful selection of objects from their trips and wanted to incorporate that feeling into the design,” says Mariana. “Kimberly had made a previous selection of pasta tiles she liked, and we worked around them in specific parts of the home.”

The design of the kitchen is inspired by the blue-ish tile in the wall. Photo: Cobaltoesazul

The first axis became the blue section. The calming scheme from the kitchen grows out into the breakfast area and into a lounge that communicates with the master bedroom.

From there, in the second axis, the green section begins. 

The windows at the very top of the high vaulted walls bring illumination into the space, alongside the views to the backyard. Photo: Cobaltoesazul

“Her time in Turkey was a big influence,” remembers Mariana, “so they chose mosaics inspired by Moorish designs, with colors that matched her decor. She brought handles, faucets, lamps, and all kinds of pieces from her journeys. Despite the bright colors, everything had an organic feel, which was really the intention of the space.”

The green design of the master bedroom was born through the green patterned tile. Photo: Cobaltoesazul

Other parts of the home have their own particular hue, which sets them apart from the rest of the space.

“They were very colorful people, from the walls to their pieces of furniture. She knew she wanted a girly bathroom from the beginning, and so we designed this pink room together.”

This flowery tile determined the brightly colored walls for the bathroom in the main living space. Photo: Cobaltoesazul

Once the project was finished, in late 2020, the couple spent a short stay in the home and quickly passed the baton to an American couple. Arkilätt is now working with the new owners on some minor alterations. 

“We are working with the blueprints from the redesign we created for the property. We’re mostly doing changes in the backyard and some technical enhancements in the electric framework. But we’re very happy that they’re choosing to maintain the colorful vibe that represents the home.”

Arkilätt makes an emphasis on light design in their projects, which can be noted in the detailing of the kitchen shelfs. Photo: Cobaltoesazul

Casa Oliva is a colorful conjunction of history, modernity, and diversity. Mariana excitedly reveals that the lilac paint in the original facade will soon turn back to its original light blue color with a renewed style on the inside. 

“Color is the defining aspect of the home. We have loved discovering its different layers through time. And there’s something really exciting about having the original color coming back. It’s the same building, but with a lot more light on the inside.”

More on this project in the third issue of Yucatán at Home.

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