I, the architect

The ground-floor layout, drawn on graph paper by me.*

This springtime will mark the 18th anniversary of the Hacienda. I’ve only owned two homes. The first, in Texas, was mine for just nine years, and I purchased it ready-made, a vintage from back in the 1950s. The second is the Hacienda, which I designed myself with some assist from my child bride.

The downstairs terraza from two directions, drawn by my wife.

Who needs actual blueprints when graph paper is available at the stationery store? The construction began in August of 2002 and ended in May of 2003, which is when we moved in from a two-story rental near downtown. I confess to being something of an architectural copycat. The Hacienda is a much larger version of that two-story rental, a design that I liked and stuck with to a great degree, but not entirely.

Electrical diagram, also done by me.

Among my many talents is that of electrician. Among my portfolio of four-year and two-year degrees and certificates is an Associate Degree in Electrical Construction Technology. I worked as a professional electrician for a spell in New Orleans. So I knew where plugs and lights were needed.

Three talented men and the occasional helper built the house. During the nine-month construction I took a ton of photos, and they all disappeared shortly after we moved in due to their being stored on a hard drive that committed suicide. I stupidly had not backed up any of them anywhere.

A real estate writer on the Houston newspaper where I once toiled wrote a column back then listing the pros and cons of homeownership as opposed to renting. One of his pros was simply that owning a home is fun, and it is most of the time. Renting is not fun.

Though I lost all photos of the construction process, I do have this one I took shortly after we moved in, and at the bottom is a shot from two years ago. It’s been lots of fun.

2003: Fresh paint and disheveled yard. The upstairs terraza is very different now.
That’s the second patio, built in 2019, replacing a grubby stone version.

* The stairwell goes straight up in the drawing. But it would not fit that way, so it actually goes straight up and then hangs a right to complete the turn to the second floor. The revised version is seen in the electrical diagram.

My Mexican mistakes

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Bougainvilleas I planted 17 years ago in error.

THERE ARE almost too many to count, my errors. And I committed most during my first two years here. I have since wised up or I’ve been corrected by hard knocks.

Where to start? How about where we constructed the Hacienda. Big mistake. It’s on the edge of what once was a separate village, one of numerous surrounding our huge lake. Being the closest to the “county seat,” we’ve been incorporated, and we’re now just another neighborhood (colonia) of our mountaintop town.

An acquaintance who works with the police once told my child bride that of all the villages surrounding the lake, ours causes the most problems.* In spite of that, we’ve never experienced a crime. I think that is due, in large part, to our being next door to the sex motel, which is open 24/7. It offers us cover, so to speak.

Getting downtown requires about a two-mile drive down a high-speed, two-lane highway with no bike lanes, no sidewalks and often no shoulder. This rules out bicycles, which we would have enjoyed. Rules out a motorbike too.

And then there’s the property, which is two adjoining lots that extend a full block from the street out front to the street out back, which is way too big.  I thought it was nifty when we bought it. I don’t think that any longer. The yard is almost constant maintenance which is why I’ve removed a number of trash-tossing plants/trees and covered part of the yard with stone and concrete, more of which I plan to do.

Let’s move on to the house itself. Again, way too large. I thought it was a great idea, but now it’s obvious that it’s not. I could never have afforded such a palatial home above the border, but it’s a housecleaning problem. We could hire a maid, but my wife opposes the idea for some reason. Perhaps she just enjoys complaining about the house size.

Looking at the plus side, you won’t suffer claustrophobia here.

And the details. My wife had the idea of “sinking” the living room a bit, so we did, but not much, just one step down. There is a step up to the dining room/kitchen and another step up to the hallway that continues to the bedroom and bath.

I have stumbled, but not fallen, on the step countless times, and that won’t get better as I age. My child bride sailed off the step a couple of years ago and broke her arm.

For such a large house, it has just one bedroom, which will be a problem if she ever wants to sell it. Don’t be your own architect. There is another huge space on the second floor, which serves as a second bedroom because there’s a closet and bathroom up there.

It’s good for guests, which we rarely have. In addition to having a queen bed, the top floor serves as a TV room, office and gym. And access to the spectacular upstairs terraza.

And there’s the railroad track behind the houses across the street. We did not notice that when we purchased the property. Trains pass in the night, and they rarely do it peacefully. The good news is that we are accustomed to it, and usually don’t wake up.

We could sell the Hacienda and move to our Downtown Casita, which is ideally located just a 10-minute walk from the main plaza. We could get bicycles. We could buy a four-wheeler. We’d have no yard to mess with. But, after 17 years in the Hacienda, I would feel cramped. There is only a one-car garage, and we want our two cars.

You never know. Maybe one day. But I’m used to living large.

* * * *

* At some point in the distant past, we were dubbed “The Village of the Damned.”

The phzzzzt! of welding

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The work begins. Getting those beams up there was no laughing matter.

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Late Wednesday, most are in place. Just lacking shorter ones on the left.

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Shot from atop the roof Thursday morning. The fellow in the black shirt is Alfonso, the blacksmith honcho. It’s his business that’s doing all this. It must be a good business because he lives in a very fancy home.

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Mostly done. Just lack the cross supports and the paint job. And the glass. Probably will also have some canvas awnings/curtains on this side.

THE BLACKSMITH and his boys appeared Wednesday morning and began installing the metal framework of the steel-and-glass rooftop over the upstairs terraza.

Most of the work was completed Wednesday. They returned yesterday to continue. Yet to be done, as I write this Thursday noonish, are cross pieces that will support the glass between the beams. And all of this metal will be painted like the house, “Seacoast Red.”

This will be a major change in the look of the Hacienda, but we’ll have a dry upstairs terraza during the rainy season for the first time in 16 years. That’s what matters.

The total price for the metal frame — material and installation — is the peso equivalent of about $3,700 U.S. The glass will be another matter. Stay tuned.

Ton of steel

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side

WE’RE INSTALLING a metal-and-glass roof over the upstairs terraza, as some readers may recall. This decision was made after 16 rainy summers in which the upstairs terraza turned into a small lake, rendering it useless for anything.

The lake problem resulted from the builders’ not installing the terraza floor with any incline toward the small drain holes. It is level. This was done because we did not explain adequately that the space above the downstairs bedroom was going to be open.

Maybe even we did not know it at the time. I don’t recall. We hired no architect, and we were winging it. It’s akin to being your own lawyer at your murder trial.

We lived with the annual six-month lake out there until a straw broke the camel’s back last summer — a small leak into the bedroom below. We had previously replaced some of the ceramic tile in the terraza because it had buckled. That happened twice in recent years. But the leak did the trick. Serious action was required.

Two neighbors of our Downtown Casita had installed a glass-and-steel ceiling partially atop their house, making a nice roof patio. It looks good, so we decided to do something similar. They told me what it had cost, and it was reasonable. And they had hired a contractor to handle everything, making things simpler for themselves. Smart.

I contacted the same contractor, but he never responded. Screw it, I said. I’ll do it myself. And it will cost less.

First, we hired the same blacksmith who did the work on the neighbors’ house. After he installs the framework, we will buy the smoked glass elsewhere and pay to have it installed by that separate business.

The blacksmith arrived Tuesday with four guys to deliver the steel beams and columns, depositing them in our yard. Be back later this week, he said, to do the installation. While the neighbors’ price seemed reasonable, I had neglected to notice that our upstairs terraza is far larger than the domo (that’s what it’s called here) over their home.

We were flabbergasted at the quantity of it all.

The size of our framework dwarfs that which tops their house. After the installation, the metal will be painted the same color as the Hacienda. Rojo costamar. Seacoast red.

But first the blacksmith must return and install the frame. Hope he doesn’t take long. You never know with those folks. It only needs to be fully done before the rains start in June.

But I want it done far before then. We’ll buy some patio furniture. Maybe throw a fiesta. You can all come. Whoopee!