Decorating a vacation home in the worlds of architecture and interior design can be a slippery slope from fantasy to folly, and holding the line requires imagination as well as subtlety and restraint.That’s no small feat in a place as bewitching as San José del Cabo, Mexico, where the vacation home of Michelle Pitcher and her family manages the task with uncommon grace, offering an object lesson in the happy union of contextual sensitivity and pure magic.
Pitcher spends most of the year in Missouri, where (among other philanthropic pursuits) she sits on the foundation board of the St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Six years ago she acquired a plot of land on a promontory above the Sea of Cortez in El Dorado, a private community and golf club named for the fabled city of gold. To create a hideaway equal to the splendor of the setting, she tapped New York designer Marshall Watson, with whom she had previously worked on residences in Missouri and Idaho.
In order to find the appropriate expression for his client’s sun-kissed fantasía, Watson traveled not only to haciendas throughout Mexico but also to a series of 16th-century Palladian villas in Italy whose neoclassical lines provided the template for New World estates. By connecting the dots from the Veneto to Baja California, Watson determined a direction attuned to Pitcher’s aspirations as well as to the Los Cabos landscape.
Watson conceived the 6,800-square-foot, five-bedroom residence (dubbed Casa Verdad by Pitcher) in tandem with New York architect Stephen Morgan, a frequent collaborator. Riffing on Palladian archetypes, the two devised a symmetrical floor plan laid out on a central axis. The scheme ferries guests from the entry court—anchored by a Moorish-style fountain featuring a large blue-and-white urn—into the rotunda of a Spanish-inspired bell tower, through an atrium, and, finally, out to an arresting alfresco living room. This scenic double-colonnaded space can be closed off on the ocean side with a system of folding glass doors when high winds and rain threaten to disturb the tranquillity.
Taking advantage of regional talent and materials, Watson and Morgan commissioned artisans from nearby villages to embellish the structure with Italianate cantera-stone mantels, Tuscan columns, and other hand-carved details, in addition to tile and ironwork. The decor, shot through with exotic accents from Syria and Indonesia, has an eclectic sensibility. In the double-height indoor dining room, a Belgian-style chandelier mingles with pierced Moroccan lanterns, Ralph Lauren Home basket-weave chairs, and a custom-made table of Watson’s design. The master bedroom includes a 17th-century Spanish trunk, an abaca carpet, and walls with hand-stenciling by New York decorative artist Judy Mulligan (who also painted the map of Baja that orients guests in the entry court). The bed, meanwhile, is set against a pair of hammered-tin doors that slide apart so that Pitcher can enjoy views of the ocean.