My Love Affair with Santa Fe
After a rangy 18-hour drive from the California coast, we arrived in Santa Fe at dusk the night before Halloween. The crisp fall chill in the air renewed us as we headed to the terrace at Rancho Encantado to witness the sunset over the Sangre de Cristo Range.
“It looks like a painting” I said to Marshall as I sipped warm tortilla soup, staring in awe at the distant landscape with shapes, colors and shadows that continuously rearranged itself into dramatic compositions, one more beautiful than the next.
As memories surfaced of living and working part-time in this majestic land for the past 14 years, I decided almost everything in Northern New Mexico resembled art. Not only the prehistoric mountains and golden aspen groves, but the whimsical adobe houses made of earth and straw with their sensual curves and colorfully painted windows and doors.
One night in the summer of 2006, in the tiny rural art enclave of Galisteo outside of Santa Fe, Marshall and I met a realtor who had a mysterious pocket listing in town. The next day I couldn’t wait to see the small adobe built in 1915 located in an old Hispanic compound on the dirt road – Camino Monte Vista – Way of the Mountain View. We love old houses and had looked at many in Santa Fe that had been stripped of their authenticity, but this property was different.
We put an offer on the house the next day. I was surprised and delighted by the spiral stairway in the entry although it looked like it belonged in a home on Cape Cod rather than in Santa Fe. I searched for every book I could find on historic New Mexican architecture and began dreaming of creating a more credible southwestern feeling in the adobe.
To create a relationship between the circular stairway’s flat white underbelly and the rustic feeling of the archaic adobe, I summoned Shawn Roland who has a master’s degree in fine art to execute my vision. He painted the undercarriage to emulate richly grained old wood that harmonized with the color of the adobe’s lintels and vigas supporting the ceiling.
After researching historic New Mexican architectural elements, I replaced the small traditional newel post and thin balusters with decorative southwestern balusters similar in scale to the weight-bearing lintels and vigas. Shawn painted the chunky post, handrail and balusters consistent with the underbelly that felt compatible with the aged location.
The Tiny Galley Kitchen
I was determined to think outside the box to not only enlarge the existing kitchen but connect it to the dining room which was separated by a wall. The adjacent hallway also needed rethinking to utilize the square footage in a more functional way.
We removed the wall between the tiny kitchen and dining room adding a lintel for support and installed a second pair of French doors opening to the patio that filled the space with light.
We also removed the wall between the former galley kitchen and hallway to create an open floor plan connecting the entry, family room and dining room. A black and cream checkerboard rug and antique red island crowned with a gray French zinc top grounded the colorful palette of the red, orange and gold kitchen.
The master bedroom had a small deck and several windows facing the Sangre de Cristo Range where light from the morning sun flooded in. I chose a bold striped linen fabric in warm colors that made me happy, not only in this room but on windows and doors throughout the adobe.
Referring again to my historical architecture books, I commissioned a local artisan to build a traditional New Mexican bed painted in glazed tones of apricot, green and gold. He even signed the headboard and footboard with his name, Juan, in gold script that elicited frequent giggles from guests.
My Garden Vision
Although the existing patio was as stark as the interior of the adobe, the adjacent outdoor space had great potential to expand the living area of the casita. The garden ran the length of the adobe and was even wider than the structure itself. Although I disliked the low adobe wall and unsightly telephone pole, I loved the old pear and cherry trees at the back of the property.
We raised the perimeter adobe wall from four to six feet. Then, fortuitously, our neighbor built a coyote fence behind it creating even more privacy. We embedded custom concrete pavers in sand to compose a much larger patio on top of which we fashioned a curved banco where I piled colorful outdoor cushions and pillows.
The Outdoor Fireplace
The existing patio was plain and uninviting with electrical wires coming out of the adobe wall. A useless four-foot-tall metal pole was attached to one wall and the unsightly irrigation box plugged into the other.
The space changed dramatically by adding a sensual, curved corner fireplace with a side banco for seating that created privacy in this intimate space connected to the adobe’s dining room. The nichos were uncovered and embellished with hand painted tiles, interior lights and potted plants.
My days in Santa Fe were often spent outside, watering, deadheading flowers, pulling weeds, sweeping the patio and taking a break on the banco under the hanging pears with my coffee and morning paper. Marshall, Toby and I enjoyed lunch at the big round table typically shaded with umbrellas from the intense New Mexican sun. At night we built a fire in the adobe fireplace under the trellis, enjoying dinner and staying warm while we savored the smell of burning pinon.
The Ancient Adobe Will Be Missed
As you might have guessed from the video, we sold our 105-year-old Casita Alegria this past November. It is bittersweet as I will miss the little adobe with the private garden and intimate outdoor fireplace that I put my heart and soul into transforming. And I will miss the majestic Blue Spruce standing by our front door welcoming us with its quiet feathery branches. It gave us shade in the summer and pinecones in the winter as kindling for our three tiny fireplaces. Marshall and I will also miss our lovely neighbors, Milly and Robyn, who carefully watched over Casita Alegria and the Blue Spruce while we were away. We thank them both.
After purchasing and remodeling Casita Alegria, we did not realize the constant maintenance required to keep the old adobe leak free, ant free and moth free. The windows, doors and flat roof take a beating every year due to the harsh high desert climate, demanding continual care.
As we began the process of clearing out our possessions this fall, I realized how excessive it was to have two homes at this time when so many people are struggling to keep one. I believe selling our second home was the right thing to do.
We Love Santa Fe
I took this image on a beautiful day in late November just before we left Santa Fe to drive back to the West Coast. Marshall and Toby are sitting in the sun at Cathedral Park next to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, built between 1869-1887 in Santa Fe’s Historic District. St. Francis is the patron saint of animals and nature as well as the City of Santa Fe.
I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have spent so much time in Northern New Mexico over the past 14 years. Toby and I appreciate you indulging us in this lengthy love letter to Santa Fe, Casita Alegria and the Blue Spruce.
It is the end of an era and I wanted to honor the property one last time. I am proud that despite her age, Casita Alegria made the cover of Su Casa and Traditional Home Magazine.
Casita Alegria Video
I hope you enjoyed the video at the beginning of the blog that Sotheby’s produced of Casita Alegria showing the city and mountains of Santa Fe. I will treasure it always, as I will memories of many of you here at our Design in the Desert Workshops.
For the love of The City Different and to all of you who read my blogs and attended my workshops – thank you!
Love, Blessings and Good Health,