This morning in Josefina Larraín Lagos’ own home, which she designed with architect husband Salvador Reyes, serenity would be a struggle for most people.
Men on ropes are rappelling from a tall mango tree, tasked with cutting back its branches. Limbs are falling left and right. The younger of her two sons is busy in the kitchen with a cooking instructor. And now a photographer and I have come in, demanding to talk about serenity. Now.
We try to stay calm, concealing our concern that we get good photos while the sun is low and the natural light is filtered through the trees. Josefina is unfazed. She’s in the kitchen, preparing coffee for us in a French press.
Her contemporary house, built 10 years ago on a spacious corner lot in Itzimná, was designed for moments like these.
“Most people think that I’m very calm. Maybe I am very calm but I’m always thinking of many things, doing many things at the same time,” Josefina says.
Josefina Larraín Lagos was a fine artist long before there was such an architecture firm as Reyes Ríos + Larraín. She has fulfilled every possible creative role in between.
“In everything, I can see an opportunity to create, to get involved, to learn, to start from there and explore into a different area,” says Josefina. “Like when we started doing architecture, and then I explored interior design, and then into landscaping, but at the same time into object design. I love to explore, to wander down a new road and find something new and enjoy.”
Josefina has said that she has design principles more than a design philosophy that facilitates harmonious elements.
The best homes start with good bones, she explains: “Try to focus on the main skeleton and the main spaces and the little spaces come along with it, but that should not be the focus. So the skeleton needs to be very harmonizing, very clean and very clear.”
She avoids the urge to overhaul a space to fit a preconceived plan.
“Our approach to design always starts from what we feel, we see, what we learn about the space, what we learn about its history,” says Josefina. “It has to start with the place itself, what it tells to you, it’s like a dialogue.”
Her sons were still children when they built their family home.
“We wanted to have a small house,” she says. While the house isn’t tiny, it is dwarfed in comparison to an expansive yard that has filled in tremendously with greenery since we first visited a decade ago, or even with AD Mexico visited in 2015.
The house has generous windows that fill it with light while keeping the gardens in view.
“We wanted to be connected with the elements. We knew this would be our last large property, and we wanted our children to have a comfortable experience with nature and to be connected and aware every day of what is going on outside the house, and not a capsule with air conditioning where you don’t even know what reality exists — if it’s raining, if there’s a storm.”
While we’re talking on the rear terrace — over coffee — we hear not only the chirps and squawks of birds but also the soft whistle of a street vendor bicycling by on the other side of the garden walls. Then later we could hear that familiar jingle/chant emanating from a propane truck making its rounds. The gardens could have lulled us into believing we were far from daily realities, we were indeed connected to the elements — natural and otherwise — as intended.
But the space within the garden walls is still magic. Josefina has kept the space free from pesticides, letting nature take its course.
“As soon as you give a surrounding of vegetation, you have butterflies, you have insects. In the morning, at night you have birds singing,” says Josefina. “We hardly have mosquitos because there is a balance here. We have a lot of birds, a lot of bats, a lot of insects, a lot of everything, organic — I never fumigate. We don’t fumigate anything because as soon as you interfere you disbalance nature. So our children grew up here listening to crickets and seeing butterflies, seeing possums climb the tree with their possum family. And the cats from the neighborhood have come by and some have stayed to live here, so it’s a wonderful connection to nature and to life.”
A version of this story appeared in Issue 2 of Yucatán at Home magazine, the Serenity Now issue. Subscribe or buy a back issue here.