By Robert J. Hawkins
When you walk into the house of San Miguel de Allende resident Ben Gall the first thing that you think is, “Wow! One man’s trash really is another man’s treasure.”
His home is extraordinary. Unique, unusual in a style that is variously called historia folklorica and basura house. You heard that right. Not Bauhaus. Basura house. Trash turned into treasure, house as living breathing art.
Put simply, about 40 percent of these houses are built with “upcycled” free of charge materials, culled from building demo sites, seconds from regional brickworks, and cast-offs from Talavera china and tile makers in Dolores Hidalgo.
These finds are curated into the walls of a basura house in a kaleidoscopic patchwork that seems to defy any artistic aesthetic. It is chaotic, it is disorienting, it is distracting, it is quirky, it is playful, it is giddy, it is mysterious. Embedded wall pieces clash and crash and compete for your attention.
Behind the design is a team that includes the master curatorial scavenger José Miguel Hernandez Chavez who scours the countryside in search of discarded beauties worthy of imbedding in a basura house wall and José Carlos Jimenéz (known as Don Charlie), until his death from the Covid virus last year.
Don Charlie was the maestro who conducted a crew of about a dozen craftsmen in the placement of these objects. After his untimely death, the team went on to build a second house with Gall which is now for sale. “Luckily he was a good teacher which is clearly visible in the new spec house,” said Gall.
Gall’s own home is, by his own estimation, the most extreme example of historia folklorica among perhaps a dozen built in San Miguel. There is not a single room in which the walls are untouched by random tiles, bits of chinaware, small statues, carvings, and figurines.
“A basura house is not for everyone,” concedes Gall. In fact his own reaction when he first encountered a basura house? “I was flabbergasted.”
He frankly hopes it is for enough like-minded people to propel this architectural movement forward, adding another jewel to the San Miguel panoply of distinguishing aesthetics.
After building his own house, Chavez and Gall built a second smaller one on spec. And when it sells, they hope to build another and then another. “We would love to keep Miguel and his artisan masons crew together and busy. They are so creative,” they added.
The newly-finished spec house is on Calle José Mercandillo in Colonia San Felipe Neri. This ancient-tree shaded cobblestone street is a few blocks from the celebrated Taco Don Felix restaurant.
The 1,400 square foot/132 square meter house is more subdued (if that is the right word) than Gall’s own home but its walls shelter no small number of delightful aesthetic surprises and acts of pure whimsy. The three-bedroom house also has terraces and garden alcoves galore, more than doubling the living space. The rooftop terrace offers a breathtaking view of historic Centro.
For more information of the new house send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org