Conversation with Jenny Armit
When Jenny Armit came to Todos Santos 16 years ago for a week’s vacation, she had no idea she would fall in love with the small Mexican coastal town, much less that she would meet a pig there who changed her life.
Today, Jenny, an accomplished British interior designer whose career has taken her all over the world, is the owner of two vividly colored vacation rentals in Todos Santos. One, the Hotelito, is a four-roomed B&B built in homage to beloved Mexican architects Luis Barragan and Ricardo Legoretto. The other is the vacation home Hacienda de Chilicote, named after an indigenous tree that is leafless for most of the year then bursts into flower in the summer.
Todos Santos, like the tree, is full of surprises. A designated pueblo magico, this small town is, Jenny tells us, “a weird mixture of dry semi-barren desert landscape and mesmeric blue seas, an oasis of lush palms and a still vibrant ranchero culture.” It’s a location that lends itself perfectly to the eclectic little compound that she has created.
During her many years as a designer in Madrid, London and Los Angeles, she collected an assortment of pieces which you’ll find dotted around the house and hotel, the creations of Tom Dixon, Andre Dubreuil, Herve Van Der Straeten, and many other design luminaries. But the spaces are about much more than these treasures. They are brought to life by their delightfully friendly and entertaining owner, her team, the rancheros, and of course the animals who live there with them.
Which brings us to that pig…
HOW DID YOU FIND YOURSELF IN TODOS SANTOS?
Jenny Armit: “I had a very successful interior design career, and my then-husband owned the Groucho Club and the 192 in [London’s] Notting Hill. I left this unbelievably so-called ‘glamorous’ life. How I ended up with a pet pig in Mexico, I’m still trying to work it out! But somehow it suits me, it really does.
“I’d always heard about Todos Santos. I came down and stayed in this beautiful old baronial mansion that a girlfriend bought 30 years ago. The first few days I was here, I was like, ‘Who in their right mind would want to live in this dreadful place? There are cows and horses wandering around.’ Then I walked down the lane to the beach, and I thought, ‘Oh my god, I have never been anywhere more beautiful in my life.’
“So, I came down here and built this sort of fantasy. I’d done hotels for clients, but I’d never done it with my own limited budget. I knew I didn’t want to be an old woman in LA, and I didn’t want to carry on working in design. I’d done what I had to do, and I was just ready to embrace another life. And so on I moved, and here I am, 16 years later.”
WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR YOUR HOMES?
Jenny Armit: “I brought all my great design pieces from Europe. In each room, there’s one really fabulous design piece. I wanted it to be like a really chic B&B, where you felt comfortable, like you were staying in somebody’s house.
“I don’t like that word ‘luxury’. I really knew who I wanted to come here, and that was creatives and writers and interesting people, who are not always the people with lots and lots of money. I tried to build something I would want to go to. It is personal, and people keep coming back year after year, so it’s kind of lovely. It’s unpretentious, it’s not Four Seasons style luxury, but the detail and service are good. The staff are really lovely and invested in the place.
“Each cottage is really standalone. Everyone has their own private terrace, everyone has privacy and space, but if people want to be a community, they can. I think I get really nice people of all ages, from retired professors to young design gurus. It appeals to a certain kind of person, somebody who has a design aesthetic.”
CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THE DESIGN PIECES?
JA: “I was a great believer in the late Eighties and early Nineties in the talent that was emerging in London in the design world. I, and a few of my contemporaries, were loud voices for original design. I made a policy in my office of seeing design students and always looking at portfolios. It was the best of times. There was tremendous originality.
“I have lugged my assorted treasures with me around the globe, and most have come to rest in Mexico. So, both in the house and Hotelito, there are design pieces from that era dotted about — Danny Lane, Andre Dubreuil, Herve Van Der Straeten, Hubert Le Galle, Mathew Hilton, Jasper Morrison, Michael Young. All of whom are now design icons. They still hold their own and feel as modern and original now as they did then.”
HOW DO THE ANIMALS FIT INTO THIS STORY?
JA: “I have this animal rescue attached to the property, with a lot of farm animals that I’ve rescued… goats, we’ve got a pet sheep called El Chapo who smiles, and a couple of donkeys. One turned up as a baby and we had to bottle-feed her. People just bring me these creatures. It’s so sweet to see the effect these animals have on these quite sophisticated people. You watch this lovely childlike quality coming out in the most surprising people; it’s truly adorable. It’s one of the great pleasures of owning the place is seeing the farm rescue, the effect it has. People really let their hair down.”
AND THE PIG…?
JA: “Colette… Oh, she’s so lovely. She was brought to me by my old gardener because he thought I was sad. I was talking about writing a book about an English woman who owns a hotel, but seen through the eyes of a pig. A girlfriend of mine was like, ‘Oh what a fabulous idea, I think we should make a movie about Colette.’ There are a lot of really brilliant, creative people living here, and don’t ask me how, but we ended up making this film about this pig.
“It’s a 15-minute film. Colette is an artist, she’s Mexican, she’s a feminist, and her ambition is to go to Colombia to the Artbo, which is a big art show, and in this film she organizes that. She shows her little art video that she’s made. We filmed all this green-screen stuff, so her film is her flying all over Todos Santos. She’s such a success this pig, she has a big fan club.
“We finished the film last December and had the premiere and party here at this fabulous place called Panteón 19. We had a red carpet, it was bonkers. We raised a fortune for the Padrino Children’s Foundation, which provides healthcare to children in the community.”
IS IT LIVE ACTION?
JA: “Yes, absolutely! We filmed Colette, and I’m her pig voice, which makes it even more ridiculous that she’s a Mexican pig with an English accent. She really doesn’t have a lot of time for me, though. The person she really loves and admires is this old Mexican man called Don Javier. He understands her need to be an artist, and I don’t.”
DO GUESTS GET TO MEET COLETTE?
JA: “Everyone wants to meet her. She’s huge now! But she’s just so loving and sweet. She’ll sit on command, and she’ll take a treat. I have a feeling that Colette is much more of a star here than anything else. People come to see Colette. It’s embarrassing.”
WHAT DO YOU HOPE GUESTS TAKE AWAY FROM THEIR VISITS TO THE HOTELITO AND HACIENDA DE CHILICOTE?
JA: “That they aren’t, I hope, in any way pretentious or self important. It is just good design dotted about in a humble B&B. However, that simply isn’t the most interesting stuff. A movie-star pig and a sheep that smiles… I mean, how many places on this planet can boast of such gorgeousness?”
Photographs by: Christophe Lanzenberg (top), Irene Drago, Sheryl Marie Reily, Christian Banfield, Zoe Elton