Homeowner finds furnishings and accessories from fair trade sources.
Every home tells a story and in Paola Vazquez del Mercado Miller and husband Andrew Miller’s apartment that tale weaves its way through the animated and colorful markets of Mexico.
It also winds its way amongst the customs, culture and workmanship of Cayman and the surrounding Caribbean islands, as well as the migration routes of New Zealand.
The interior design of many a home today is often saturated with easily updateable, on-trend pieces, many lacking a personal link with either the creator or owner.
However, times are changing, and more homeowners are incorporating ethically made, unique products, with designers catering to this change. The most authentic objects of them all, however, are those purchased straight from the source: from small market stalls, artisans and micro-businesses.
It is this thoughtfully made ethos that is embedded in the Oceana oceanfront residence of Paola and Andrew, who split their time between Cayman and Miami, where Paola is based. Alongside commercially made pieces sit artisan products whose uniqueness makes them works of art in themselves.
Paola has a respectful appreciation for artisan designs and handcrafted, sustainably created goods.
“Growing up in Mexico and Spain my toys were handmade,” she says. “On the colored and vibrant streets, I was exposed daily to museums, murals by Diego Rivera and paintings from Frida Kahlo…and to the minimalistic architecture of Barragan from Guadalajara and young contemporary designs applying ancient techniques that make them unique and fabulous.”
Interior designer Nate Berkus once said he believes a home tells a story about who its owners are and aspire to be, and that people represent themselves through the things they own; Paola’s doctrine is similar.
“A true home contains the elements, culture and life of the people that live in it,” she says. “We both come from the new continents.”
Paola is Mexican-American and Andrew is from New Zealand. “I still have some empty walls where I plan to place Maori art,” she says. “My step-kids absorb both cultures which encourages them to be empathetic to global diversity.”
Photos of Paola’s predecessors, and the boat that took Andrew’s ancestors to New Zealand many years ago, are evidence of this diversity.
Paola sources much of her home décor during her frequent travels. “It‘s my passion,” she says. “Wherever I am, I look for the local markets and shops. One will always find a little treasure that will make a statement at home and give it a world-travel feel.”
Throughout her home sit the fruits of these labors. A woven butterfly basket and Mexican plant pots adorn bookshelves. Music spills from a Mexican ceramic phonograph nearby, and pink Oaxaca fabric pillows brighten up a patio bench that overlooks an authentic Mexican-crafted white hammock. Even in the children’s room, authentic items abound, with Mexican artwork on the walls alongside locally painted scenes of Cayman. Handcrafted toys sit on the desk and shelves.
Cayman also provides a source of handcrafted goods. Paola’s bookshelf panel doors, lamps and breadbaskets are all made locally using palm fronds.
“Weaving has been passed down through the generations,” says Paola. “Looking at the locally handcrafted products of women in the markets you will be amazed by the patterns and textures they create and how many uses (the resulting products) have for Caribbean life.”
Paola notes that Cayman’s connections with Honduras, Haiti and Jamaica have led to an ample supply of talented carpenters finding their way to the islands’ shores. These skills were used in the local construction of her bookshelves, picture frames and mirrors.
“I always take great pride in telling those who visit our home from overseas all about how much the local craftspeople contributed,” she says, noting that sourcing on-island always makes sense budget-wise, which works well with her “Mexican resourcefulness.”
Paola incorporates items that are a mix of commercially purchased and locally made or altered. The patio and dining room chairs were custom upholstered on-island with imported fabric, while digital pictures in the bathrooms were also printed and waterproofed locally.
As it may be impossible to buy all handcrafted goods, when she cannot, she focuses on commercial stores that share her philosophies, and intermingles organic, natural fibers using rugs and textiles.
This appreciation of unique and ethical consumerism expands into other areas of Paola’s life, evident in her love of handmade Spanish rope espadrilles and artisanal jewelry using fair trade natural stones.
“I’m proud to wear millenary designs passed on from generation to generation that look so cool and contemporary but at the same time are affordable,” she says. Her favorite dress is an intricate white embroidery piece purchased in an indigenous market in Mexico.
Paola recognizes that more and more big retailers and online stores are making an effort to utilize artisans and fair trade methods. She notes Malaquita Designs in Wynwood, Miami, and Coyuchi as two examples.
“It is the new movement of consuming responsibly and ethically,” she says. “The new generation is getting it – I was very happy to hear my stepson is being taught about fair trade by his school.”
As well as her interest in handcrafted goods, Paola has a knack for interior design. She credits her research of design publications, traveling, and 15 years of experience in Miami’s high-end residential and commercial real estate as contributing to her design interest. This will soon culminate in her own online collection of “basic goods at affordable prices – eclectic and functional” on casadesignky.com. One day she also would like to start her own design business.
Paola encourages anyone wishing to increase their ownership of unique handmade goods to talk with artisans, ask them to create a personal vision, listen to their advice and then work with them to execute the final product.
“What you are buying is high quality products – organic linens, cottons, fabrics, leathers, wood, natural colored dyes and uniqueness, not series or fads,” she says. “There is no need for the validation of a brand or expensive price tags to assure quality.”
She also advises avoiding designers who plagiarize and mass-produce ancient indigenous embroideries and patterns but do not truly understand or contribute to the countries in which the styles originate.
She assures others that it need not be difficult, nor expensive, to support smaller, more unique methods of design, and incorporate these pieces to create a home which tells the stories of both the creators and the homeowners.