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Design duo’s next book set in Mérida

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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.

Hacienda Petac is among the homes featured in Annie Kelly and Tim Street-Porter's latest collaboration, "Casa Mérida."
Hacienda Petac is among the homes featured in Annie Kelly and Tim Street-Porter’s latest collaboration, “Casa Mérida.”

Mérida’s distinctive style, which has evolved through the years various architects, artists and designers settle here, is about to be chronicled in a book by a writer-photographer team well-known to anyone who follows interior design.

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Design writer Annie Kelly, and her husband, architecture and landscape design photographer Tim Street-Porter, travel the world to find spaces crying out to be captured in print. Most of their books cover multiple cities and locales. Casa Mexicana Style, for example, took them throughout the country in 2006. Their next book brings them back to Mexico, but they will home in on one city. Casa Mérida is due in 2016.

The duo is based in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles with a second home in Litchfield, the rural northwest corner of Connecticut where New Yorkers unwind on weekends. Stylistically, it’s hard to pigeonhole them. Their portfolio juxtaposes regal city living and rustic rural life; antique and modern; desert and seashore; pure and soothing Americana or heart-thumping exotica.

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The couple has collaborated on six books, beginning with Casa Mexicana Style (Stewart Tabori & Chang), followed by a string of lavish Rizzoli books: Rooms to Inspire, Casa San Miguel, Rooms to Inspire in the Country, and Rooms to Inspire in the CityLitchfield County Style and Rooms to Inspire By the Sea followed those.

In an instance of pure serendipity, we came across Annie Kelly in Mérida’s Centro Histórico and promised ourselves we’d ask for an interview one day soon. Finally, we had a chance to ask about her work as both a designer and a chronicler of design, and about her next projects.

Like many busy travelers, they found themselves gravitating to Mérida. After a lifetime of traveling the world, they found the world right here in the Yucatán.

“We love Mexico, and feel completely at home in Mérida,” said Kelly, “especially as there are so many creative people living there, not only from Mexico City but cities like London, Paris, New York and Los Angeles.”

A draft cover for "Casa Mérida" features Hacienda Petac, a project overseen by Salvador Reyes Rios and Josefina Larraín, The book is due out in 2016.
A draft cover for “Casa Mérida” features Hacienda Petac, a project overseen by Salvador Reyes Rios and Josefina Larraín, The book is due out in 2016.

And everything appears in place for a new project.

“Our next book, Casa Mérida, will feature many of the artists and designers we have met, and we plan to show different ways of living in Mérida, from haciendas to town houses, as well as artist studios and even a couple of small hotels,” said Kelly.

Not that they’re settling down any time soon.

“We are also preparing a book with the working title Bali Style,” said Kelly. “Just an excuse to spend time in another colorful part of the world!”

Despite having settled in a modern city like Los Angeles, they appreciate a patina that comes only with time. They have created a common thread to unite their East Coast and West Coast homes in the United States.

“We love the character in anything old,” Kelly explains. “In Litchfield, we have rows of 17th-century chairs from England, while in Los Angeles we collect 18th-century French furniture. I must say we really don’t own very much of what you could call new!”

But south of the border, modernist architecture is on the rise. The clean lines of Luis Barragán is an influence as much as the embellishments of ornate, old Europe. Kelly sees a distinction between American modern and how contemporary lines are drawn here.

“Designing a modernist house that could be at home in Los Angeles or New York completely misses the point of moving to Mérida,” Kelly warns. “However, the Mexican version of modernism is much more sympathetic to its environment, as architects often use natural and local materials.” 

An earlier Annie Kelly and Tim Street-Porter collaboration, "Casa Mexicana," was published by Rizzoli in 2006,
An earlier Annie Kelly and Tim Street-Porter collaboration, “Casa Mexicana,” was published by Rizzoli in 2006.

With care, a homeowner can pull off a break from traditional motifs.

“Most people coming to Mérida chose to sensibly preserve the historical details of their houses, and add to them in a harmonious way. This is a worldwide trend, where homeowners are moving into the older parts of cities and sensitively adapting them for modern living.”

Finally, we asked for a little career advice, admitting the difficulty in describing the strong visual impact of Yucatecan design or decor, especially to readers who may have never stepped foot in a hacienda or colonial courtyard home. So we solicited any tips on conveying a sense of place to an audience.

“You could start by describing the way everything takes place behind closed doors,” Kelly advised, “which when opened reveal the incredibly high ceilings you can see in the Yucatán, courtyards filled with tropical plants, amazing tiled floors, and worlds of details in room after room.”

Learn more about Annie Kelly’s work on her Amazon author page.

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