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One of the homes featured in Traditional Style Mexican Interiors, Casa de Clark.

Traditional Mexican Style Interiors


Traditional Mexican Style Interiors

Can an outsider to a particular tradition explain and live it's even contribute to its evolution? This is not an easy question to answer. But it is one that Donna McMenamin's Traditional Mexican Style Interiors does bring up, whether the author intended to or not.
The word tradition refers to customs and practices handed down from one generation to the next. It is a thing of families and cultures. Tradition is identity and it is dearly defended by those who it defines. Tradition is also, by nature, exclusive. In Traditional Mexican Style Interiors, these questions arise from the fact that most of the 29 interiors portrayed in the book were designed, decorated and are occupied by people with last names that don't sound very Mexican. About half of the homes are located in Tucson, Arizona or Houston, Texas while the rest are in San Miguel Allende, Guanajuato a foreign art colony town so stereotypically Mexican that the rest of the country often has a hard time meeting the standard.
This is not to say that Traditional Mexican Style Interiors does not do justice to Mexican traditions. On the contrary, McMenamin is refreshingly able to demonstrate a special sensitivity for the culture, especially concerning the skilled artisanship essential for creating the homes featured in the book.
McMenamin, author of the landmark Popular Arts of Mexico 1850-1950, gives credit where credit's due. The heartfelt dedication says it best: To all the maestros who pour their hearts and souls into creating the architectural details and works of art that beautify our homes, and to the laborers who install them.
After the last tile is meticulously set or the final touch is put on the stone carving, these artists usually never see their works of art again. Moreover, it's not often that they are remembered.
McMenamin also does not pretentiously attempt to define the Mexican style interior. She leaves that to Mexican architect Rafael Rios- Ghinis, whose interview with the author is published as a fitting introduction to the book.
Rios-Ghinis also explains the Mexican/Spanish Colonial architectural elements incorporated into the featured dwellings, and offers two important points potential homebuilders should keep in mind before undertaking a Mexican style project: These homes are considerably more expensive to construct than contemporary North American style structures; and the accomplished masons capable of building many of the Mexican style elements featured are few and hard to come by.
What follows the preface are 12 vivid photograph-filled chapters, illustrated by Popular Arts of Mexico 1850-1950 camera man Richard Loper. The chapters are arranged by category, covering every room in the house and primary features such as floors, ceilings, niches, lighting and fireplaces. Useful captions tell which home is featured in each photograph, and overall the accessories are accurately explained.
The only criticism of the photography is actually not even the photographer's fault: Many frames are so stuffed with adornments that it becomes difficult to appreciate the architectural elements of the rooms. Decorative overkill, perhaps, is one of the determining features of the foreign-defined Mexican style home. It is likely part of the rebellion against the typically boring blank-wall, back-home buildings which is making exotic design schemes increasingly popular.
In the United States, we are accustomed to construction styles that are somewhat sterile, square and plumb, said Loper in his preface. Not so in their book, where spectrums of dramatic color are everywhere, from walls and tiled floors to the lofty arches and array of accent pieces.
Although the final product is decidedly a mix of old Mexico and the way outsiders tend to manifest their interpretations of it, Traditional Mexican Style Interiors offers decorators, architects and homeowners alike a slew of fresh ideas for creating their own versions of the increasingly popular Mexican style home. We recommend adding this one to your library.
Donna McMenamin currently resides in Tucson, Arizona, where she was the general contractor for her own Mexican style house. She is a contributing writer for Tucson Lifestyle Magazine, Home & Garden, and author of the book Popular Arts of Mexico 1850-1950. In between other projects, McMenamin also deals in Mexican and Native American antiques and art, and assists clients wishing to shop in Mexico for alluring architectural details.
Professional photographer Richard Loper, from Houston, Texas, works with graphic design and advertising agencies in that region. He runs El Dorado Woodworking, a company that specializes in creating custom and reproduction designer Arts & Crafts style furniture.