(Bloomberg) – Writer Helen Thompson was a lifelong visitor to Santa Fe, but when she arrived at Georgia O’Keeffe’s house on the Ghost Ranch 30 years ago, “I was shocked,” says Thompson. “Everything was modern there: your furniture was modern; their lights were modern; her art was of course modern. And in this rustic setting, the landscape is so powerful, everything was so elemental. This shock stayed with me. “
It was an experience, says Thompson, that led her to conclude that Santa Fe, long understood as a city full of native, decorative architecture, was ripe for a rethink. “I kept asking myself why does something look like this here?” She says. “The landscape is so distinctive and so unfashionable, and yet these very precise pieces of furniture looked so right.”
Now Thompson has cracked the code with her new book Santa Fe Modern: Contemporary Design in the High Desert (Monacelli, $ 50). “Modern ideas are site-specific and tied to what is right for the landscape and the environment,” she says. Of course, she continues, this conceptual framework works well in a place like New Mexico, where the dramatic horizon meets an even more dramatic sky.
With the release of Santa Fe Modern, Thompson hopes to “reset the popular notion we had for the last 30 or 40 years about Santa Fe, thanks to Ralph Lauren and other marketing geniuses, that it is ‘cute’ and ‘cozy’.”
Most, if not all, of the houses in Thompson’s book are showcases for world-class art collections. This is not a coincidence. “I wanted to do this to connect the legacy of modern artists in this area who helped establish a legacy of art collecting,” she says. “I don’t say it specifically in the book, but it’s true.”
The area has also attracted a significant number of people who work or have worked in the arts. Dealer Max Protetch and his wife Irene Hoffman, the former director of the Santa Fe Art Space SITE, bought a 1970s four-bedroom house and “ripped everything out and turned it into a one-bedroom” to showcase their art .
The rock face was mostly covered in sheetrock, Thompson says, and after she exposed it, “Protetch hammered it into some kind of jackhammer,” she says. “He was 65 when he did it; he first took three days of jackhammer lessons. “
The surroundings of each house are without exception picturesque, with expansive views of the surrounding desert.
Thompson says many of the homes featured “are not on large lots, just making good use of their space,” despite the view. A house by artist Linda Lynch, for example, actually consists of three pavilions that are connected at a 45-degree angle.
“It’s a very emotional house,” says Thompson. “It was built right next to a holy site, and the person who built it knew that very well. They set up the house so that at the equinox the light shines through the living room and falls on the top of the fireplace. “
That’s not to say that the houses in Thompson’s book eschew references to “traditional” architecture.
A house designed by Ted Flato of Lake Flato Architects and owned by Dallas-based couple Sally and Tom Dunning “was one way to make Pueblo architecture modern,” says Thompson. “It’s built around a courtyard, which is a traditional way of building in climates like this, where you have a central, sheltered space, and beyond the house it’s wilder and more untamed.”
Of all the houses, she continues: “I think that has a very sublime feeling of light.”
The protected outdoor spaces come in many forms.
In a colorful house designed by architect Stephen Beili for realtor Lori Lanier, “you can see the connection between architects Luis Barragán and Ricardo Legorreta and American modernism,” says Thompson.
Legorreta, who studied with Barragán in Mexico and then applied this knowledge to modernist houses in Santa Fe, was one of the main inspirations for this house.
“It’s a living way of seeing this connection in action,” says Thompson.
While every home in Santa Fe Modern is pretty grand, a lot of the materials used are “pretty modest,” says Thompson.
In a house designed by Lake Flato Architects, the facade is clad with rusted corrugated iron. And because the homeowner has a large collection of photographs, prints, paintings, and other works of art, all of which require protection from sunlight, only about 25% of the home’s wall area is windows.
The boom isn’t just for show, says Thompson. “It forms an arch that cars pass under when entering the courtyard,” she explains.
Many of the houses in the book are newly built. Others, Thompson says, are much older and have been restored, expanded, or refurbished to meet today’s needs.
When the current owners of a mud house built in the 1940s bought it in 2018, they discovered “a very eccentric house,” says Thompson. “Some walls were built over other walls.” The couple – a photographer and a stylist – decided to keep many of these eccentricities.
Every home that Thompson shows has a connection to the surrounding land, which she says is the whole point of the book: “Santa Fe is, to me, the best example of context,” she says.
Take the strips of landscape that are “layers of geological time and there are different colors of pink and brown,” she says. In one house, architect Larry Speck decided to mimic these strips of rammed earth walls that stretched from the back porch through the house and onto the front porch.
“You got it done, so it’s smooth and cool,” says Thompson. “It’s incredibly sensual.”
However, there are some houses that seem more universal.
Take Charles Churchward’s house, designed by architect Ralph Ridgeway. Churchward, the former art director of Vanity Fair and later Vogue, wrote of the house in Architectural Digest in 2014 that “the layout made me think of a large city apartment transported into a perfect outdoor setting.”
In the living room, the floor is tiled with Indian sandstone and the Barcelona chairs give the room an urban flair.
Another connecting thread between every home that she has envisioned is the economical use of interior proportions, according to Thompson. “The space is not used wastefully,” she says. “And that can be said of most of these houses.”
Even a stately home with board concrete walls is surprisingly compact, she says. Designed by Austin architect Scott Specht, the house was zoned so that it could not be more than 4 meters above the ground.
Woodpecker dug the house into the ground and made sure that the light poured through the house via a skylight that extends the 45 meter length of a wall.
“You get a breathtaking view,” says Thompson. “You go into the ground and then when you get outside on the back patio you just face it.”
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