Kelley talks to us about reinventing her life in the famous colonial city, San Miguel de Allende, after a career in television, a story of discovery, courage, adventure, and women empowering women.
Why she quit Los Angeles and moved to Mexico
When Kelley West moved from LA to San Miguel de Allende at the pandemic’s beginning, it would never be a conventional story. This is the woman who had leaped from her Arkansas roots to motherhood, to design and fashion styling, to co-starring on TV shows – like “The Gilmore Girls,” “Criminal Minds,” the Emmy-award-winning “The Doctors” and “Two and a Half Men” – and hosting Kelley West Beauty products on HSN: The Home Shopping Network. Her endeavors and dreams were always bold and innovative, so it wasn’t surprising that “after constantly jumping on planes to appear on TV shows and the crazy pace of LA life,” she decided it was time for the next chapter and a new place she could call home. San Miguel de Allende beckoned.
“My mom’s been visiting this city for over 30 years and loves it. And now I do, too. I made it a regular trip and rented a room from my “auntie” Gayle. Her home, La Mansion, is quite famous and such a fun place to stay!”
This city had always been a place for artists. Still, over the years, she felt the city was much less like a bohemian backwater for the adventurous but a thriving cross-cultural hub with many more opportunities for small business and creative ventures.
Following in the footsteps of a trailblazer, Auntie Gayle
Her auntie Gayle ran away from Las Vegas to San Miguel 30 years ago to nurse a broken heart – and never left. “Gayle is the original trailblazer of San Miguel,” Kelley says. “They call her “the OG,” the original gringa! She arrived with her car, her puppies, and not much more than a plan to recover. But she was smitten with the beauty and people here and took daily early evening walks to the central plaza, meeting locals and foreigners and inviting them all back to her house.”
Then began the fabulous dinner parties and the brainstorming sessions about possible pursuits. Kelley has heard many stories about Gayle’s colorful adventures, but what has captivated her most is her spirit. “This woman in her 80s has the energy and radiance of a teenager. How could I not find that inspiring?”
But Kelley’s blonde, sassy charm speaks directly to her auntie Gayle’s. And though Kelley’s business savvy is impressive, it’s hard not to be captured by her Southern sweetness. It’s probably why she’s one of the most respected realtors in town and on the most-wanted dinner guest list.
People come to San Miguel to heal
Yet Kelley’s accomplished life hasn’t come without a few hard knocks. The Southern girl whose mother and grandmother taught her a strong work ethic and to be a “people person” met her greatest challenge when she received the shattering news of her daughter’s death due to a tragic circumstance at the beginning of the pandemic, a week after her move. “San Miguel was the only place I could find pockets of joy. I could get lost wandering amongst the tapestry of street scenes. I still do that to this day.” Mexican culture has a much healthier connection to death, she says. The now famous Dia de Muertos has attracted many new visitors to Mexico every October. Alters to loved ones adorned with marigolds, photographs, candles, and talismans have inspired more festivities and a different outlook for those visitors. Kelley adds, “Strangely, the collective grief of the pandemic also made it easier to process my own.”
Supporting underserved women and animal rescue in Mexico
Recently, Kelley’s bespoke, woman-strong company that she’s built up over the last couple of years, West Realty Group, has joined forces with another prestigious real estate company. But that’s not enough to keep Kelley on her toes! She’s also a gifted interior designer who wants to give back to the community, supporting her transformation. It makes sense that she’d create a charity event which, for the last couple of years, presented 7 respected local interior designers, like Betty Goldberg, Fisher-Weisman, Rachel Horn, Victor Hugo, and others – all in one house! She calls it DesignHouseSMA and ensures the work is top-notch and the guest lists and locations are fabulous.
She contributed to a non-profit community foundation that helps disadvantaged rural women through health, education, and outreach programs. This year, her DesignHouseSMA 2023 will support the animal sanctuaries “Yo Amo Animalitos” and the “Angelitos Santuario”.
“People seem to rely on their pets even more since the pandemic. I’m single and always happy to come home to my horse-size pups, Tanner and Dash! Also, these sanctuaries are run by women, raising the bar by ensuring better conditions and a more organized system.”
San Miguel is a community of entrepreneurial women
Kelley says that she and auntie Gayle often talk about the curious magic San Miguel holds for women restarting their lives. From the TV set of “American Dreams” and being a leading figure in the beauty and design industry, this bright star is happy to have found a different galaxy to orbit. “I’m just as busy, my creativity feels reignited and I keep unearthing more gems amongst the community of entrepreneurial women here.”
One thing is for sure; here in San Miguel, Kelley West is unstoppable.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be hearing more about the designers contributing their work to the October 2023 DesignHouse charity event.
Henrietta Weekes is a writer, editor, actor and narrator. She divides her time between San Miguel de Allende, New York and Oxford, UK.