written by:
photos by:
April 24, 2016
Originally published in Dream It, Build It
Creative Commons
Art and life meet in the middle at a family retreat in Central Mexico.
Two studios flanks a central volume at this home in Mexico

Two art studios adjoin a central volume at this work/live residence built from terracreto (sustainable concrete), glass, and painted steel just outside of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Residents Austin and Lida Lowrey, retired design and museum professionals, collaborated with their two daughters—Sheridan, an artist, and Elizabeth, an architect—to design the structure as a place for creative contemplation. 

Photo by 
1 / 14
A small soaking pool sits outside a studio in Mexico

To the south, a small soaking pool sits outside Austin’s studio, where he’ll often lie and meditate: “I’m a great floater, and can look at the clouds for an hour everyday,” he says. The adjacent wall was coated with smooth sand plaster finish to accommodate video and film projections by night.

Photo by 
2 / 14
Kitchen with custom granite-and-terrazzo counters

The Lowreys worked with architect Luis Sánchez and a team of local craftsmen to complete the build. The custom counters in the kitchen are terrazzo and granite; the oven and cooktop are from Teka.

Photo by 
3 / 14
Glass-and-steel corridors link a home in Mexico

Glass-and-steel corridors link each of Austin and Lida’s studios to the main pavilion, where they share the kitchen and a central living and dining space.

Photo by 
4 / 14
A gridded trellis with sheet-punched panels in Central Mexico

Outside, a gridded trellis with sheet-punched panels overlays the structure and extends into the landscape, providing shade in the warm desert climate.

Photo by 
5 / 14
Opaque, white masonry walls alternate with large glass expanses.

Opaque, white masonry walls alternate with large glass expanses throughout to create a visual palette of shadow and light.

Photo by 
6 / 14
Indoor/outdoor living room in Mexico

“It’s never static or solid here—with thelight, there’s always some sort of movement.”—Austin Lowrey, resident


Photo by 
7 / 14
A workspace, bedroom, and bath comprise each of the two studios at this home in Mexico

A workspace, bedroom, and bath comprise each of the two studios; an early riser, Lida spends most of the day painting in her space.

Photo by 
8 / 14
Welded-sheet steel partitions a home in Mexico

Welded-sheet steel partitions both carve out a sleeping area and mirror the exterior palette, blurring boundaries between inside and outside. Inspired by the hue of artist Richard Serra’s Cor-Ten sculptures, the Lowreys had all of the steel primed and painted with a hand-mixed blend of matte paint from Sherwin-Williams.

Photo by 
9 / 14
A collection of flea-market in Mexico

A collection of flea-market finds and personal keepsakes sit perched upon a shelf in Austin’s studio.​

Photo by 
10 / 14
Crushed stone landscape in Central Mexico

Crushed stone paths and native plantings, including cacti, wildflowers, and grasses, encompass the surrounding landscape. “We’re nothing but natural,” says Austin. “The cacti, to me, are like pieces of sculpture, each with their own personality. I even named some.”

Photo by 
11 / 14
Terrazzo and granite floors blend seamlessly in this bathroom

In Lida’s studio, terrazzo and granite floors blend seamlessly into a sunken bath, paired with a steel storage unit and a wooden Moroccan bath mat from  Insh’ala, a local antique store.

Photo by 
12 / 14
Mexican encaustic tiles line this bathroom

Mexican encaustic tiles with a geometric floral pattern from Mosaicos Terra line the bathroom in Austin’s studio, where a full-height window near the wall-mounted shower provides a view to the expansive outdoor scenery. A vintage kewpie doll sculpture sits atop the custom terrazzo-and-granite counter; the steel mirror is from Artes de México.

Photo by 
13 / 14
Casa Lida floor plan

“This is a creative space—with the connection to the land and air, I actually don’t feel like I’m inside at all.”—Austin Lowrey


Photo by 
14 / 14
Two studios flanks a central volume at this home in Mexico

Two art studios adjoin a central volume at this work/live residence built from terracreto (sustainable concrete), glass, and painted steel just outside of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Residents Austin and Lida Lowrey, retired design and museum professionals, collaborated with their two daughters—Sheridan, an artist, and Elizabeth, an architect—to design the structure as a place for creative contemplation. 

Casa Lida

Nestled in Mexico’s central highlands, the historic town of San Miguel de Allende holds folkloric charm, with its cultural mix of local handicraft and contemporary galleries and jacaranda-lined, cobblestone streets of Spanish Baroque architecture that date back to the 18th century. For art and design veterans Austin and Lida Lowrey, it was love at first sight. Two days into their first visit to San Miguel in 2004, while on vacation with their two daughters, Elizabeth and Sheridan, they wandered into a local real estate office and, on a romantic whim, purchased a small casa in the center of town.

Retired and in their early eighties, the couple considered the possibilities as they began to desire a larger home that could integrate artist studios and a living space in which to spend their days in peaceful contemplation, painting, writing, and basking in “the pleasure of doing nothing,” says Austin. So they acquired a half-acre plot in the vast, rolling desert community of Los Senderos, just outside the town. Elizabeth, a principal and director of interior architecture at Boston-based firm Elkus Manfredi Architects, and Sheridan, an installation artist with a background in architecture, were also excited by the idea of a year-round residence for their parents that could also host family gatherings during the holidays. Between visits to and from San Miguel and their respective homes in Boston and Los Angeles, the idea began to form.

“It wasn’t a formal or prescribed process. Design is just what we would talk about all the time,” says Elizabeth. “We’ve spent our whole lives thinking about our environment, and we’ve lived in many different places and houses, each one a project. We were kind of all used to that; that’s part of our nature.” Over the years, the family had lived in several college towns throughout the United States as Austin and Lida filled tenures at various institutions in cities across the country, from Auburn, Alabama; to New York City; Athens, Georgia; Terre Haute, Indiana; and, among many others, Raleigh, North Carolina, where Austin taught design as a professor at North Carolina State University and Lida was design director of the North Carolina Museum of Art. Retiring in 1999, the couple relocated to Los Angeles and set up an art studio in the harbor area of San Pedro. It was there, in a raw, 6,000- square-foot warehouse—formerly a car mechanic’s garage and then a barbershop—that the couple cultivated a taste for conjoined studios that afforded them the focus of isolated productivity without being unmoored from each other’s companionship.

“They built a wall down the middle and put a door from Home Depot in between,” recalls Elizabeth, who helped design the build. “Each had their own space. My mother’s side was totally pristine, all about these giant paintings and space; my dad’s was full of collections of objects. You had the yin and the yang.”

The meeting of minds, so to speak, occurred regularly over a morning coffee, dinner, or break in either of their studios, with a discussion of the day’s progress. Fitting perfectly with their increasingly independent and creative lifestyles, the idiosyncratic prototype served as the basis for an expanded live/work space program in San Miguel. Many group discussions later, the Lowreys teamed up with local architect Luis Sánchez Renero, who helped bring the plan to fruition, completing the structure in 2014. 

Applying organic materials and vernacular techniques to a modern design, Sánchez enlisted local artisans to construct the new home—an expanded version of the Lowreys’ earlier studio model, comprising Lida’s studio to the north, Austin’s to the south, and a joint living area at its center, accessed from either end by an enclosed glass-and-steel bridge, and lined with glass wall panels that roll back to dissolve boundaries between indoors and outdoors. “This is still all natural,” says Austin. “We haven’t really disturbed the land, other than to try and control it. All of our yards are made of riverbed rocks, so they undulate and move around, working with the architecture and with the land.” Each of the three pavilions sits on a slightly varying elevation, with the aim of keeping the natural, gently sloped site undisturbed. Lighting is rarely needed from dawn to dusk, nor is air-conditioning, as the structure’s numerous openings are apt for passive cooling. A wading pool outside Austin’s studio is solar-heated, and for colder temperatures, the family anticipates the development of a centralized solar energy system in the near future. 

Despite an apparent language barrier, the family worked closely with the craftsmen, who began referring to it as simply “Casa Lida”—a moniker that has affectionately stuck. “They’re teaching me new ways, and I was just amazed when they built the house,” says Lida, its unwitting namesake. “They improvise  > with other kinds of tools and give character to form in a way that’s not totally possible in the United States. So much of this house is handmade.” 

Built from terracreto (sustainable concrete), glass, and treated steel, the structure sits low-slung to the ground, its center pavilion overlaid with a gridded trellis that extends into the natural, pristine land-scape of cacti, mesquite, wildflowers, and native grasslands. “We all decided we didn’t like front doors on houses because they were intimidating,” explains Austin. “So as you come up, this cage envelops the house, and you see right into the living room, which opens up totally to the outside.” 

Akin to a residence by Mexican modernist architect Luis Barragán or an installation by artist Olafur Eliasson, the structure commands a visceral experience, filled with sweeping, perceptual vistas that shift in concert with the light and shadow of the desert. A series of circular plinths—what Austin calls “resting places”—dot the property, acting both as site-specific landscape artworks themselves, and a platform for sculptural pieces, which he and Lida rotate periodically. “With everything in my family, nothing’s ever finished,” says Elizabeth. “Each time you come back, it’s like a new installation. Now, my father’s art has left the canvas. Every day, he’s out moving rocks, like a rock artist, and sculpting the earth.”

For the Lowreys, Casa Lida is not just a peaceful retreat but a site for continually evolving experimentation and play. The family’s latest addition to the property, “Window Frame”—a tall, steel swing set that lurches more than 20 feet into the sky—extends their views to the rolling hills beyond. “I feel like we’re always inside the outside,” says Austin, with youthful glee. “It’s our own little utopia.” 

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

45 dva 2270 persp1 cmyk 0
The prospect of retirement doesn’t just signal the end of a career; it offers the chance to recalibrate and re-prioritize in life.
July 25, 2016
You don’t have to choose between sustainable energy and curb appeal.
July 19, 2016
jakemagnus queensland 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
July 06, 2016
content delzresidence 013 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 29, 2016
abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016