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House Talk

No. 6 - January, 2003

"Casa Encantada" - Old World Charm, New World Livability
A talk with Victoria Ryan in Patzcuaro, Mexico

Through the years, the Glass-Sabine real estate team has represented the owners of many astounding Spanish-Mediterranean homes, and they continue to be fascinated by the on-going appeal of this architectural style. Recently, Sheila Sabine put on her gypsy boots and headed south of the border to take a closer look at some Spanish-style buildings - in particular those found in the ancient colonial town of Patzcuaro, Mexico. Patzcuaro is a site first occupied by the Tarascan Indians, and then later developed by the Spanish who began building churches and convents there in 1560. 

While on a brief retreat in Patzcuaro, Sheila met Victoria Ryan who owns a fantastic 18th-century colonial villa used primarily as an artists’ retreat and a Bed and Breakfast.  Victoria, a native of Santa Fe, New Mexico, was drawn to the picturesque town of Patzcuaro because it reminded her of the Santa Fe she knew in the 1950’s with its wide central town plaza and slow-paced lifestyle. For two years, she searched for the perfect property to buy. She worked with a local realtor who helped her negotiate the price, and a lawyer who prepared the elaborate original deeds. As Mexico has very few bank loans, Victoria, like most  buyers, had to pay all cash for her purchase.  (Although foreigners are allowed to become homeowners, they must first receive permission from the Mexican  government which runs a complete background check on the buyer’s credentials.) 

In 1996, Victoria found the place she had been looking for. She named it “Casa Encantada.”  It had been owned by the Cerda family since 1787. Before that, it had been the orchard for an adjacent 16th-century convent. Through the years, the unbelievable charm of the property had attracted such famous guests as the artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. In addition, a famous 1940’s Mexican movie, Tiempo de Morir was filmed here.  

Like most large homes in Mexico, Casa Encantada is surrounded by high, thick adobe walls which protect and conceal the beauty within. A large internal courtyard, splashed with sunlight, features a fountain and lush gardens. When Victoria first purchased the property, there were many challenges including inadequate 13-amp circuitry, one outdoor bathroom, and running water for only two hours each day. She began the renovation by working with a crew of fourteen people. They immediately installed an 8,000-gallon holding tank, three kitchens and five new bathrooms – all with completely new plumbing. She tore up some of the old wide plank floors and replaced them with traditional red tiles; from the recycled wood floorboards, she built a large dining table and other pieces of furniture. She has decorated the private guest suites with a wide variety of crafts and artworks designed by local artisans.

Of particular interest is the comfortable large kitchen where the walls are covered with original photos of Indian women cooking in the same kitchen in the days when the stove had four open fire pits. To preserve the old look, Victoria carefully ran a gas line through the old stove, and put a large grill on top. The kitchen features green tiles and a unique green pottery which come from a village called Patamban; every year Victoria makes the four-hour trip there to add more pieces to her extensive collection. The kitchen’s color scheme of green tile and vibrant terracotta is repeated throughout the house.  

Victoria is proud that all the restoration was done in a completely authentic manner. In fact, visitors often think that nothing has been done to the house. The decorative details, high beam ceilings, brilliant colors, the art studios, cozy fireplaces and the touches of antiquity combine to create a wonderful colonial environment. If you want to learn more about giving a true Spanish feeling to your home, why not venture south to study the details up close?  For more information about this exotic getaway, you can visit La Casa Encantada on the web at www.lacasaencantada.com.

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For further information or questions for our House Talk column, 
please contact Glass/Sabine by email:  Sheila@GlassSabine.com
or call us at 510-326-5055.

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