Modern architecture on the rise in Santa Fe

March 5, 2019

By Paul Weideman |
Mar 2, 2019

Is Santa Fe Style losing its grip on us? The traditional Spanish-Pueblo Revival-style house is still in demand, but contemporary design has really taken off.

Just what are the architectural trends in Santa Fe homebuilding? The answer isn’t simple because there is such a variety of human habitats in the capital city. But eight of the 14 houses on last year’s Haciendas — A Parade of Homes tour boasted designs at or near the contemporary end of the spectrum.

For years, we have seen houses that look like the old Pueblo style on the outside but have contemporary-looking furniture and integral-color concrete floors. Now, we can enter a house that has an obviously contemporary edge — harder edges and more glass and steel — but on the interior we observe hard-troweled plaster walls and beamed ceilings. Even with modern furniture, they lend a vibe that reminds us we’re in Santa Fe.

The evolution of home style is evident in high-end Las Campanas. In January 2018, Jonathan Bartlett of Las Campanas Realty said 70 percent of the development’s new homes were contemporary in styling. That is a 180 from the 25-year-old subdivision’s former guidelines and its reputation.

“The past 10 years has seen a fairly dramatic shift in house trends in Santa Fe,” Keith Gorges said in a statement written with his partners, Eric Faust and Kurt Faust. They’re owners of Tierra Concepts, a high-end homebuilding company that has won the annual Parade of Homes event’s top award six times. “A typical first meeting with a customer before the recession revolved around wall systems such as adobe, rastra, strawbale, and pumice vs. frame. Santa Fe to those buyers was a lot about what the walls were made of, along with all of all those other traditional Santa Fe-style elements: lots of wood-burning fireplaces, Mexican tile, and big, rounded plaster corners.

“Our current customers want light, bright and super-efficient and low-maintenance homes.”

Tierra Concepts still sometimes builds using nontraditional wall systems and also works in Santa Fe Style for some customers. But a design mode that the partners call “contextual modern” shows in the majority of their work. Light interior colors with plenty of energy-efficient glass and skylights are the norm.

“Today’s homes are light years more energy-efficient than those of a decade or two ago,” Gorges said. “We just finished a larger home with a Home Energy Rating System [HERS] score of just 14, which means it uses 14 percent of the energy of a baseline home.” The HERS requirements in the city of Santa Fe and Santa Fe County are 65 and 70, respectively.

Many Tierra Concepts customers today want so-called aging-in-place features, such as few steps, wider doorways and curbless shower stalls.

Another important aspect of the new Santa Fe home involves smaller dimensions. In a late-2015 interview, architect Larry Andren (who died last year) said that when he began working in Las Campanas in the late 1990s, his clients wanted houses between 5,000 and 8,500 square feet. He designed more than 50 residences in that subdivision, and the last ones were between 2,500 and 3,500 square feet.

Gorges agrees that people want smaller houses than they previously owned, but ones that still feel luxurious. This is accomplished with rooms that are taller and brighter, and by bringing the out-of-doors inside with large pocket doors.

Jon Dick, principal of Archaeo Architects, offered a similar appraisal: “Given our high-desert clear air, most clients request that we blur the distinction between interior space and the outdoors. This is primarily accomplished with the ever popular floor-to-ceiling glass pocket doors that, when slid out of the way, allow for an entire wall to disappear.”

The architect explained the term “soft contemporary,” which is often used to describe Santa Fe’s recent custom homes with finishes and materials “that are more streamlined, yet the overall feel of the home still gives off a comfortable ambiance. Cold and stark has never been appealing to our clients, but a homey yet modern design has.

“Squared-off beams have replaced vigas. Saltillo tile has been replaced with porcelain. Windows with traditional divided lites are seen less and less and larger, unobstructed picture windows have taken their place.”

Metal, exotic woods, and striking varieties and structures of stone contribute a contemporary aura even when couched in plastered interior walls and a stuccoed exterior. “Engineered quartz seems to have surpassed granite as the preferred solid-surface countertop material,” Dick said. “Clients love high ceilings with lots of light, whereas the traditional Santa Fe-style home has a lower profile, with small windows placed in wall-dominated façades, making for a darker interior.”

When it comes to one of the home’s important winter focuses, central fireplaces are replacing the traditional corner kiva fireplace, according to Dick. Tierra Concepts customers tend to like gas fireplaces, but on this point the company’s design team recommends a more old-fashioned approach. “We believe that a wood-burning fireplace is one of the integral items that embraces the essence of ‘Santa Fe style’ — the smell of burning piñon, the sound of crackling wood and the feeling of the warmth unlike any other.

“The rich context of this place permeates our designs where the fun is in striking the balance between the old and the new.”

Click here for article in The New Mexican

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