Passion Unfaded

An adobe master’s comfort and joy in Bernalillo’s Bosque Encantado

Albuquerque-area builder David Peterson preaches the virtues of adobe with a nearly evangelical zeal.

And why not? He designs lovely, traditional, understated New Mexico adobe homes that seem to extract every delightful nuance from this ancient construction medium: the subtle massing, rippling plaster surfaces, deep windowsills, gracefully undulating patio walls, and not-quite-square corners that are best expressed—at least in Peterson’s opinion—through hand-stacked, mud-mortared adobe bricks.

Spend some time in one of his houses, like his latest, eminently tasteful creation in Bernalillo’s Bosque Encantado, and you might consider converting to the religion of mud huts yourself.

Peterson was baptized in mud, as it were, back in 1974 in Silver City, where he was born and raised. Already an outdoorsy guy who loved to ride motorcycles, bicycle, and backpack in the wilderness, Peterson found himself drawn toward a new endurance sport: churning up batches of mud mortar in a portable cement mixer, then dumping the load into adobe brick molds. You’d better believe it was hot, strenuous, macho work.

Summer was adobe-making season. Winters, Peterson headed up to Albuquerque, where he found work on construction crews, building houses with various contractors. “I knew I wanted to go to Albuquerque to learn to build adobe,” he recalls. “It was the adobe capital of New Mexico back then.” There he met a key figure in his life, the legendary builder Nat Kaplan, a mentor who inspired Peterson to pursue a home-building career dedicated to adobe homes.

Peterson credits the late adobe builder Nat Caplan with popularizing the Mayan arch, which employs a lintel to flatten the apex of the arch. Seen from the living room across the foyer and family room to the hallway leading to the master wing, this series of doorways alludes to the repeating, off-center passageways of Pueblo Bonito at Chaco Canyon.