Retired Couple Build Modern in Mexico City

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By Laia Garcia
A retired couple looking to downsize find the solution right in their backyard.

Paul Cremoux, an architect based in Mexico City, never thought he would build a house for his parents. "No," he says, laughing, "but they insisted, because they loved the house I made for another client."  

Retired Couple Build Modern in Mexico City - Photo 1 of 12 - When Mexico City residents Nina Wanderstok and Raúl Cremoux were ready for a smaller house, they turned to their son, architect Paul Cremoux. The two-story structure he designed preserves open space on the property to support groundwater recharge in accordance with strict local zoning regulations.

When Mexico City residents Nina Wanderstok and Raúl Cremoux were ready for a smaller house, they turned to their son, architect Paul Cremoux. The two-story structure he designed preserves open space on the property to support groundwater recharge in accordance with strict local zoning regulations.

Paul’s parents—Nina Wanderstok, a retired interior architect, and Raúl Cremoux, a retired writer and political consultant—were already feeling like the house where they had lived and raised their children was much too large for the two of them. When Nina and Raúl visited Casa CorManca, a recently finished project of Paul’s, they immediately fell in love with it. CorManca, a small residence of about 1,700 square feet, opened up the possibility that they could have their dream home without needing an expansive lot to make it happen. They decided to ask Paul to build a new house in the garden of their existing home.

Retired Couple Build Modern in Mexico City - Photo 2 of 12 - Filters purify rainwater that drains from the roof or through the wood-plastic composite deck. <br>A cistern collects the water for indoor use.

Filters purify rainwater that drains from the roof or through the wood-plastic composite deck.
A cistern collects the water for indoor use.

"We share Paul’s ideas about the importance of contemporary, sustainable buildings," Nina says. 

 Paul faced two main challenges: The first was a budget of just about $210,000. The second was the fact that he could build on only 60 percent of the available plot, due to a law in Mexico City that requires that a percentage of the land be left without buildings in order to allow the ground-water reserves, the source of much of the city’s drinking water, to refill. This meant Paul would have about 1,400 square feet for the footprint. "The limits can be very strict, according to the zone in which you’re trying to build," Paul explains, "so we decided to take it a step further. That’s where the idea of building a cistern to take advantage of all the rainwater originated."

Retired Couple Build Modern in Mexico City - Photo 3 of 12 - In choosing materials, Paul evaluated their efficiency—and was surprised to find that local wasn’t always best. In one nod to Mexican design, the structure is finished with fine plaster and white paint.

In choosing materials, Paul evaluated their efficiency—and was surprised to find that local wasn’t always best. In one nod to Mexican design, the structure is finished with fine plaster and white paint.

The new structure’s deck, made of a wood-plastic composite, acts as a water collector. Underneath it, a receptacle made of concrete and finished with a VOC–free paint collects the water. When it rains, the water flows through a series of carbon-activated filters that enable the household to subsist on rainwater for all its fresh-water needs. Although this does have the added advantage of saving money (water bills are around $10 a month), Paul is more interested in its ecological benefits.

Retired Couple Build Modern in Mexico City - Photo 4 of 12 -
Retired Couple Build Modern in Mexico City - Photo 5 of 12 - "Not a drop of water is wasted here," Nina says of the yard. "This is huge for Mexico City. The whole terrace is a water collector."

"Not a drop of water is wasted here," Nina says of the yard. "This is huge for Mexico City. The whole terrace is a water collector."

The terrace quickly became one of the home’s main attractions, not only because of its sustainable qualities, but also because it offered a chance to expand the living space outside with a pair of sliding doors. "Because the house is so small, that was a fundamental design decision," Raúl says. "Once you open the doors, the space doubles. It’s perfect for entertaining family and friends, which we love to do."

Retired Couple Build Modern in Mexico City - Photo 6 of 12 - A custom aluminum-framed skylight with a 3M solar membrane floods the bathroom shower with light; the fixture is by Castel.&nbsp;

A custom aluminum-framed skylight with a 3M solar membrane floods the bathroom shower with light; the fixture is by Castel. 


Retired Couple Build Modern in Mexico City - Photo 7 of 12 - The door is made of MDF panels attached to a wood frame and topped with an ash veneer. The tiles are from Spanish brand Vives.&nbsp;

The door is made of MDF panels attached to a wood frame and topped with an ash veneer. The tiles are from Spanish brand Vives. 

Another interesting feature is the library, which occupies the space surrounding the staircase. "As my parents are of a certain age, it probably would have been better to make the house just one level," Paul says. But because of the land-usage law, a two-level structure was the only way to create the room his parents needed as well as accommodate his dad’s sizable collection of books. "It was obvious the stairwell would be best suited for the books because of its double height," Paul explains. "Everyone always asks how it’s possible we have only 170 meters," Nina says of reactions to the 1,775-square-foot residence. "Really, it’s just the staircase, the open kitchen space, and the height of the ceilings that add up to make it feel huge." 

Retired Couple Build Modern in Mexico City - Photo 8 of 12 - Floor-to-ceiling aluminum doors slide into the walls, bringing the outside world in and doubling the size of the living room. "It converted the space into something truly extraordinary, surrounded by vegetation. The climate in Mexico is perfect for it," says Nina.&nbsp;

Floor-to-ceiling aluminum doors slide into the walls, bringing the outside world in and doubling the size of the living room. "It converted the space into something truly extraordinary, surrounded by vegetation. The climate in Mexico is perfect for it," says Nina. 


Retired Couple Build Modern in Mexico City - Photo 9 of 12 - The dining area’s aluminum window frame was custom cut onsite to wrap around <br>a corner.

The dining area’s aluminum window frame was custom cut onsite to wrap around
a corner.

After eight months of construction, the Cremoux-Wanderstoks were able to move in. Now they rent out their previous residence, since, as Nina says, they "made sure that the new house did not take anything away from the old one. It has a separate entrance; it has its own garden. All of the old house’s essential qualities remain." 

Retired Couple Build Modern in Mexico City - Photo 10 of 12 - A reveal in the studio ceiling provides a track for curtains—and highlights an architectural detail. "I like to show the difference between the interior ceiling and the structural roof," Paul explains.

A reveal in the studio ceiling provides a track for curtains—and highlights an architectural detail. "I like to show the difference between the interior ceiling and the structural roof," Paul explains.


Retired Couple Build Modern in Mexico City - Photo 11 of 12 - A pair of Molded Plywood lounge chairs by Charles and Ray Eames for Herman Miller sit opposite a BoConcept coffee table and a sofa of Paul’s design. For his father’s book collection, Paul created a library around the double-height staircase.

A pair of Molded Plywood lounge chairs by Charles and Ray Eames for Herman Miller sit opposite a BoConcept coffee table and a sofa of Paul’s design. For his father’s book collection, Paul created a library around the double-height staircase.

"The house didn’t have a big budget, but it feels expensive, because of the high ceilings, the skylights, and the amount of light that comes in from outside," Raúl says of his son’s design. "From the beginning, we knew it was going to be a very livable home."

Retired Couple Build Modern in Mexico City - Photo 12 of 12 -

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