Situated on a protected bay a few hours’ drive from Cancun, Casa Xixim was designed to withstand the ocean’s full fury. Instead of being built on an elevated foundation as required for U.S. coastal homes, the concrete creation sits low to the ground, practically asking to be pummeled by the hurricane-strength storm surges that come through this part of the Caribbean.
Outfitted with water-resistant, durable materials like stucco, local tile, stone, and rot-resistant rainforest hardwoods, the house can withstand nearly anything Mother Nature throws at it. In fact, after a big storm, the 4,800-square-foot vacation house simply needs to be hosed down and swept out; even the living room furniture is concrete, with quick-drying cushions made out of marine-grade fabric.
While undaunted by the elements, the design team was limited by the size and shape of the site, a tiny sliver of beachfront property off Soliman Bay flanked by a house on one side and a vacant lot on the other. To maintain privacy, Austin, Texas-based architect Scott Specht kept windows and doors to a minimum on the sides of the house and opened its back wide to the bay. With no setback requirements, he took the house to the property line on either side but left much of the woods to maintain the remote feel.
“It’s an interesting transition when you come from the road, you go through a dense palm jungle until you approach the house,” he says.
A narrow path brings visitors through the trees to a large living/dining/kitchen space that fully opens to the beach beyond. Two first-floor bedrooms and two above can also be completely exposed to the outdoors. Locally made screened louver doors that slide into the walls offer protection against bugs when needed.
The lack of walls lets in cooling breezes, but each room is outfitted with a mini split air conditioner for the few hours of the day when the heat gets to be too much, Specht says. Plentiful patios, walkways, and a roof terrace adorned with native plants further blur the indoor–outdoor divide.
The vegetation buffer continues around the back of the house, intentionally obscuring the first floor from the ocean, Specht says. “From the ground level you get a view of the trees surrounding the house,” he says. “It feels a little bit cozy. Then, you can see the beach from the upper level.”
Casa Xixim—named for the Mayan word for zero—was designed to be fully self-sufficient. The house is largely powered by the sun and irrigated via captured rainwater. Although it’s tied to the grid, a large canopy over the rooftop terrace holds enough solar panels to power nearly all of the home’s needs. The terrace also collects rainwater that is filtered and stored for use in underground tanks. It is pumped to the roof during peak sunlight hours where it’s held for showers via a gravity-assisted system.
The house’s location in a remote part of the countryside meant that the construction crew from the nearby state of Yucatan lived on-site as it went up. “They basically set up camp on the site,” Specht says. “When the house was partially constructed they hung hammocks and had bonfires on the beach.”
Although the house gives off a contemporary vibe, Specht says his main design intention was purely functional: He and his client wanted the house to blend in to its surroundings.
“It’s as if you just crafted it from local materials without any intent to mimic a style of any sort,” he says. “It’s got a really natural and protected feeling.”