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Sunday, December 4, 2022

From auto repair shop to domestic bliss, fantasy staircase included

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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 best stories will appear in your inbox every Monday.
Jim and Ramon live part-time in the northwest United States and consider Casa Dos Sueños a getaway. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Since a new Mérida home was a dream come true for them both, it seemed fitting that Jim Jones and Ramon Alvarez named this ethereal blue beauty “Casa Dos Sueños.” 

The dream started in Puerto Vallarta, where the two U.S. residents were visiting regularly for about 20 years.  

“By the time we got around to being in a place where we could actually afford it, it was out of our reach,” says Jim. “And after five or 10 years, there’s not much to do there, either.”

A fairytale spiral staircase leads to the master bedroom while anchoring the courtyard, which connects the sala and the kitchen. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The dream was also to have a place that belonged to them both. For a while, Jim worked in southern Oregon and Ramon was in Spokane, Washington — a distance of about 11 hours. On weekends they would meet at Portland, Oregon, roughly a halfway point between them. 

“While we were apart, Ramon was watching HGTV and saw Mérida on one of the “House Hunters International” shows. They weren’t aware of Yucatán’s charms previously.

The facade on Calle 60, south of the Plaza Grande, before and after Casa Dos Sueños was born. Photos: Contributed (inset), Yucatán Magazine

They don’t remember which one triggered the notion to go check it out, but “downloaded every single episode that was related to Mérida and just binge-watched it.”

The first visit was New Year’s Eve 2017. They stayed at the Gran Hotel above Starbucks, less than a mile up the street from where they would eventually renovate a property.

“We just walked all around the Centro and just fell in love with it,” says Jim. “The architecture, the people. Our second trip, we were walking around and we said ‘this is it.’” 

Renovation is perhaps in their blood, and they had an eye for a ruin’s potential after buying, renovating and later selling an 1855-1890 “kind-of-a-dump” Victorian in Connecticut. They also restored a derelict Craftsman-style home back West, turning that into a rental property.

A Mexican hideway at Casa Dos Sueños in Mérida, Yucatán. Photos: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

This property was previously used as an automotive air conditioning repair shop. From the comfort of the terrace, Jim points to where there was parking, and where two other rooms and a bathroom are now unrecognizable. 

After overseeing building here, Jim says his Spanish has improved: “I’m pretty much fluent in food and fluent in construction.”   

The house they built runs along traditional lines, with romantic neoclassical elements. Sculptures, reliefs, and architectural details — like a giant wall in the front courtyard finished with the Mayan Cross stone technique. Colors are soft and calming. 

The house is south of the Plaza Grande, which loosely demarcates the city’s economic divide. Most modern construction is happening in the north, toward the beach. But they are pleased with their neighborhood, which they appreciate for its local mom-and-pop businesses, a neighborhood market, and for having fewer expats. 

“One of the reasons we wanted to move to Mérida is there are fewer expats than Puerto Vallarta, so being in a neighborhood that doesn’t have as much of that is good,” Ramon explains “And so there aren’t the malls, but this house has a garage, and there’s a car, and so we can travel wherever we want to.”

And a walk to Santa Lucía takes 20 minutes, tops, for their favorite restaurants. 

The pair worked closely with Jessica Park Zavala of the four-year-old architecture firm Park Estudio. She arrived this day for a brief “watch party” in the living room for their home’s segment on Trasmuro, a YouTube channel that delves into what’s “behind the wall” at renovated homes in Yucatán. As it happens, the show dropped on the day of Jim and Ramon’s 27th anniversary together, in their new home in Mérida. 

Dreams do come true, even in pairs.

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