It’s strange to be back…

26 January 2014
Ben Pentreath

Mexico007….and to welcome you to gloomy old London and a bright new home for the blog!  I hope you all find your way around. As you will recall, we had creaking problems with the old blog; a lot of people weren’t getting notifications, and there were all sorts of other problems I won’t bore you with. So I hope you are happy with the new page, where you can follow our occasional shop news as well. Let me know if there are any problems and Colin will fix them; apologies in advance for any teething problems!

It’s a weird thing, travelling.  I adore being away; I love the feeling of getting home; I’m writing on Sunday afternoon in a grey, dreary, wet London and dreaming of heat and with my mind lost somewhere in the timezone of the mid-atlantic, I suppose, right now.

Visiting Mexico was, I think, the best holiday I’ve had in years. Not a phrase to use lightly, you could say, but we had a perfect time. Week one: absorbed into Mexico City and the world of Luis Barragan, and then Oaxaca, with Will (getting ready to celebrate an upcoming birthday); week two: perfect, perfect life on the beach in Tulum with Valentina, herself escaping from the bitter winter chills of New York City. Each in its own way, heaven, and combined… heaven multiplied.  Should such a thing be possible.

We loved crazy, heaving, giant Mexico City… although a week is not enough to scrape its hectic surface.  By luck and persuasion we found ourselves in every one of the Barragan masterpieces, bathed in a sea of lilac and pink, scarlet, citrus yellow, cerulean blue… of wide staircases and narrow doors, hidden light, and dream-like transitions from tiny corridors to huge rooms. Perfect.

Our first call was the Cuadra San Cristóbal… a riding stables far out in the Mexico City suburbs, and possibly the most sublime of all we saw:

Mexico001 Mexico002 Mexico003 Mexico004  Mexico006  Mexico008 Mexico009Mexico010Mexico005 Mexico011


The following day we visited the Convent and Chapel in the old, historic, quiet distric of Tlalpan, still lived in by kind nuns; a serene and beautiful building. Here, two nuns are waiting outside with Senor Humberto, our taxi driver, who became our companion on each and every trip.  Mexico054

No photography allowed… but I snuck this shot of the entrance hall.


Then to Casa Gilardi, Barragan’s last major work, with its startling, unexpected, brilliant blue swimming pool; where we were shown around by the handsome young son of the owner and builder of the house… he is now studying architecture (a good education)…Mexico056 Mexico057 Mexico058 Mexico059 Mexico060 Mexico061 Mexico062 Mexico063

And then to Barragan’s own house, now a beautiful museum in the middle of a strange and dusty neighbourhood sliced through by a giant arterial motorway: Mexico107

He first built the pink house, then moved next door to the building with the yellow wall, where he continued to experiment for the rest of his life: Mexico065

Stepping inside the front door is like entering the quietest and most private sanctuary in the city; the building enclosed and enclosing, providing glimpes to the city beyond but contained by the tall, vividly coloured walls of the upper terrace. Curiously comforting, and uplifting, rather than claustophobic.Mexico066 Mexico067 Mexico068 Mexico069 Mexico070 Mexico071 Mexico072 Mexico073 Mexico074 Mexico075 Mexico076 Mexico077

Each room has a silver mercury glass sphere. There are sold in the tiny museum shop. Will and I each brought one home. Not very practical hand luggage.Mexico078 Mexico079 Mexico080


Mexico082 Mexico083 Mexico084The sunny yellow ceiling of Barragan’s architectural studio is a final blast to the senses.

Scenes of Mexico City, starting with our crazy, erratic, fun hotel, The Downtown:Mexico015 Mexico017 Mexico023 Mexico025 Mexico026 Mexico027 Mexico028 Mexico029 Mexico030 Mexico031 Mexico032 Mexico033 Mexico034 Mexico035

I’m reminded of Rome, Palermo, New York and Delhi, rolled in to one perfect messy whole:Mexico036 Mexico037 Mexico038 Mexico039 Mexico040 Mexico041 Mexico042 Mexico043 Mexico044 Mexico045 Mexico046 Mexico047 Mexico048 Mexico049 Mexico050 Mexico051 Mexico052 Mexico053Mexico104   Mexico111 Mexico085 Mexico086 Mexico087

Then to Oaxaca; a beautiful town, but one of those places with that strange dependency on the tourist trade, like a Venice, or some small Tuscan hill town, that leaves you curiously unsettled. We fell in love with the quiet, empty serenity of the superb Dominican Monastery, beautifully restored, with polished plaster walls and no windows in the wide, stone openings; we loved the Casa Oxaca hotel, perfection on a plate, with its leafy green courtyard and the kindest staff on the planet; but I’ll be honest: we were both glad to return to the chaos and reality of Mexico City.

Mexico091 Mexico092 Mexico093 Mexico094 Mexico095 Mexico096 Mexico097 Mexico098

Mexico115 Mexico112 Mexico117Mexico099 Mexico100 Mexico101And then to Tulum, which I’ve got to rate as possibly the most perfect beach I’ve been to… soft, gentle, relaxed, happy. Valentina has a nose for these places. If you buy $500 of goodies over at Many Kitchens, well… there is a small chance that she may tell you the name of our little hotel with their handsome Urugyan twin chefs, who she writes about here, and their perfect simple cooking, although I believe she is sworn to secrecy….

Mexico102 Mexico103We woke to sunrises and went to sleep early, to the sound of the crashing waves of the Caribbean Sea; danced salsa at Zebra, watched a film under the stars at Be-Tulum, read books, snoozed in the sunshine, swam in clear warm water… and forgot about everything. A good thing to do from time to time. We cancelled our trip to Merida to have another two days in heaven, and on the day we left a storm blew in, and suddenly I’m back in damp, bustling London, and I feel as if I’ve just woken from a deep sleep filled with strange, happy dreams; and it’s good to be home.



14 comments on this post

Thanks for the wonderful post, and your thoughts and photos, especially of the Barragan buildings. Just returned from our second trip to Mexico City which I’ve been blogging about for a couple of weeks; my heart, I’m afraid, is still there! I agree with you about liking “the reality” of Mexico City proper; even in a tourist area like San Angel I found myself wanting to be back in the middle of the real city, with its grit and chaos and genuineness.

william crightonsays:

Inspiring images-colour/material/space…I could go on! I’ve also just read your refreshing article in the Weekend FT.I thought I was the only one???
Apart from the fact that I don’t rent a beautiful Georgian Rectory but a Garden flat on Clifton Terr in Brighton!
I recognise the philosophy of not saving for a deposit but rather invest in beautiful objects…



If you ever come to sit down to write your blog and feel it’s a bit of an effort (which I’m sure it must be on the odd occasion!) remember that bringing such colour and inspiration to a wider audience is doing something far more profound than ‘just writing a blog’. A wonderful, inspiring post to get out there and see what the world has to offer. Thank you!


Great photos of Mexico City. I just got back from there. Mind blowing!

Wonderful, colorful post! I’ve never been, but my daughter’s been to Mexico several times. She too testifies to the vitality and esprit of Mexico City. The folks around Jesus didn’t seem to want to be photographed. I wonder why? Were you looking especially sinister that day, Ben? But, welcome home! I look forward to coming posts about London and Dorset. Kudos on the spiffy new website!



I’m just back from 2 weeks in Mexico City. My first visit but not my last. I loved every crazy inch of the place. Mindblowing!


Quite a bit off topic, but would you ever consider sharing how you designed your gorgeous gardens in Dorset? Any inspiration you found particularly helpful? I envy them so.

Wonderful photographs. Really captured the spirit and colour. Feel as if I was coming with you.

so glad you’re back home. safe and sound. though perhaps damp now!
and what lovely gifts you brought us!
pictures that just burst with life and color! and even smells!
i swear they do!
thank you for so many wonderful pictures of luis barragan’s last home. he is a favorite of mine.
as are YOU.


So fantastic that you got to see Barragan’s work in person like that! I found his designs and colors such a huge inspiration when I was in architecture school. Now I want a sphere for my house.

Interesting about Oaxaca. My favorite of the pictures you posted from your vacation on Instagram were the two you posted from there with those wonderful plants.

Roger Lindlandsays:

Ben, I’ve been following your work for several months and it is always outstanding. It is such a gift to see the world through your eyes. I explained to my wife that even with all of my aspirations I could never gain the views and insights that you always have or capture.

Gracias (just to remind you of your vacation) Roger Lindland


It all looks amazing. The perfect trip full of inspiration with a bit of total relaxation.

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