Passion Points: Style
Anyone familiar with fashion designer Betsey Johnson’s colorful, flirty style will immediately recognize a similar sense of fun in the interiors of her two Mexican villas: Betseyville, which has been available to rent since 2005, and the two-bedroom Villa Betsey, which can also be booked as of this month when Johnson is not in residence.
For additional photos and to see the image at left larger, click on it.
When asked how she fell in love with Mexico’s Pacific Coast, Johnson says: “I’m really a sunshine girl, but I’d travel to guaranteed sun destinations like the Canary Islands or Hawaii and it would rain for a week. Then, about twenty years ago when I found Zihuatanejo when it was still a classic Mexican fishing village, and my daughter Lulu and I had sunshine for fifteen days straight. Zihuatanejo stuck in my mind as a great place to go, and in 2000, after three days of freezing rain at the Delano in Miami, I went back.” Just one day after her return, she was the proud owner of a little thatched three-roomed hotel on the beach in the nearby village of Barra di Potosi. “My company was trying to grow up, and I was creatively miserable. So I just went crazy with decorating. It saved my life.” In the process of turning the hotel in a private home, she painted the exteriors bright turquoise, added some rooms and a small pool “with curves” and channeled the spirit of Frida Kahlo.
Today, patterned fabrics and glittery chandeliers pop against Popsicle colors like fuchsia and lime. Personal collectibles, photos, antiques and market finds, which she had shipped across the border from her apartment in New York, are cheerfully scattered throughout the rooms. “I was there at least one long weekend a month. My whole priority was to get to Mexico,” says Johnson of the property she renamed Betseyville. “It’s a healing place for me. I would get there so worn out, and I would feel so great after one night sleep in my lime green room.”
A few years later, when that compound was almost finished, Johnson bought another piece of land, this time several acres with a rundown building in the remote beach village of La Barrita, a 45-minute drive south. “It was everything Betseyville wasn’t. It had panoramic views of the ocean and some jungle land.” This house eventually became the two-bedroom Villa Betsey. Two romantic female figures carved of stone guard the villa’s seamless pool and gardens. By day the intimate building’s enormous doors are open to the outdoors and the four main connected rooms are a glamorous showcase of antique European chandeliers and marble which frame soft couches covered with Victorian English-inspired fabrics, intricately framed mirrors, and romantic paintings of bare breasted maidens.
Located in a simple, salt-producing village, next to an often-empty beach that stretches for miles, the villa and its luxurious trappings stand out all the more. “I love the contrast of spending a night in my villa and then going down the road to explore all the simple Mexican beachside or roadside restaurants. There’s not much to do.” It’s ideal for a couple or two looking to disappear for a few days with nothing to do but walk the beach, keeping an eye out for hatching turtle eggs. In a few years however, La Barrita will be a different place. “Eventually the area around Villa Betsey will be a gated community with twelve other houses. I felt rushed to build this thing and enjoy it before the neighbors moved in.”
Two years ago, Johnson decided to rent Betseyville through LaCure Villas. “It was too fun not to share,” she says. Starting this month, Villa Betsey will also be available for rent through LaCure. “I’m a grandmother now,” explains Johnson. “For the last year or so, I’ve wanted to stay around Lulu and her daughter, and have had no desire to travel.” But then she adds: “I’ll be back in Mexico soon.”
Booking: To rent the bohemian colorful Betseyville (from $5,500 a week for up to 10 people), or the more glamorous but very remote Villa Betsey (from $400 per night with a three-night minimum stay) contact LaCure Villas (_800/387-2726; www.lacurevillas.com).
Getting there: Many U.S. cities have direct flights to Zihuatenjo. The hotel can arrange for airport transfers from either house.
When to go: High season runs from November through April, when the daytime temperatures range from 75 to 85 degrees F. The temperatures are higher in the summer months, with the rainy season running from June through September, causing frequent afternoon showers.
Where It Is: Betseyville is a twenty-minute drive south of Zihuatenjo. Villa Betsey is a forty-five-minute drive south of Zihuatenjo.
Who Should Go: Betseyville is great for a group of friends who want to escape together to enjoy a nearby beach and access to the town of Zihuatenjo. As Johnson says, “Villa Betsey is for a writer who has a book to write or an artist who has paintings to paint.”
Who Should Not Go: Anyway who wants white-on-white minimalist design. “If decorating Betseyville was like making costumes for Frida Kahlo,” says Johnson, “then Villa Betsey was like dressing up Marie Antoinette. If it doesn’t sparkle or shine, it’s not for my house—I like to think of it as a hideaway for funky royalty.”
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