At dusk, the house appears as a phosphorescent box, its mirrored panels reflecting the light of the sky and the ocher hues of the mountainside that, as if a mirage, will soon vanish as night falls. Casa Etérea — perched above San Miguel de Allende on the rugged slopes of the extinct Palo Huérfano volcano, part of the greater Los Picachos mountain range of Central Mexico — is both an architectural showpiece and a site-specific art installation, one built to inspire a sense of awe. A feat of sustainable engineering that uses solar energy and collected rainwater, the 800-square-foot dwelling has a glass exterior (with a striped UV-reflective coating) that is bird friendly — even as it creates the effect of a seemingly infinite landscape.
Prashant Ashoka, the owner and designer of Casa Etérea, first came up with the idea for a glass house during his initial trip to the country, in the summer of 2017. He had been working in Singapore as a writer and photographer, but was compelled to move to San Miguel de Allende for its beauty and its reputation as a destination for artists — in the ’60s, for example, visitors included prominent Beat-generation figures such as Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac. The facade, he says, is at once transitional and symbolic: “It’s a metamorphosis, not unlike my transformational journey to Mexico.” Determined to build himself a secluded writer’s retreat, Ashoka eventually purchased two acres of wilderness — situated just 20 minutes from San Miguel de Allende’s downtown — with no water lines or electricity. “I knew that it was my time to create something of my own,” he says. “And I’d always fantasized about escaping into nature, living on a mountain or a beach. But I decided to take a romantic notion many people flirt with and make it my reality.”
When conceiving of his retreat, Ashoka referred to the work of the 20th-century Mexican architect Luis Barragán and his longtime collaborator, the sculptor-painter Mathias Goéritz — in particular, their explorations of form, light and shadow. Although Barragán preferred to work with cubes, Ashoka decided to angle the two main components of his retreat at 120 degrees, mimicking his favorite feature of the mountainous landscape: a V-shaped ravine — visible from the house’s back garden — that harbors a rushing waterfall during the rainy season. Without hiring an architectural firm and instead relying on local engineers and carpenters, Ashoka built the bones of the house from volcanic rock collected from the mountainside. “The idea was to be completely isolated and with no distraction other than the wild that surrounds you,” says Ashoka. All in all, it took nearly three years to finish.
Inside, the home draws inspiration from near and far, blending Mexican craft culture with Ashoka’s Southeast Asian roots. He collaborated with the local furniture studio Namuh to accent the interiors with goods such as the twin Balinese jute lamps hanging above either side of the bed and the vintage, earthen porcelain vase from Shanghai on the bedside table. The kitchen, meanwhile, has an open layout that privileges elemental materials — there are exposed wooden ceiling beams, walls finished in concrete and floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors that frame vistas of towering cliffs. The porcelain countertops are offset by blackened walnut cabinets and topped with antique jade vases (which once served as grain containers for Chinese sailors) from Sabah, on the Malaysian island of Borneo. Walnut bar stools rest on a cream and teal Turkish Oushak rug. And on an adjacent wall hangs an arresting 2004 black-and-white photograph of Mexican charros, or cowboys, by the documentary photographer Nicole Franco.
In the living area, the eye is drawn toward a gray Romanian buffalo leather sofa and a reclaimed oak table placed over an Indian jute rug made in Jaipur. A red brick fireplace separates the space from the sleeping area, which is further accented by found objects including a brass telescope from the vintage market La Lagunilla in Mexico City, oversize woven baskets procured from the Shaanxi Province of China and charcoal-colored Tibetan wool rugs.
Though Casa Etérea has many impressive features, Ashoka says that “the house was born from the bathroom,” which features the structure’s only interior wall, a brick and concrete partition livened with flecks of rose gold. Behind it sits a large handmade copper bathtub with a sloped back and hammered finish that Ashoka sketched and then commissioned artisans in Santa Clara de Cobre in the state of Michoacán to make.
It’s easy to slow down here, to observe the subtle details of the natural world. Ashoka loves to do just that when he leaves his main home in downtown San Miguel de Allende for Casa Etérea. He enjoys hiking from the mountainside to the caldera of the volcano, a three-hour trek that takes him through riverbeds, oak forests and vast highland plains. “When the sun rises,” he says, “it paints the rocks at the top of the mountain in a red hue. There’s so much beauty here, especially the wildlife.” He has spotted a variety of animals, from mountain lions and bobcats to red-tailed hawks and woodpeckers. He’s also become fond of a local gecko who likes to sunbathe on the deck near the house’s outdoor dipping pool, surrounded by desert cactuses and bushes of rosemary and lavender. Elsewhere on the property, Ashoka planted fruiting olive, pomegranate and citrus trees.
Starting next month, Casa Etérea will be available to rent via the property’s Instagram. Guests can enjoy bespoke adventures led by residents of the local Alcocer community that might include horseback riding with Ashoka’s neighbor, a cattle herder, or a guided hike with a botanist. But most of all, Ashoka hopes visitors will take the time to marvel at the tranquil landscape. “There’s something so powerful about remote dwellings,” he says. “They have the power to turn you inward.”