Jenne Maag, born in Texas, is known in the fashion world for her eponymous SoHo boutique. Her lesser-known project began almost 20 years ago when she bought a romantically decorated casona on Calle 47 in Mérida.
“What do you know about the history of the house?” I ask. “Nothing,” comes the quick reply.
“I bought it online without coming to see it in 2004,” says Maag. “When I called them, they said ‘someone already bought it’, so I asked ‘Did they leave a check?’ And they said no. And I said, ‘I’ll send you one today.’ So I sent them a check.”
“I sold all my houses and kept only this for living. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know anyone in Mérida,” says Jenne.
She doesn’t regret making it big when most expats were buying modest homes.
“All my friends have upgraded their houses here since I’ve been here,” she adds. “I’m the only one who kept the same house because I bought what I wanted.”
Much of the furniture in one sitting area comes from her apartment on West 57th Street that overlooks Carnegie Hall in New York. She also owned homes in Cornwall Bridge, Connecticut; and Chianti, Italy. But ever since she first came here on vacation in 1982, she’s dreamed of a house in Mérida.
“It was really great,” Jenne recalls. “There were only villas after villas for sale, all in disrepair, which I loved. So I’ve always said I’d like to have a house there.”
She improved an already perfect house. Jenne expanded the house from two bedrooms to five, now 9,000 square feet, complete with a striking reflecting pool that runs alongside the downstairs bedrooms.
The back garden has recently been enhanced with a fountain and stone walls. For the planters, she has five busts along the path. Behind the pool are her “Nefertitis”, three royal ladies. They are proof of her talent.
“I had those heads carved. And a stonemason has never made a head before,” Jenne tells me. “He didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Spanish. But I told him what I wanted.”
The rear part of the house towers over the garden, enclosed in elegant and ornate metal structures. She points to the “opium den” – what she calls an extravagant salon upstairs.
The previous owner and original renovator, Raymond, left Mérida for the United States and his legacy is about 10 beautiful homes in the Centro. Two have become hotels, Jenne informs me.
“When I die or sell or whatever, they’re going to turn this into a hotel,” Jenne says. “I think this is the best house he’s built.”