This Little Beach Bungalow Is Pure Paradise
Made of concrete block and poured concrete, Badalian’s three-story bungalow sits just 165 feet from the edge of the Gulf of Mexico, and it is radiantly rustic—an assemblage of sculptural white boxes designed to celebrate the light, minimize the hottest sun, and maximize the ocean breezes. Columns and beams constructed of bleached parota, a Mexican hardwood, weather in the salt air. Queen palm fronds fringe the open balconies, porches, and gazebos where Badalian practices yoga by day and relaxes by night under a veil of stars.
Jack of All Trades
Though not an architect, Badalian was once a student of architecture, and his far-flung travels have further inspired him. “I’ve always loved Moroccan and Greek architecture,” he says. “I like the simple volumes of Formentera and Ibiza. For the roofs, I didn’t use the thatch, like so many other structures around here. Mine are made of cement poured over metal wire mesh in between hardwood beams—a look inspired by Santa Fe houses and Balearic fincas.”
Glamorous but unassuming, the house fits in well on the little island. Accessible by ferry after a two-hour drive from Cancún, Isla Holbox (pronounced OLE-bosh) is only 26 miles long and less than a mile wide. Instead of cars, golf carts fitted with all-terrain tires zip along its roads. A low-key paradise that hasn’t been subjected to mass tourism, it has nevertheless been discovered lately by the fashionable set. “People are calling it ‘the next Tulum,’” Badalian says. So its spirit is in flux. Savvy travelers ferry over to shop in the stylish boutiques, to stay in small, bohemian-chic hotels, and to revel in unspoiled natural beauty, which often includes a swim with giant whale sharks, a species that migrates to the waters surrounding the island to feed on glow-in-the-dark phytoplankton.
Badalian was miles ahead of the crowd. He discovered the island in 2000, when his adventurous mother heard talk of its wonders and arrived there, sight unseen, with a packed-up truck and three dogs. She moved into an abandoned sherman’s cabana, which she renovated and still lives in today.
Descend Into Paradise
“It’s hard to believe that just 30 years ago, people here would exchange a piece of land for a refrigerator, a boat engine, or a case of beer,” says Badalian, who bought his land on that first visit and only got around to building his 1,100-square-foot house two years ago. These days, he spends about a third of his time in it and otherwise rents it out to visitors.
A Blank Canvas
Inside, a few simple, arched doorways and ceilings adorned with vigas—beams made of natural peeled logs—provide much of the blank canvas for his spare furnishings, all of them emphatically natural yet artful. When it comes to interiors, Badalian loves the serene rusticity of Belgian decorator Axel Vervoordt’s rooms, and the elegant minimalism of fashion icon Tom Ford’s houses. “I just mixed up a cocktail of all the things I admire,” he says.
While most of the textiles came from India and Morocco, Badalian designed and made almost all of the furnishings, including light fixtures and some artwork. “Number one, it’s fun,” he says. “And secondly, there aren’t any furniture stores on the island. I had no choice!”
Beauty in Simplicity
In his bedroom, Badalian designed the platform bed; a pair of tree stumps he found in an abandoned lot became nightstands. “I thought they had a lot of character,” he says. “I must have put about 10 coats of white paint on them because they’re both kind of rounded now.” A thick cotton curtain belted with a tasseled cord is loosely draped over glass doors leading to a balcony and seating area.
In his kitchen and bath, Badalian used lots of luminous polished white cement for the walls, floors, tub, and built-in sinks. “It was the cheapest but also the most beautiful thing I could have done,” he says. He was inspired by an old Moroccan craft called tadelakt. “There they do these beautiful, crazy colors out of it—yellows, dark grays, deep reds and blues—which they polish and seal with a special soap so it gets this really deep luster. I love those, but I wanted mine more basic,” he says. Above the sink in the bath, he hung a small mirror made of scavenged driftwood, along with a sconce he fashioned from metal mesh and dried vines, which patterns the white wall with shadows.
Blurring the Lines
Certain spaces completely blur the boundary between indoors and out. An elemental cork-screw ladder leads from the second-floor balcony to the rooftop terrace, where a three-walled gazebo has a built-in concrete banquette topped by a mattress and simple wooden coffee table Badalian designed. A Moroccan leather pouf is within reach as a footstool or for extra seating. Often, he strings a white cotton macramé hammock between walls for siestas.
Throughout the house, branches Badalian found washed up on the beach and cow skulls he picked up in Monterey, Mexico, lean against the chalky walls or decorate the corners; impala horns from Kenya hang above the entry door. “They curve beautifully, and they have this really interesting repetitive texture. They’re my prized possession. It’s why I call the place Casa Impala.”
Room to Grow
With its all-white purity and intriguing play of textures, Casa Impala is a living, ever-changing gallery where Badalian can continually express and refine his aesthetic. It’s also his ringside seat for a pristine slice of the natural world, a place where his day begins with a plunge in the ocean, followed by cooking, yoga on the balcony, and time spent planning the home-goods store he plans to open on Isla Holbox soon. “Before, I was living in Miami, working crazy hours, running nightclubs, and leading a wild lifestyle,” he says. “This is the opposite: simplicity, silence, and relaxation. To hide out a bit from society, this is the perfect place.”
Mimi Read specializes in stories on architecture and design. She writes for numerous national magazines from her home in New Orleans.