In my last post I recounted my experience at Los Dos
, a cooking school in the colonial town of Mèrida in Yucatan, Mexico. One of the highlights of the trip was staying at the beautiful home of Chef David Sterling and his partner Keith Heitke. Before David and Keith purchased their Hacienda in 2002, it had been abandoned for 10 years. After an extensive renovation, the house was transformed into the beautiful home that you see in these photos. I recently caught up with David via email to learn more about what went into renovating his home. Read on to hear about the process in his own words…
This is the courtyard at Los Dos. All of the home’s rooms face this beautiful garden.
How did you find the house?
We had no intention of moving to Mérida, but after 9/11 in 2001, we did think carefully about how to invest our money. We concluded real estate was the best bet, and the husband of a friend of mine who lives here (he is a Meridano) told us about this house. We were still in New York, but on his recommendation rushed down with a stack of American dollars as a down payment – sight unseen!! When we entered the house for the first time I almost threw up because it was so HUGE and such a WRECK. I just heard those “ca-ching” sounds of the cash register for all the work it would take to restore it.
David’s dream kitchen. This is where the Los Dos cooking classes take place.
How long did the renovation take?
It took 12 months to get the real sludge work done. By that point we had decided to move here temporarily to see if we liked living in Merida. I asked my business partner if I could take a sabbatical of 9 months, to which he agreed. So we moved in. It took another two months of cement dust and constant chipping noises to finish the remaining two rooms: the kitchen and dining room. The end of the story is that we never went back to New York. And as you well know, the story never really ends because we are constantly involved in projects for the house! We finally just completed our façade (well, I’ll call it Phase C with a couple more on the way); we finally got a section of the bookcases Keith designed for our study; and I have mapped out my plan for some kitchen improvements (bigger range, built-in oven, new side-by-side refrigerator, space for the wine fridge).
The dining room.
Describe your design process? What resources did you use to find all of your furniture, fixtures, artwork and other decorative items?
I did all the plan drawings on paper on an old drawing board in the dining room of our New York City condo. I shipped them down in FedEx tubes to the general contractor (the same man who found the house for us). Once I had determined the layout of the whole house and knew where I wanted cabinetry to go, Keith took over. He is our furniture and decorative detailing man. We had a lot of the furniture and cabinetry fabricated here, since there are excellent craftsmen for reasonable rates. Also all the ironwork. Knowing that we would be setting up house here, and knowing that these homes in Centro were from the Victorian era, we took advantage of New Yorkers’ disdain for Victorian furniture and bought up tons of it in upstate antique shops. We also bought all of our bathroom and kitchen hardware from Waterworks, lamps and lighting from Home Depot Expo, and . . . Well, you get the picture! All of this was sent down in a container upon our arrival. And of course we have found a lot of antiques here, too, such as “roperos” (big old Mexican armoires), tables, chairs and such. The one very difficult thing to find here is good lamps. So I order online from Lamps Plus! They are one company that actually ships to Mexico!
The living room.
Thanks David for sharing your story!
Aside from discussing the renovation of Los Dos, David was also very excited to inform me about his and Keith’s latest project, Worldstudio International, a full service design studio that specializes in the restoration and renovation of historic homes throughout Mérida. Be sure to check out the Worldstudio International website to view photos of more of their work and enjoy the rest of the photos of their home below!
The guest room. This is where my sister and I stayed during our trip.
One of the best vacations I’ve ever taken was a couple of years ago when my sister and I took a week long trip to Mexico which included a visit to Los Dos, a lovely cooking school in Mèrida with classes that focuses on traditional Yucatecan cuisine. The school is run by Chef David Sterling and his partner Keith Heitke, former New Yorkers who traded in the big city for the historic charm of Mérida, the capital of the Yucatán. Los Dos offers a variety of culinary experiences including day long small group classes, three day intensive workshops, half day excursions to visit local restaurants and even private instruction…all taught in the gorgeous kitchen pictured above. I recently caught up with Chef David over email who happened to mention that Martha Stewart visited Los Dos earlier this summer to film a cooking segment for an episode of The Martha Stewart Show! It actually airs today so be sure to tune in! (Check your local listings for airtimes).
My sister and I chose the day long “Taste of Yucatán” class. The class included a total of 8 people which made for a very intimate learning experience. The day started with an introductory overview on the cuisine of the region. Above is Chef David teaching us about naranja agria, a very bitter orange that’s commonly grown throughout the Yucatán. We juiced several of these to make pickled onions which served as a garnish for our meal.
After our introduction Chef David took us out for a tour of the local market where we picked up much of the food we used to cook our meal.
I was in awe of all the fresh produce and their beautiful, vibrant colors!
There were also plenty of fresh spices, also full of color. I love how simply they are packaged.
I snapped this photo because I loved the contrast of the brick red colored chiles piled up in this burlap sack.
After our visit to the market we went back to the kitchen for more cooking instruction. The woman pictured above came to show us how to make fresh corn tortillas. We made a lunch of salbutes y panuchos (a corn cake filled with beans and topped with lettuce tomatoes and salsa) and ate out on the beautiful terrace just outside the kitchen before heading back in to prepare our dinner. Our three course dinner consisted of sopa de lima (lime soup with chicken), pollo pibil (pit smoked chicken rubbed in achiote and wrapped in banana leaves), arroz verde (green rice) and a dessert of platano macho frito (fried plantains drizzled with honey).
Above you can see the pollo pibil wrapped in banana leaves all piled up on the counter. This was just before they were placed in the smoking pit.
We ate our meal together as a class in this beautiful dining room. I wish I had taken pictures of all the finished dishes once they were plated but I think I was so excited to eat that I forgot!
Here’s a photo of our class with Chef David. (That’s me with the sunglasses on my head). Los Dos was an incredible experience and Chef David was great-extremely knowledgeable about the local cuisine and just as nice as could be. Aside from the amazing food, the beautiful hacienda in which Los Dos is located was a real treat that any design enthusiast would appreciate. When I visited back in ’06, Los Dos also operated as a bed and breakfast (sorry, that’s no longer an option) so I was lucky enough to be able to stay in the gorgeous home for two nights. David and Keith (who is an interior designer!) purchased the once run-down hacienda in 2002 and spent more than a year lovingly restoring and renovating it. Oh yeah-on top of running Los Dos, David and Keith also run a full service design studio that specializes in the restoration and renovation of historic homes throughout Mérida. Talk about staying busy! Check back later for a part 2 post on their beautiful home and their design firm, Worldstudio International. In the meantime, visit the Los Dos website here for more information on the cooking school and be sure to watch David’s segment on the Martha Stewart Show today!