Art

Alberto Kalach ‘s Casa de Artes

Michael Slenske

Photography by Iñaki Bonillas

First roll-1
Moisés Micha.

I grew up surrounded by art since I was a kid,” says Moisés Micha. “My father started collecting when I was around 10 and his passion for Latin American and modern art was contagious to all the members of my family.” In fact, the Michas raised their children in the company of a museum-worthy collection inside a modernist Fernando Jackson home with double height ceilings that is filled to this day with iconic works by Diego Rivera, Roberto Matta, Picasso and Duchamp. In fact, Moisés and his older brother Rafael still host annual tours of their parents’ home during February’s Zona MACO art fair.

Those lucky enough to secure a spot will find Moisés is quick to share charming anecdotes about the forest green Allen Jones table that still presides over the funkadelic sunken living room with its aged leather bustiers. His father helped him secure the piece from a London auction house in 1982 with all the money Micha received for his bar mitzvah. Or he might open up about the wall of birthday invitations still hanging proudly in the library—they were designed by family friend Pedro Friedeberg, after all.

“Living with art has had a great impact on me,” says Micha. “It is the source of inspiration for my everyday life.” Luckily for a select group of discerning travelers, Micha has chosen to share his aesthetically rich life—and the deep love of art and design at its foundation—through the beloved Grupo Habita hospitality firm he founded in 2000 with brothers Rafael and Jaime, and his longtime friend and business partner, Carlos Couturier. Today, the group operates 15 exquisitely tailored properties including Mexico City’s Condesa DF and the company’s namesake Habita hotel, New York’s Hôtel Americano, the Hollander and the Robey, which just opened in Chicago’s Wicker Park, and a forthcoming hotspot in the heart of Los Angeles’ Downtown Arts District that’s scheduled to bow sometime next year.

But after years of traveling the globe to make others feel at home, Micha decided to carve out a place of his own a few years ago. His search was stopped in its tracks by an unlikely source: a converted four-story townhouse in Mexico City’s tony Lomas de Chapultepec neighborhood that had been broken into tiny apartments with shabby kitchenettes.

“It was a complete mess. It was horrible. It had no style at all,” Micha says of the sixties-era hodgepodge that he bought from art advisor Esthella Provas and Vanity Fair Oscar party planner J. Ben Bourgeois in December 2013. “It was an investment for them, but they never lived there. It was a very weird property, but the size of the lot was very convenient for me living by myself, and I felt that I could do something special with the space.”

To help him shoehorn some magic out of the dark vertical volume, Micha contacted Alberto Kalach, the resident architect to the art crowd of the Distrito Federal, who has designed everything from Mexico City’s iconic Biblioteca Vasconcelos and Kurimanzutto gallery to the lush city spread of that gallery’s namesakes José Kuri and Mónica Manzutto and the nearby exhibition space for Bosco Sodi’s Casa Wabi Foundation.

“He’s tough, very tough, a guy of very few words, but his first idea was the final result, and that was very nice because the project was very pure since the beginning,” says Micha. That purity of purpose began with a slice into the back of the house that opened up a little courtyard so “the house could breathe,” says Kalach. “Not only from the top, but also to have cross-ventilation and to catch more sun to make the house come alive at different hours of the day.”

In addition to the light well, which is anchored by a ground floor reflecting pool “grotto” that holds Terence Gower’s Couple, Kalach cooled the space down with concrete walls and a cold rolled steel staircase—lit in filtered ribbons by a fourth floor skylight—and added a penthouse library/guest room and a rooftop terrace bar overlooking the Chapultepec Forest that brims with hanging gardens of yellow jasmine and philodendron selloum, along with custom concrete pots filled with areca palms and Mexican heather. “Once you put vegetation on your terraces, something very interesting happens: it connects with the distant greenery, so you bring the gardens of your neighbors and connect them with yours. You have a little terrace that immediately connects with the distant gardens as well as the horizon and mountains,” says Kalach, laughing. “We did a nice salad for him.”

That salad also includes an indoor/outdoor garden (similar to the one in the office of Kurimanzutto) that blocks street views while greening Micha’s living and dining rooms, which are filled with works by Abraham Cruzvillegas, Gabriel Orozco, Ai Weiwei, Mathias Goeritz and Francis Alÿs. Also on display are mid-century finds like green glass and brass French ashtrays or a Pierre Jeanneret chair, and two tables and a lamp from Luis Barragán, which pay homage to modern design conceived in Micha’s home country. The contemporary art and antique furniture are balanced throughout the house by brass kitchen and bathroom finishes, Arabescatto marble counters, custom concrete tables, mesh chairs, parota tables, as well as beds by Marc Merckx Interiors, the Belgian firm behind the Robey’s minimalist aesthetic. “I brought these guys in to make it feel homey. As much as I love Kurimanzutto, I didn’t want to live in a gallery,” says Micha, who keeps the overall vibe light with flourishes like Jonathan Monk’s Parrot Painting 03, IT IS A GOOD IDEA TO HAVE YOUR PAINTINGS SHOWN WITH THOSE OF OTHERS in the stairwell while a Rirkrit Tiravanija broom, a couple of Dr. Lakra’s X-ray pieces and a Charlotte Perriand paper holder balance the art tomes in the fourth floor library—a perfect perch for a sun setting pre-party to share some stories, wine and Juan Gabriel tunes, as was the case with a small group of friends before Mexico City’s Gallery Weekend gala last September.

Though he’s been living in Chicago to help open the new hotels, Micha is longing for Mexico City (and his new 4,500-square-foot sanctuary) like never before. “I miss that house like crazy,” he says. “It’s great to wake up there. The light is great and even though each floor is a different space, I use all of them.”

As Kalach argues, “Architecture is a setting where lives happen.” Or in the case of Moisés Micha, a great life sets the scene for some great architecture.