‘Mexican’: Paying tribute to the country’s diverse design heritage

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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.
Left, Angela Damman’s studio space and its henequen chandelier. Right, the Baroque section of ‘Mexican‘ includes the Mérida home of American architect and designer Bruce Bananto.

Around the time Newell Turner parted ways with a prominent New York City magazine publisher, he started working on a hefty book that would come to chronicle Mexico’s lush aesthetic legacy.

Mexican: A Journey Through Design — all 4.28 pounds of it — was finally released in May 2023. Despite its size, Mexican isn’t overwhelming, mainly because it is organized into nine distinct sections: Pre-Columbian, Baroque, Colonial, Neoclassical, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Surrealism, Modernism, and Contemporary. It makes clear that “Mexican design” isn’t just one thing. 

Here, the camera’s lens zooms close or pulls out wide to reveal the breadth of Mexico’s interior design and architecture. Yucatán’s neo-Maya, hacienda and contemporary forms are well represented in Mexican, which is fortunate as well as logical since the author moved to Mérida’s Col. San Cristóbal a few years ago. 

Turner is a former editorial director at Elle Decor, House Beautiful, and Veranda, style director at House & Garden, and a founding editor of Hamptons Cottages & Gardens. As editor-in-chief of House Beautiful, he won a National Magazine Award for General Excellence. Now, Turner weaves his own design story into an elegantly conceived, large-scale, photo-driven book set in various places across Mexico. 

Newell Turner

This vivid volume of color and texture has photos at well-played photo juxtapositions. In the opening spread, a henequen-sansevieria textile is paired cunningly with a beachfront scene in Yucatán. Text and images are segregated so the reader fully absorbs the visual elements. It’s the kind of book to leave for a guest who thinks “Mexican style” begins and ends with papel picado and Talavera tiles. 

A former New York School of Interior Design trustee, Newell maintains a home in the Catskills but calls Mérida home. Newell is also a designer, having created a rug collection for nustory.com.

“Over the years, Mexico made a recurring appearance in my pursuits,” Newell says. “So, after leaving Hearst in 2018, I had the opportunity to dive into a subject — Mexican design.”

A portrait of a guestroom in Maison Hidalgo designed by Laura Kirar, San Miguel de Allende, is paired with a bedroom designed by Josue Ramos Espinosa in Mérida. Photos courtesy Vendome Press

At the same time, he and his partner Douglas Clarke bought a house in the Centro of Mérida. 

“I had always wanted a courtyard house and a historic renovation project. Doug and I had been coming to Mérida for about eight years and staying for increasingly longer periods of time. There’s no other way to say it except we simply love life here,” Newell says.

In what he calls an “amazing experience,” the pair restored a circa-1900 house that had been converted into a small school and then abandoned. “My dream has been to return it to its former glory while designing to feel as if the original family never left.” 

The book’s genesis was his appreciation of Mexico’s vibrant design history. 

“It’s so much richer and diverse than most people in the United States know,” Newell says. “My plan for the rest of my life is to continue indulging my curiosity here. Mexico has so much to explore.” ′

Mexican: A Journey Through Design, published by Vendome Press, is available at Between the Lines bookstore in Mérida, open Wed. to Sun. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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