Interior designers’ Mérida projects revealed in BAI’s 9th Showcase of Homes

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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.
One of Lemeau Arrott-Watt’s client projects in Mérida has drama and flair. It’s part of the 9th Showcase of Homes tour. Photo: Courtesy

Two interior designers’ homes, part of this year’s Showcase of Homes tour, exhibit contrasting responses to living in the tropics.

Lemeau Arrott-Watt’s embrace of bold colors and dramatic patterns is on full view in her Mérida home, one of seven open to the public in Fundacíon BAI’s huge yearly fundraiser.

“I chose the direction — as color and beautiful fabrics and ‘the balance’ of those two things make me happy and make a magnificent base on which to layer and add exotic furniture or accent pieces,” explains Lemeau, who has enjoyed three decades as a New York City-based designer.

Lemeau Arrott-Watt embraces hot colors in a hot climate. Photo: Courtesy

“I am always sad that so many foreigners are frightened of living with or wearing colors when it is so joyous and so complementary to the human personality,” says Lemeau. “I love the Mexicans’ gay abandon and use of color and yet in the tropics we still get those who are playing sooo safe and want only the beiges and blacks and grays.

Lemeau is inspired by “exotic and colorful furniture from Morocco and India, both hot countries that understand wonderfully colorful fabrics and furniture that all happily work with Mexican life and its wonderful traditions but add the exotic touches that add a change of pace — sooo necessary when designing and decorating beautiful rooms.”

A playful and astute mix of colors at a client’s French/Moroccan home by Lemeau Arrott-Watt. Photo: Courtesy

One of the other houses Lemeau has overhauled is on the tour. We can’t divulge the location — that will be revealed on the map given to ticket-holders — but suffice it to say that it’s a large traditional French house that was gutted and reworked into a Moroccan/French dream home with dramatic black-and-white tile.

“It’s now a chic, relaxed house with an exotic flair,” says Lemeau, who today has ongoing projects in Mérida.

High contrasts and bright colors make a memorable room by Lemeau Arrott-Watt. Photo: Courtesy

Six years ago, she began her own newsletter blog Decorator’s Insider, which is updated every 10 days and is free to all subscribers. The site encapsulates her entire design philosophy.

Designing for herself — acting as her own client — is a challenge.

“I can assure you I am my own worst client,” Lemeau said with a laugh. “Probably there is terror in making a mistake and disappointing friends — but really its about my refusal to compromise in my choices for myself — so I become impossible to deal with and worse than my clients.”

Karla Miller’s view of the pool from a relaxing terrace. Photo: Courtesy

Casa Perlita, the home of Benny and Karla Miller, is also owned by a professional interior designer. Her design choices stand in contrast with Lemeau’s.

When the Millers bought Casa Perlita in 2014, the entire house, inside and out, was painted in traditional Mexican colors, terra cotta and Aztec gold.

“I love these colors but, as we all know, most of the year Mérida is quite warm,” says Karla.

Karla Miller prefers cool neutrals in the heat of the tropics. Photo: Courtesy

“These warm colors made it feel even warmer. I chose to redecorate with cooler, neutral shades and painted all the ceiling a cool pale blue,” she says. “The lighter colors also opened up the house and made it feel less enclosed.”

Because they lived in a historic Spanish Colonial in the U.S., Karla had spent years collecting accessories befitting this style home.

“We sold all our furniture and brought only our accessories to Mérida. A trip to Guadalajara for custom chandeliers, sconces, occasional tables and more accessories completed the look.”

The Millers’ terrace space has an artifact of recent Mérida life that is the envy of many.

“On previous trips to Mérida I had met a dear friend, Alberto Salum. I had always admired the dusty collection of antiques he displayed in his restaurant, Alberto’s Continental. My furniture hunt started at his front door. As you tour our home you will hear me say many times, ‘I found that at Alberto’s.’ ”

But Karla found more than just antiques at Alberto’s Continental, which closed in 2013 after decades of operation and then reopened — minus most of those antiques — as Patio 57. She brought home the iconic wooden sign that hung for 20 years at the original restaurant.

The Millers’ loggia includes a relic from a recent time — Alberto’s Continental. Photo: Courtesy

The famous Alberto’s Continental sign when it hung in the longstanding restaurant’s patio. Photo: Pinterest

“It feels right at home over our loggia bar,” says Karla.

Karla Miller began her professional design career in 1988 after graduating with a degree in interior design.

She worked for a large commercial design firm that specialized in hotel design. Then, in 1990, she opened her own firm, Omni Interiors, and continued in hospitality, health care, and corporate design. Karla Miller is a NCIDQ-certified interior designer.

“Oddly, because my professional career was based almost completely on new-construction projects, my heart belonged to restoring old homes and buildings. I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to own, or at least be commissioned to restore, many forgotten or neglected old structures,” says Karla.

The Millers’ outside space is mellow and soothing. Photo: Courtesy

“As a young girl my father, who was a general contractor, instilled in me a love of architecture and attention to detail. Most designers would name a famous architect as their greatest inspiration. For me, it was my father who inspired me, encouraged me, and made me see the beauty in old structures that needed a savior.”

Karla has words of wisdom for anyone setting out to remake a Mérida property.

“My advice to anyone beginning a renovation project is to suspend your previous way of thinking,” says Karla. “Accept the fact that things are done differently here, the old way! Approach the process with a sense of adventure, and talk to others who have completed a renovation in Merida. References are extremely important, and a written contract is necessary. Keep a watchful eye on the process and if doing this long distance, have a friend here to help you. If you have special treasures, keep them and by all means ship them to Mérida. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished I had certain pieces that were sold.”

The bottom line is not to lose the attitude that made one gravitate to Mérida to begin with.

“In the end, sit back and be in awe of what the amazing Yucatecan workers have created for you.”

Yucatán Expat Life is proud to be one of the Showcase of Homes’ Platinum sponsors. 

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