Mexico's Valle de Guadalupe wine region is no Bordeaux, but The New York Times reports the area's burgeoning boutique wineries and their complex varietals are attracting increasing numbers of visitors from the north. The area's temperate climate is another enticement for second-home seekers, including the ones who hired San Diego-based Sebastian Mariscal Studio to design this modernist family getaway.

The 3,400-square-foot home sits on one of seven lots—a subdivision of 25 acres bought by six friends (including the architect himself) as a vacation enclave. Two hours from San Diego and 13 miles from the Ensenada coast, the site was sweet in many ways. “The climate is similar to San Diego but a bit warmer in the summer,” says the Mexico City-born Mariscal. A grove of olive trees, a vineyard, and views of the mountains add to the appeal.

In Mariscal's view, a vacation home should be what an urban home is not, so his goal was to create a house in stark contrast to his usual dense city fare. “In urban living you mostly stay inside, so I wanted to create the opposite,” he explains. “I wanted to create several smaller rooms that must be accessed by going outside.”

Mariscal started with a masonry wall and located the living spaces, bedrooms, and decks around it. A water element splits the house and separates the public spaces from the private. “The pool runs into the house and becomes a border,” he says. “You cross a bridge over the pool to get to the bedrooms.” A large overhanging roof moderates temperatures that can reach 100 degrees during the day. Instead of a defined entry, disappearing sliding doors create a series of large openings that frame the vineyard and the views. “When people are thinking about approaching the house, they just enter at any point,” Mariscal says. Further blurring the distinction between inside and outside, the house's concrete flooring continues outdoors and a corrugated metal ceiling is used throughout.

A diversity of materials give the home its character. The tower containing the guest room, studio, and roof deck is clad in plastic panels; ipe lines the bedroom walls; and the kitchen cabinets are white oak and walnut. “Each volume has its own material, so each room has its own personality,” Mariscal explains.

The owners are so happy with their new home that they make the trip from San Diego almost every weekend. Here, they find respite from urban life—a place to relax with a glass of local wine and to watch the children play outdoors. No wonder they call it the “exterior living” house.


Valle House, Baja California, Mexico

architect/general contractor:

Sebastian Mariscal Studio, San Diego

structural engineer:

Omar Mobayed, Mobayed Consulting Group, San Diego

project size:

3,400 square feet

site size:

3.7 acres

construction cost:



Hisao Suzuki, except where noted