For the last three years, designer Abby Clawson Low has lived with her husband and three sons in a playful, colorful home in Mexico City. It even has a tree inside! “The kids climb on it all the time,” she says. Her family recently relocated to Dallas, but before they moved, she let us capture this beloved space. Take a look around…
On a life-changing move: We moved here three years ago, for my husband’s job. A move like this is totally atypical for my husband’s work as an attorney, and was an amazing opportunity. I’m so happy we took it. My husband’s company put us up in this beautiful home; otherwise there’s no way we could have afforded a house like this. It was a dream to live here. Because we knew it was a finite amount of time, we really dove in.
On learning the language: The kids go to Mexican schools, and now they all speak the language. My youngest son’s first language is Spanish. Our Mexican friends joke that he’s ‘chilango,’ which means a true resident of Mexico City. He has no American accent, he knows all the slang.
On DIY artwork: One wall is identical to our living room back in New Jersey! But I needed to fill the other walls. I was at the art store buying supplies for one of Thomas’ school projects, and I noticed colorful poster boards. I bought a bunch and starting taping two colors together and backing them on heavier board. My mom always loved DIY projects, and she taught me that things didn’t need to be expensive to have an impact.
On styling shelves: You know how you’d never put only slow songs on a playlist? In the same way, you don’t want to put only tall things or only short things on a bookshelf. When styling, mix up sizes and shapes and colors and textures. There’s a wonderful shop here called Onora, where I’ve found great pieces. They travel around the country to collaborate with artisans.
Magazine holder: Book/Shop.
On scaling up: When we put our old New Jersey dining table into this dining room, it looked like a postage stamp. It was so tiny! Then I found an amazing vintage table, but needed chairs. Since there is no Ikea or Target here, pre-made store furniture is relatively expensive, so we decided to work with talented local craftspeople. I got to know a few people really well, and they created beautiful, high-quality things.
Table: vintage Knoll conference table. Chairs: custom made by Olegario Resillas Mondragon. Artwork: DIY with red and pink poster board.
On local inspiration: Long before moving here, I was fascinated by Mexican architect Luis Barragán. In Mexico City, you can visit Casa Barragán, Cuadra San Cristobal and Casa Gilardi, which was built around a single Jacaranda tree. He painted the walls in the courtyard in shades of lilac and pink, so when the tree is in bloom, the house is spectacular. In his homes, he often used local materials that weren’t fancy, but the way he placed them would elevate the designs. He used blown glass spheres as decorative objects, so I found these at the market and put them on the table.
On decorating with color: I’ve always been a fan of bright colors, but this house has the most color of all our homes. There’s so much color in Mexico City, I’m constantly looking around trying to take it all in. You’ll think, ‘I was never a fan of brown or mustard yellow,’ but then you’ll see it juxtaposed with a bright pink and you get a whole new appreciation for it. Having that daily dose of color has really seeped into our home.
On celebrations: Our Mexican friends here celebrate big. Your entire family is invited to a birthday party — we all go to parties for Matthew’s classmates — and they last for at least five hours. Every single party has a piñata, and the piñatas are all five feet tall. You don’t leave until the piñata has happened, typically in the final hour. Traditional Mexican candy is mostly covered in chili powder. Even gummy things will be covered in chili powder. At the first few birthday parties, my kids were like, ‘Oh my gosh, we got all this candy!!!’ And then as soon as we got home, their faces were like, ‘This isn’t the candy we’re used to!’
Beach photograph: iPhone photo that was blown up. Striped throw: La Ciudadela Mercado de Artesanías. Checked pillows: Ikea.
On framing photos: On vacation, I took a photo of the beach with my phone. The photo made me happy, so I blew it up and printed it out. Now it’s framed above our bed. I’ve done this with family photos, too, and they work well in color or black and white.
On unexpected visitors: The first week we lived here, five-year-old Thomas came into our room one morning and said, very calmly, ‘Mom? Dad? Can you please come into the bathroom? There’s a scorpion on the wall.’ From our years living in New York and New Jersey, we were used to things like roaches and cicadas, but the Mexico City version is a scorpion. They can be tiny, from a quarter of an inch to five inches long. They’re smart. If they sense another creature is near them, they’ll play dead. One day, my hairdryer kept shorting out. I kept unplugging and re-plugging it, but something was wrong. I looked inside, and there was a charred scorpion.
On meaningful pom-poms: In the late 1930s, my grandmother took a train from Utah to Mexico City to do a semester of university. She made some close friends there, and for the next 50 years, she would go back every summer to visit them. She’d leave her six kids with my grandfather. Her house in Utah was full of Mexican influences. When I moved here, I was drawn to the pom-poms at the local markets. I didn’t realize it until my mom visited and said, ‘Oh my gosh, this reminds me of grandma’s house!’ She had had these pom-poms hanging from every doorknob! It must have been a subconscious thing I had filed away.
On the wonders of Ikea: When I first moved to NYC, I slept on an Ikea bunk bed with my roommate, and it’s actually the same bunk bed my kids sleep on now! Years later, I moved to New Jersey and had a new baby, and sometimes I just needed to get out of the house. I would take my young son to Ikea, and we’d eat lunch and walk the maze. Now, I’ve gotten good at bringing Ikea pieces back to Mexico in giant suitcases. Recently, I got stopped by airport security. I had a lamp and ten boxes of alphabet cookies in my suitcases. The officer was like, ‘What IS this?’
On toys: The all-time favorite toy that gets played with the most is Magna-Tiles. All three boys have played with them every day for years. They build the most complex architectural structures and I’ll be like, ‘How did you think of that?!’ Thomas just designed a building where a marble drops in one side and comes out the other end.
White chairs: Ikea.
On letting the outdoors in: On weekends, I’ll keep the French doors open and listen to the birds. All day long, the kids and the dog are running in and out. They’re building, digging, doing weird stuff. But you can always hear everybody, even when they’re outdoors. The house makes it so easy to go between the two; it’s like the best of both worlds.
On saying goodbye: I will miss everything. Because I was working on a book about Mexico City, it gave me an entrée into so many different worlds, and I became part of a close-knit community here. I’ll miss the food, like grilled cactus. And the colors. Everywhere I go, I’m craning my neck. That bench! That door! And the markets — the scents, the smells. This place is amazing and beautiful. I will miss everything.
Thank you so much, Abby!
(Photos by Julia Robbs for Cup of Jo.)