Casita Alegria in Process
I repeat – change starts in your thoughts.
I loved the way Casita Alegria’s chunky chocolate brown lintels defined the adobe’s entryway, where a flamboyant spiral staircase literally floated up to the second floor. But the scrawny spindles that supported the handrail looked like mass-produced, machine-made toothpicks better suited for a crisp cottage in New England than an old adobe in New Mexico. The scale and feeling of the balusters were all wrong. I began to envision what I could do to give the passageway some much needed southwestern joie de vivre.
The Perfect Shape
Unable to sleep one night, I drank coffee while sitting on the floor in my pajamas, surrounded by piles of books on historic New Mexican architecture. After reviewing hundreds of sepia-toned photos of ancient adobes, I turned a final page and saw it – the perfect rustic shape for my stairway balusters that would make Casita Alegria proud of its adobe roots.
A talented local cabinetmaker fashioned a template to make the traditional stairway supports, which were ultimately topped with an elegant curved handrail. He miraculously fabricated each authentic element out of local piñon wood, just as it might have been done in the sepia photographs. Decorative painter Shawn Man Roland then applied his magic to the existing stairway’s soulless white undercarriage to match the look and color of the brown stained piñon stairway.
Lady luck was still with me when I stumbled upon a 10’ long antique Mexican bench complete with scallops in a warehouse south of town. Another unexpected treasure, this one made of newspaper and hemp, beckoned me into the back room of one of Santa Fe’s 150 art galleries. The drama of Danish artist Gugger Petter’s 4’x 8’ artwork, with its textural black and white palette and outrageous contemporary flair, was the perfect juxtaposition to the entry’s engaging regional traditionalism.
An Old Stainless Steel Kitchen
Next, I tackled the tiny, dark kitchen with its dented cork floors, scratched and foggy stainless-steel counters, and ominous-looking black bars on the back door window. The galley kitchen ran parallel to a creepy-looking hallway that led to a small, claustrophobic bathroom.
Hallways waste space, so I removed the walls between the kitchen, hallway, dining room, entry, and what I believed to be a family room. The hodge-podge of rooms was now one open space supported by new lintels and a single fat post where the spaces intersected (more on this next week). I installed a second set of French doors in the dining room, and a single French door in the corner of the kitchen without – God forbid – bars. These changes endowed the entire new space with glorious natural light, and I felt I could breathe again.
New Southwest Kitchen
The color palette of the newly expanded kitchen centered around a red enamel stove installed under a stucco hood with concrete scalloped trim on its edges. Six-by-six-inch apricot colored concrete tiles made to emulate antique Mexican pavers covered the wall above the perimeter cabinets. An old, beat-up crimson red rectangular store counter was covered in zinc to cool down the warm tones of the kitchen, and became a center island that served as both a work space and gathering place to entertain guests.
Mystery of the Empty Coffee Cups
We had torn down many of the walls in the adobe and re-plastered those left with new stucco. Shawn and his assistant, Ann, stayed at the casita for several weeks painting and glazing the remaining walls. One day, Shawn called to say a funny thing had happened that morning. He and Ann poured themselves cups of coffee on the kitchen island, and then went upstairs to check a paint color. When they returned, their cups were empty. “Are you sure you didn’t drink the coffee before going up stairs?” “Yes,” both Ann and Shawn affirmed animatedly in unison.
This seemed odd, but I dismissed it until Marshall called a few weeks later with a second unexplained occurrence at Casita Alegria. Hmmmmm…
Come back next week as the mystery of the secret old adobe continues to reveal itself.
For the love of mysterious old adobes,