At dusk, the house appears like a phosphorescent box, its mirrored panels reflecting the light of the sky and the ocher hues of the mountainside which, like a mirage, will soon vanish at nightfall. Casa Etérea – perched above San Miguel de Allende on the steep slopes of the extinct volcano Palo Huérfano, part of the great Los Picachos mountain range of central Mexico – is both an architectural centerpiece and an art installation site specific, built to inspire a sense of wonder. A sustainable engineering feat that uses solar power and collected rainwater, the 800-square-foot home has a glass exterior (with UV-reflective coating) that’s bird-friendly – even if it’s it creates the effect of a seemingly endless landscape.
Prashant Ashoka, the owner and designer of Casa Etérea, came up with the idea for a glass house on his first trip to the country in the summer of 2017. He had worked in Singapore as a writer and photographer, but was forced to relocate to San Miguel de Allende for its beauty and reputation as a destination for artists – in the 1960s, for example, visitors included such Beat Generation figures as Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac. The facade, he says, is both transitional and symbolic: “It’s a metamorphosis, much like my transformational trip to Mexico. Determined to build a secluded writer’s retreat, Ashoka ultimately purchased two acres of wilderness – located just 20 minutes from downtown San Miguel de Allende – without water pipes or electricity. “I knew it was time for me to create something of my own,” he says. “And I had always dreamed of escaping into nature, of living on a mountain or on a beach. But I decided to take a romantic notion that a lot of people flirt with and make it my reality.
In designing his retreat, Ashoka made reference to the work of 20th-century Mexican architect Luis Barragán and his longtime collaborator, sculptor-painter Mathias Goéritz, in particular their explorations of form, light and The shadow. Although Barragán preferred to work with cubes, Ashoka decided to tilt the two main components of his retreat at 120 degrees, mimicking his favorite feature of the mountainous landscape: a V-shaped ravine – visible from the back garden. from the house – which houses a precipitous waterfall. during the rainy season. Without hiring an architectural firm and relying instead on local engineers and carpenters, Ashoka built the bones of the house from volcanic rock collected from the mountainside. “The idea was to be completely secluded and free from other distractions than the wilderness around you,” says Ashoka. In total, it took almost three years to complete.
Inside, the house draws inspiration from near and far, blending Mexican artisan culture with Ashoka’s roots in Southeast Asia. He collaborated with local furniture studio Namuh to accentuate the interiors with products such as the Balinese jute twin lamps hanging above either side of the bed and the vintage Shanghai porcelain vase on the nightstand. The kitchen, on the other hand, has an open layout that favors elementary materials – there are exposed wooden ceiling beams, concrete finished walls, and floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors that frame views of cliffs. imposing. Porcelain countertops are quirky by blackened walnut cabinets and topped with ancient jade vases (which once served as grain containers for Chinese sailors) from Sabah, on the Malaysian island of Borneo. The walnut bar stools rest on a cream and teal blue Turkish Oushak rug. And on an adjacent wall hangs a striking 2004 black-and-white photograph of Mexican charros, or cowboys, by documentary photographer Nicole Franco.
In the living room, the eye is drawn to a gray Romanian buffalo leather sofa and a reclaimed oak table set on an Indian jute rug made in Jaipur. A red brick fireplace separates the space of the sleeping area, which is further accentuated by found objects, including a brass telescope from the vintage La Lagunilla market in Mexico City, oversized woven baskets bought in China’s Shaanxi province, and charcoal-colored Tibetan wool rugs.
Although Casa Etérea has many impressive features, Ashoka says that “the house was born from the bathroom”, which features the only interior wall of the structure, a brick and concrete. partition decorated with rose gold glitter. Behind is a large, handmade copper tub with a slanted backrest and hammered finish that Ashoka sketched and then commissioned from artisans in Santa Clara de Cobre, Michoacán state.
It’s easy to slow down here, to observe the subtle details of the natural world. Ashoka likes to do just that when he leaves his main residence in downtown San Miguel de Allende for Casa Etérea. He enjoys hiking from the mountainside to the volcano caldera, a three-hour hike that takes him through river beds, oak forests and vast mountain plains. “When the sun comes up,” he says, “he paints the rocks at the top of the mountain in a red tint. There is so much beauty here, especially the wildlife. He spotted a variety of animals, mountain lions and bobcats with red tails hawks and woodpeckers. He also fell in love with a local gecko who enjoys sunbathing on the terrace by the house’s outdoor pool, surrounded by desert cacti and rosemary and lavender bushes. Elsewhere on the property, Ashoka has planted fruit olive, pomegranate and citrus trees.
From next month, Casa Etérea will be available for rent via the property’s Instagram. Guests can enjoy tailor-made adventures led by residents of the local Alcocer community, which can include a horseback ride with Ashoka’s neighbor, a cattle rancher, or a guided hike with a botanist. Most importantly, Ashoka hopes visitors take the time to marvel at the tranquil scenery. “There is something so powerful about isolated dwellings,” he says. “They have the power to turn you inward.”