Anita’s photography mirrors the interior worlds in which she resides. Both are studies in contrasts—a medley of colors, textures and influences. In her homes, found items are stationed alongside pedigreed design pieces, insect specimens juxtaposed with books. The whole cacophony is then meticulously organized so that the assortment never veers into messy territory. “I dislike the fact that I’m labeled as a collector,” Anita says. “A ‘collection’ sounds like you don’t touch anything. I lived with my stuff—I sat on my chairs!” In The New York Times, esteemed critic Pilar Viladas once wrote that her apartment in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood was “simple and unadorned, yet quite elegant—rather like Anita herself. Her domestic aesthetic embraces materials both rugged and fine, forms both imperfect and perfect, and objects both humble and luxurious.”
“She nailed me in so few words,” Anita says.
Though she lived in that apartment for 21 years—“it was my temple,” she says—Anita sold it in 2013 along with her prized assortment of mid-century furniture, which included pieces from Jean Prouvé, Charlotte Perriand, Serge Mouille and George Nakashima, as well as Irving Penn photographs and other objects picked up over the years. But it was all part of the plan: Anita always knew she would retire in Colombia and had set a target to move back when she was 60 years old. Though she still travels to the US and Europe for shoots—“it feels good to still be a little part of the map in New York; it keeps me alive, motivated and inspired”—the moment had come to return to her home country’s embrace.
After all, Anita’s time abroad had come with its fair share of character-building hard knocks. She lost many friends to AIDS in the midst of the crisis in the ’80s and ’90s (including Maria’s brother, Roberto), as well as two loved ones to cancer: one of her siblings and stylist Barbara Fierros, her partner after Maria, whom she was with for 13 years. But despite mourning the people who have left her side, she remains positive in the face of adversity—and thankful. “I’m lucky to be at this moment in my life,” she says. In the end, the decision to dismantle her temple and relocate back to Cali was bittersweet. “I was emotional,” she says, “but I was liberated, too.”
In her headstrong early years, Anita was eager to escape Colombia so that she could forge her own path in the world. But now that her journey was beginning to come full circle, her impulse for a fresh start was about just that: going back to the start. “I missed my roots, my soil, my birds, my smells, my fruit, my surroundings—my world that I left not loving,” she says. “If I had stayed in Colombia, I would’ve married a boyfriend I had at the time—I would’ve become a lady who lunches. But coming back was what I needed.”
Anita now splits her time between Colombia and Barcelona, where her partner for the last eight years—Gemma Comas, an accomplished photographer who was formerly Anita’s assistant—is based. Though Anita finds comfort in returning home, she welcomes the cosmopolitanism that globe-trotting offers her. “Colombia is nature, peace, family, roots and old friends,” she says. “But Barcelona is culture, art, different foods and the old world. I like having those two things combined—I need it.”
Though she’s parted with much of the furniture she owned for 20 years—a necessity of moving into a smaller home on a different continent—some of it came with her to Colombia, such as a table she co-designed with Mira Nakashima. With a smattering of classic pieces and personal touches, it’s an unfussy and livable space made special through Anita’s artfully displayed flea market finds, preserved butterflies, artifacts and countless family photos.
Her new home is tucked in the forest and exudes a similar sensibility as her former apartment, despite being situated in a totally disparate context. The two-bedroom house—which she designed, just as her parents did her childhood home—is open and airy with high ceilings and a mix of tactile materials like local woods, brick and polished concrete floors punctuated with river pebbles. “It’s very integrated with nature,” she says.
Decks wrap around the perimeter as a transitional space between the enclosed rooms and the great outdoors, and wind blows through the doors and windows, permeating the house with the smell of fresh, wild air. “There are birds, butterflies, iguanas, every kind of animal coming inside,” she says. “It feels very much like a treehouse.” Her garden is filled with native species such as grasses, ferns and big-leaved botanicals, as well as a few orchids near the entrance. Last Christmas she even planted an olive tree to commemorate her beloved dog that passed away—her new dog, Lulow, now spends his days running rings around the house and garden.
While her hillside oasis is modestly sized, it’s still expansive enough for Anita’s extended family to come visit, just as they did for her birthday weekend last year. Anita is very close with her four living siblings, all of whom live in Cali except for a sister who resides in Medellín, a city 270 miles north. (Her brother’s house is even conveniently next door.) Between her 10 nieces and nephews and their nine children, there’s a constant cycle of baptisms, graduations and birthdays that she never had the chance to attend when living in New York. “There were many events that I missed—like my mother’s 80th birthday and first communions—and now I’m kind of catching up with the next generation,” she says.
This year, Anita is taking advantage of having extra time by regularly visiting her beach house on the Colombian coast and re-immersing herself in painting, her first medium. Indeed, youthful restlessness and zeal for being in a perpetual state of “doing” hasn’t left Anita, and it likely never will. “I can’t imagine just sitting in a chair, reading a book, with the beautiful view from my house,” she says. “It’s not me.”
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