Eleven years ago, designer Mónica Calderón and her husband, architect Ezequiel Farca, transplanted their family from Mexico City to Los Angeles, lured by the siren call of LA’s flourishing arts scene and its deep connections to Latin America. “There are many similarities between Mexico City and Los Angeles as far as climate and culture, and we simply fell in love with California,” says Calderón. “But part of our heart was still in Mexico, just not Mexico City, which had become so busy.” After visiting the Yucatán capital of Mérida during a spring break sojourn with their four sons, Calderón and Farca decided to reaffirm their Mexican roots by building a second home there. “We wanted to give our children a totally different experience than they have living in the Santa Monica bubble,” Farca explains.
The couple planted their flag in an abandoned 1919 school-house located in the heart of the city, near Mérida’s bustling zocalo. Aptly dubbed Casa Escuela, the house is much more than a vacation retreat. Calderón and Farca envisioned it as a multidisciplinary art sanctuary, artist residency, and cultural hub, a place that celebrates the triple imperatives of family, community, and Mexican heritage. “Yes, it’s a home, but it’s also a place where we can share our passions and highlight new talent, a place for people to learn and connect,” Calderón says, describing a multipronged mission that forges bridges between traditional and contemporary Mexican design, art, craft, gastronomy, and even holistic wellness practices. “We feel that Mexico has a big heart, and because of the network we’ve been able to cultivate, we can provide a small key to open that heart to others,” Farca continues.
His architecture practice, Ezequiel Farca Studio, which focuses on high-end residential and yacht design, is based in Mexico City, with satellite offices in LA and Milan. Calderón founded her namesake design firm, specializing in furniture and accessories crafted of polyester resin, in 1998. She is also an independent curator, leveraging her wide-ranging interests to create exhibitions and events that straddle art, design, fashion, and travel.
“We tried to preserve as much of the original schoolhouse as possible to keep its soul intact,” Farca says of his ministrations to the derelict building. “We made strategic interventions to shore up the structure and bring it into the present, but those interventions are clearly delineated—what is old looks old, and what is new looks new.” The dynamic tension between the historical and the contemporary emerges in the juxtaposition of traditional tile floors, doorframes, and mampostería rubble walls with modernist architectural details of concrete block and steel-framed glass doors that connect the interior spaces to the alfresco courtyard. “There’s a palpable handmade component to Casa Escuela,” Calderón muses. “You can feel the craftsmanship of the people who contributed to the design and construction. It becomes part of the energy of the house.”
The program for Casa Escuela encompasses a biannual artist residency in two dedicated studios, an exhibition space, a retail component for artists and designers to share their work, an expansive kitchen designed to host gastronomical workshops focused on Yucatán cuisine, and a wellness retreat/spa—centered on a cenote—for yoga, meditation, and traditional Mexican medicinal practices. “Casa Escuela honors the wisdom and insight of ancient Maya culture as well as the incredible energy of the contemporary Mexican art and design scene,” Calderón says. “The program will continue to evolve and grow, but the basic premise remains the same. We want to share the magic of this special place.”