Furnishing Your Dream Home in Mexico

Let’s face it: Building or renovating a home is hard work. It’s time-consuming, stressful…and if you know anyone who has finished a major construction project on time and under budget, I’d like to shake their hand.

But once your home is built, and you’re decorating and furnishing it…that’s the fun part. It can be particularly satisfying in Mexico, where a tradition of arts and crafts means that you can buy—or have made for you—many household furnishings. And these run from sofas and chairs to sets of dishes and glasses, lamps and chandeliers, mirrors, picture frames, and more. And given the current weakness of the peso against the dollar, furnishing your Mexican home is more affordable than it’s been in years. I’ve picked up artisan-made fixtures for my home at one-twentieth the cost of the same product in the U.S.

Here are some of my hard-earned tips on furnishing your Mexico dream home.

Ask local expats for recommendations. If you’re building or renovating a home, ask locals and expats where to go for common items like sinks and faucets, floor tiling, and the like. They’ll know which stores have the best prices and widest selection. They’ll also have tips on local specialty shops. In the city of Mérida, for instance, pasta tile floors—ceramic-slip tiles that form designs like carpets—are popular and traditional. Mosaicos La Peninsular, right in central Mérida, is the place to go to have tiles made for your home. The firm carries many old, traditional designs that you can choose from—you can even custom-pick the colors you want. (That’s what I did.)

For traditional tile work in the Colonial Highlands, there’s the town of Dolores Hidalgo. In Dolores, you’ll see streets lined with stores selling goods from fired clay: everything from huge flower pots to glazed pitchers, bowls, and other household items. It’s fun strolling their displays along the sidewalk, and I’ve picked up a pitcher or bowl on occasion, but most of the goods are mediocre.

For serious tile shopping, head instead to Azulejos Talavera Cortés, housed in a huge building only about three blocks from the main bus station. You can pick tiles from what’s in house at the time…or choose designs and colors from Talavera Cortés’s immense inventory and have them custom-make tiles for you. I’ve done both. It’s worth rummaging here; I’ve found accent tiles—with designs of fruits, vegetables, fish, dolphins, flowers, and more—that way. And at five pesos (about 25 cents) a tile, it’s easy to justify loading up.

Browse handicrafts fairs and markets. Many larger cities, as well as towns with a big handicrafts tradition, have a permanent handicrafts market, or Mercado de Artesanías. In addition, other towns periodically have ferias, or fairs, devoted to handicrafts. These are always fun to browse, as they can have everything from knick-knacks to clothing to jewelry to housewares. I recently found a ceiling light at a feria in Guanajuato, where I live. The light was from a local company that creates the designs and hand-blows the glass. These ceiling lights only cost about $30…and the company gave me the option of custom-ordering a light if I wished.

San Miguel de Allende has one of the biggest Mercados de Artesanías around, full of both dross and treasures. I love to browse it. But if I’m seriously shopping for household items, I first go to Fábrica La Aurora. This former textile factory on San Miguel’s outskirts is today an art and design center, filled with dozens of high-end art galleries, design and furniture shops, restaurants, and the like. Items at La Aurora aren’t cheap, but they usually are high quality. I may not buy everything I need here, but I do get ideas and inspiration.

Go to central arts towns. Serious bargain hunters in Mexico always cite the towns of Tlaquepaque and Tonalá, on the outskirts of Guadalajara, as the places to get housewares. I’ve personally never had much luck there. But the idea of a central town, where you can buy handicrafts from a large surrounding region, is a good one. San Miguel is one such place. Oaxaca City, capital of the state of Oaxaca, and San Cristóbal de las Casas, in Chiapas, are two more.

You can often get better deals by going directly to the craftsmen themselves. I’ve bought handwoven rugs from the weavers in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca’s weaving village, and got the weaver to work his signature into the rug—which wouldn’t have happened with a vendor. But for sheer quality and variety of handicrafts, it’s hard to beat these central arts towns. It’s often well worth a slightly higher price for the convenience of doing your shopping in one place.

Be open to opportunity. Sometimes you just stumble upon things. This last summer, for instance, a friend and I took a weekend trip to the little resort town of Bernal, in Querétaro State. While there, I happened to stumble upon a tiny shop with hand-carved onyx, crystal, and marble sinks and fountains. I also happened to need a sink…

I ended up buying a lovely, large, crystal-and-onyx, hand-carved sink, right from the artisan who carved it. It will be the centerpiece of my new upstairs bathroom. Not only did I get to meet the artisan, I also got a deal. I’ve priced out onyx sinks in the U.S., and ones similar to mine look to be going for nearly $800. I paid $40.

Editor’s Note: This article was taken from a past issue of International Living’s monthly magazine. Delivered straight to your door each month, we delve into the details you need to take action. We share our contacts. We lay out the pluses and minuses. And we keep you up-to-date on the latest developments with the best havens abroad, including…7 Great Retirement Towns You’ve Never Heard of…

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