Stay, Work and Play in a Caribbean UNESCO treasure
Fixie Lofts, a 7-unit urban retreat located in the Santo Domingo’s emerging arts district in the Dominican Republic, has established itself as a magnet for digital nomads. “We started doing 7-14 day 'workation' packages,” says José, one of the owners, “and noticed that we’re a great destination - an easy flight from most U.S. cities. The lofts have a desk and reliable WiFi, there is tropical weather all year-round, and a beach not far from the city.”
Of course, it helps that the building, a 16th-century villa with graceful archways that once belonged to the first hospital in the Americas, is so stylish that it has been featured in Condé Nast Traveller, Architectural Digest and ELLE Décor Spain.
José, who discovered the building with his wife and partner Meyling, is originally from Madrid, and is rooted in a long cultural tradition. He was always interested in travel, music, languages, art and design. Meyling is from Caracas, Venezuela, and the pair has also done stints in Berlin, London, Singapore, and Bogotá. (They know a thing or two about a nomadic lifestyle).
José is not an architect per se, but his creative background (which also included documentary films and photography) allowed him to get involved in design and architecture. His sister is an interior designer, and his grandfather owned one of the finest tapestry and high-end textile factories in Spain. Meyling herself has worked as an advertising regional director.
In 2017, they left Spain with their daughter in search of a new project. They landed in the historic district of Santo Domingo, and it was clear that the area was transforming. It reminded them of the revitalizations of Panama Casco Viejo or Cartagena de Indias.
“We found a townhouse with a treasure in the backyard: ancient arches and walls that belonged to the adjacent San Nicolás de Bari, the first hospital built in the Americas, built from 1503 to 1508,” José says. “There was scrambling and debris... but within that mess, there was some magic there. The archways were historic, even in their ruined state. I couldn't believe real estate investors had disregarded the building,” Meyling adds. They knew it was meant to be theirs.
The couple took a “less is more” approach, believing it might have been intimated through Jose’s many years practicing Zen meditation, and discovering the oeuvre of Mexican-born architect Luis Barragán.
“I was inspired by Barragán, reading about his unique projects, like no other author,” Jose adds. “The use of silence, water and color. Those Zen environments, like monastic austerity. [Eduardo] Chillida is another author (Spanish sculptor) that reminded me of this.”
They chose to restore instead of demolishing and building new, accepting the challenge of keeping the original walls while modernizing the spaces in low-impact ways. “Just like in vernacular Caribbean architecture, we used natural air circulation and sunlight. This was planned throughout: from perforated doors, to installing skylights, and adding ventilation turbines in the bathrooms,” José says.
Thermal insulating and lightweight polystyrene panels were installed on the roof, to keep the indoors cool. The large inner courtyard helps with that too, a nod to Spanish and Arab traditions.
Additional green measures included replastering the walls using lime mortar instead of cement, preserving their excellent thermal and acoustic properties. And a lime wash was employed in lieu of acrylic paints (pedigree bonus: it’s the traditional way of the area.)
Throw in elements of style and fun – fixed gear bicycles for use exploring the city (“fixies”, hence the name), cool wabi sabi pieces like a dining table made from century-old mahogany reclaimed from the building itself, and a stunning pool below the arch ruin that mimics a Roman bath – and digital nomads here will have the coolest Zoom background in all the land, that’s for sure.
Of course, you’ll want to set an “OOT” message and set out to explore too. “The historic area is very unique, this is where all started, being the first European settlement,” José says. “Stroll the cobblestone-paved streets along the colonial palaces, with their balconies and hanging flowers. The cathedral square and Alcázar de Colón (Diego Colón residence), are quite monumental,” he adds. “And naturally, we like to point to the first hospital in the Americas, San Nicolás de Bari, a remarkable visit, just next to Fixie Lofts.
The owners always give tips to their guests. "That is the difference with hotels - owners can get personal, saying ‘visit this store or museum and talk to the owner, he's a friend of ours’," José says.
One foot in the past, and another in the world of today, that’s the Fixie Lofts way.
To book a stay in one of the lofts, click here.