Homes & Lodging
You know you are going to enjoy a beautiful bed and breakfast from the
minute you see the front wall of La Estrellita's B&B, a new addition to
Ajijic's growing number of businesses. The color outside says volumes about
the personality and artistry of the establishment inside, and about the new
owner, Lorraine Pasini, who moved here seven years ago. It's painted a
luscious periwinkle blue, unusual and inviting. The new sign with an E in
flowing script is perched between two black wrought iron lanterns. Gone are
the plaster swan and sign of the old Swan Inn, and now Estrellita's, meaning
"little star," is attracting new visitors and delighting the returning ones.
The gorgeous color outside is a hint for other possibilities inside. One
step inside the door the visitor is quickly assured that they will not be
disappointed. The colors meld into warm ocher and deep reds, sunny yellows and
more of that impossibly tempting blue. If the colors, the wealth of
beautifully displayed Mexican folk art, and the warmth of the Guatemalan
fabrics covering the living room chairs suggest to you an artist at home, you
would be right.
Lorraine Pasini stands in front
of her new colorful B&B. (All photos
in this article are
by Rebecca Ford.)
Lorraine Pasini's artistic touch is everywhere in the inn, from the catrinas, (the skeleton figures prominent in Mexican art), to carefully
chosen tile and accessories in each bathroom. Lorraine's passion for art took
form in oil and watercolor paintings and paper maché during her many years in
California. She also expressed her artistic talent in her award winning B&B in
Glen Ellen, located in the wine country of California. There she took a
five-bedroom plantation style house, with an inviting broad porch running
around the front and sides of the second level, and turned it into an inn she
called The Glennelly. The B&B quickly grew in popularity with Lorraine at the
helm—her friendly personality and flair for creating a relaxing and beautiful
atmosphere alone could make a business a success. Her attention to detail and
enjoyment in what she does won Glennelly the California Historical
Preservation Award in 1987.
"My husband, Luis, didn't even know I had purchased the California place
until the deal was done. I made the offer, and they accepted within that same
day. When I showed it to him for the first time he was aghast; when he pushed
his fist against the wall it went right through!" Lorraine remembers. "But he
was a general contractor, so I just reminded him how perfect he was for the
job. He took on the project, of course, and while he did extensive remodeling
I was refinishing old pine furniture from Scotland, England and Ireland. The
colors were very important then also, and after many tries I found a warm
peach for the outside of the B&B, and trimmed it all in white. It was
gorgeous, and my husband ended up using the color so much in his other jobs
that the paint store renamed it "Pasini Peach."
(Left:) The warmth of color begins in the dining
room, where guests lounge each morning. (Right:) The Guatemalan fabrics
are a perfect match to the folk art displayed in the living room.
Lorraine moved to Ajijic in 2001 after her husband of 26 years passed away
because she remembered him talking about "Ah-hee-hee, the laughing town." Luis
was familiar with this area; he was born in Torreon just northeast of
Lakeside, and she wanted to see this place he remembered so fondly. She looked
at B&B possibilities at that time, but it wasn't until the perfectly located
Swan Inn came up for sale that she found the right fit.
It was the right fit in many different ways. Lorraine named her new inn La
Estrellita's B&B because it fit so well with her past and with her present.
The name has come from a marriage between a beautiful old poster, which hangs
to the left as you enter the B&B, and a little slice of her old life in the
Sonoma region. "Estrellita was a Spanish dancer who always performed with her
picture on a poster on each side of the stage. This is one of the posters
right here," Lorraine explains as she points it out.
"Estrellita was a good friend of Jack London's, who was one of her
admirers. He would often come to watch her dance," Lorraine says, warming to
one of her favorite subjects. "I found the poster in the Glen Ellen Jack
London Bookstore which was owned by Russ Kingman, a well-recognized Jack
London expert, who actually knew London and Estrellita.
"Many times over the years my husband had taken his workers to the pub in
Glen Ellen where this poster was hanging and he'd always loved the piece. I
was lucky enough to buy it later from Russ and give it to Luis on his 50th
birthday. It holds a lot of good memories for me, and now it is starting a new
life here, just like I am."
Lorraine has done some research on this intriguing woman, who has now
become part of her history also. "Estrellita's real name was Stella Hurtig."
Lorraine explains, "She was a Jewish woman born into a Vaudeville family in
Cincinnati. She had a wild life. She celebrated her birthday on top of a
pyramid in Egypt, and was mobbed by admirers in England when she was asked to
dance for Queen Victoria."
Estrellita finally retired from dancing in her early 40s, became Mrs. Paul
Jones, and went on to become the first manufacturer of exotic perfumes in
California. She also was the woman upon whom Jack London based his character
Ida Barton in his book Kanaka Surf. "She was quite a beauty," Lorraine
adds, "and I'm glad she is now adding her intriguing history to my new B&B."
Upon closer examination of this little slice of California history, I
notice the producers of the poster are David Allen & Sons, Leicester Street in
London, Harrow and Belfast, and that it was painted in 1910. It completes a
wonderful slice of California history with some Mexican spice, lovingly
This poster of the real
shows the young
attention of both
Queen Victoria and
Lorraine bought the old Swan Inn in Ajijic in October of 2007 and tore into
the project, repainting everything, buying new comfortable Serta pillow top
beds and linens, installing a new water filtration system, putting in a
laundry, a small kitchen for the guests, and comfortable furniture. "There
were so many details, and such a short amount of time before the first guests
arrived December 20th," she remembers. "It was a frantic race to get
everything done in time, but it was all great fun, too."
Amenities now include a comfortable sitting area with TV, patio and garden
seating areas, two rooms with their own roof-top patios, an outdoor kitchen,
purified water system, internet and free wireless access in the living room
and dining area for those with laptops. Lorraine has placed a beautiful long
table in the breakfast area, which seems to invite visitors to chat and
leisurely enjoy her morning offerings. Her breakfast includes various pastries
from local bakeries, cereals and coffee and other beverages.
(Left:) This garden seating area is a bright spot to
spend some relaxing time. (Right:) This rooftop patio is right outside of
one bedroom, along with lovely views of the village.
Visitors will love the bright colors and folk art that is abundant at La
Estrellita's, but there's more. Just step outside and you are perfectly
located to explore the village of Ajijic. Next door to the B&B is the Lake
Chapala Society, with beautiful gardens, library, snack bar and many
activities and meetings. Visitors can easily go next door to relax over a
coffee or cold drink and fall into chats with local expats in this friendly
community. Want to talk about real estate, what it's like to live here, and
where does everybody shop? This is the perfect place to find out. Maybe you'll
join a Scrabble game or hear a lecture while you're there.
From the inn, you are just two blocks from the village plaza, and the
boutiques, art galleries, good restaurants and jewelry stores that abound
throughout the downtown area. Lake Chapala is also just steps away and a
tempting place for visitors to relax and enjoy the view. Water birds are
abundant with egrets, herons, and white pelicans swooping along the shores.
Local fisherman throwing their nets and villagers training their horses for
show are common and pleasurable sights.
(Left:) This patio, painted the same blue as the
outside of the B&B, is right outside of the room called Capriccio.
(Right:) This is one of the many pieces of religious folk art throughout
Lorraine especially enjoys meeting her guests, both newcomers and long-time
residents—many of whom drop by asking to see the new look of the inn. "They
have all remarked on the great changes," she says. "I felt that my biggest
risk was painting the outside that startling color of blue, but I am delighted
with it. Some people have had their picture taken standing by the front door,
wanting to go back home and try to reproduce the color in their own homes."
She is especially proud of her contractor, Juan Gutierrez. Her distinctive
wrought iron was done by Alejandro Ramos Mendoza, and the painting was done by
"I bought all my furnishing locally," Lorraine adds. "The wrought iron
work, tin and iron light fixtures, tile and even most of the art you see
throughout. I had all new bedspreads made locally, and had the greatest fun
finding the right folk art for each room. I have my catrina nuns in the
room called Las Monjas (the nuns), model ships and sea pictures in Puerto del
Mar, some Chinese touches in San Francisco, and folk art roosters in
Capriccio. The two upstairs rooms were the last of the single rooms finished.
I wanted to completely redo their outside patios. Those rooms are called
Tropicana and Jalisco.
(Left:) This bright room is called Las Monjas, or
the nuns' room, because of its lovely folk art touches. (Right:) This is
one of the rooftop rooms, with its own private patio outside the door.
Those two top floor rooms offer a rarity in Ajijic, with their own
comfortable outside patios, tempting lounging chairs shaded with yellow
umbrellas, also made by the company of a La Floresta couple, Carmen and
Octavio Robles. The patios are replete with flowering plants, and views that
would invite any visitor to sit, relax and enjoy this added benefit. It would
even be enough to tempt you to take an afternoon off from the shopping,
sightseeing and browsing.
Next Lorraine is tackling the remodeling of a casita (small house)
at the rear of the property. It has two bedrooms and baths, its own kitchen
and lots of privacy. She is intent on finishing the work in the casita so she can move there in April to be on site for her guests' comfort and
convenience. Also, it will be full time home for her two pups, Max and Molly,
who already delight everyone who comes through the front door.
"I'm enjoying my guests, and I love showing people through the rooms,"
Lorraine says, "just as I did before in Glen Ellen. It pleases me when my
visitors love the new look, and when my catrinas or my "rooster room"
makes them laugh. Some would like to just sit in the living room area and soak
up the color, or sigh over the garden rooms. Their appreciation makes it all
La Estrellita's B&B
Lorraine Pasini, Owner
Telephone: (376) 766-0917
16 de Septiembre, #18, next to the Lake Chapala Society