Santa Fe calling

An old adobe charms Bay Area designer Linda Applewhite into applying her life’s work to the City Different.

This article first appeared in Spring II 2008 Su Casa

Click here for web-exclusive before and after photos.

In the fall of 1988, I visited Santa Fe for my first fiesta. I’ll never forget gathering in front of St. Francis Cathedral, where candles placed in paper cups were handed out as Indian chiefs and Spanish conquistadors rode through the crowd on horseback. A flame passed from person to person as one candle touched the next and the basilica’s courtyard glowed with flickering candlelight. The New Mexican sky filled with a startling array of colors to announce the beginning of a stunning September sunset—a perfect backdrop as the crowd made its way to the Cross of the Martyrs.

As I carefully carried my candle, sheltering the flame from the wind, I was surprised to find myself surrounded by nuns with rosaries in hand chanting Ave Maria as we ascended the hill. The Cross of the Martyrs was aglow with light and sound. A group of choir boys sang hymns in Spanish as bells rang softly and the sun began to disappear beyond the magnificent high desert landscape.

Suddenly, storm clouds gathered, majestic thunder pierced the air, and bolts of lightning lit the sky all around us. Rain began to fall. The candle flames flickered and died one by one. In an instant I found myself surrounded by tiny wisps of smoke and soft rain, each with its own distinctive smell. The crowd started to run down the hill, but I was hesitant, as were many around me, to leave this sacred place. As I descended with the crowd from the elevated point in Santa Fe to its glowing downtown streets, I was struck by the beauty of northern New Mexico—its history, colors, drama, smells, land, and soul—and in that moment, I knew I would live here someday.

The old adobe appears
Years later, after visiting northern New Mexico many times and having dozens of unforgettable experiences one can only have in this part of the world, I found myself at a dinner party in Galisteo, where I heard about an “old adobe” for sale. Despite many past letdowns, I asked for details.

The next day I walked the rooms of a 1930s adobe home set in a former compound on Santa Fe’s historic eastside. I had always dreamed of buying an old adobe and had looked at many in years past but always found them disappointing. Almost without exception, they had been remodeled or added onto without respect for their bones—their original architectural character—and their very essence had been replaced by something soulless. Apparently, a new contemporary look had come to Santa Fe, and many of the adobes had either been affected by this trend or had fallen prey to a distorted version of Santa Fe style.

But this one seemed different. The home’s bones were mostly intact and the new addition was salvageable. Most importantly, its essence was still there; its soul remained. And remarkably, the home’s compound had at its center a large, grassy area with evergreen trees decorating the perimeter, something I had not seen before in Santa Fe. To my further delight, the house was a short 15-minute walk from downtown, providing easy access to all that the city has to offer.

After 20 years of Santa Fe calling me, I finally answered and bought a home in the City Different. But as charming as it was, it needed an update for today’s style of living. I knew this must be done lovingly and with care, making choices that would support the feel of the structure’s history, architecture, and soul while providing a place where family and friends could gather comfortably and experience the essence of each other and northern New Mexico.

The adobe’s existing floor plan had a large living room with a fireplace and a small formal dining room. Closed off from the rest of the house, the tiny and dark galley kitchen had stainless-steel counters and a cork floor. A long dimly lit hallway separated the kitchen from the very small den on the home’s opposite side.

The second floor had two bedrooms, two outdated baths, and white plastic windows with flimsy snap-on grids installed during a 1980s addition—a stark contrast to the original stained wood windows on the first floor. A spiral staircase connected the two floors but seemed totally out of character with the adobe. It felt like it belonged in a home in New England rather than one in New Mexico.

The garden, which was elevated and inaccessible, ran along one side of the structure, enclosed by a low adobe wall that allowed views of the parked cars in the neighbor’s driveway. The small uncovered patio off the dining room—the only space accessible for outdoor living—felt stark and unwelcoming. But the garden had at its core two beautiful apricot trees.

Casita Alegria comes to life
Once I gained possession of the adobe, the first thing I did was to have an “as built” created—a to-scale drawing of both floors’ footprints to determine the need and potential for transforming the floor plan. After careful thought and counsel with my contractor and structural engineer, I decided to eliminate the two walls of the long windowless hallway that separated the galley kitchen and claustrophobic-feeling den on the first floor. I also eliminated the walls between the kitchen and dining room and the den and entry hall. We installed large lintels between the four rooms and a 12-inch-diameter pine column for structural support.

The effect was well worth the effort. Four small, disconnected rooms became one large living space that serves as a fabulous gathering area for cooking, eating, and entertaining. As an added plus, light now emanates from every direction, illuminating formerly dark areas during all times of day. Good architecture always strives for balanced light throughout the structure and the repetition of architectural elements. One way we accomplished this was by adding three new lintels designed to match those original to the historic home. In the end, no one could tell what was new and what was old.

Upstairs, we installed new windows custom-made to match the original historic ones, and the dining room downstairs received a pair of French doors. The doors now welcome additional light and connect the structure more directly to the garden, which got a transformation of its own.

We raised the three-foot perimeter wall by two feet to create the feeling of a private walled garden and extended the small patio nearly to the wall, creating a large outdoor living space for dining and entertaining. The area once occupied by the original patio now boasts a wonderful arbor, where we installed a corner outdoor kiva fireplace, complete with a banco for cozying up to the fire. We placed a second banco under the shade of an apricot tree, the perfect spot for morning coffee or evening margaritas.

Back inside, craftsmen and artists carved nichos throughout the structure to match the original one in the entry. They resurfaced walls with a vintage plastering technique and glazed them with the luminous colors of soft Santa Fe sunsets. Subtle lighting now reflects the color from the walls, enhances local artwork, and spotlights both new and old architectural detailing, including each and every nicho.

After much research into New Mexico’s richly historic architectural heritage, I chose a well-used scallop detail and incorporated it into both the tile and the amazing cabinetry built by Samora Woodworks of Santa Fe. “Good design repeats itself” is my mantra. Wherever possible, I found other ways to add scallops, through antique furnishings, fabrics and trims, and even custom-made wall fountains for the garden.

One must use discretion to avoid too much of a good thing, but this general design philosophy follows one of the primary principles of good art. Repeating the same shape (or color, or texture) in a variety of ways produces a sense of harmony the eye embraces. This repetition may not be consciously recognized, but the eye knows it’s there and responds to it. Remember, this isn’t just about the way a home looks; it’s the way it feels!

Creating the right feeling was my goal in what I came to call Casita Alegria—a happy little house filled with luminous light, beautiful color, and a reverence for local history. The home harmonizes with the spirit of northern New Mexico, reflects the architectural uniqueness of the region, and is intimately connected to the magnificent high desert landscape. It is a place of warmth and beauty in which I express and share with others a little bit of the Land of Enchantment’s soulful essence, this amazingly magical and sacred place I discovered in Santa Fe years ago.

Linda Applewhite is an artist, writer, and architectural designer who divides her time between northern California and northern New Mexico. She teaches design seminars in both states and has an upcoming workshop in Santa Fe this fall. For more information, visit


Unless otherwise noted, businesses below are in Santa Fe, the area code is 505, and the prefix for websites is www.
Contractor: W. Peterson & Company, 983-0500, Architectural designer: Linda Applewhite, Linda Applewhite & Associates, Sausalito, CA, 415/331-2040, Interior designer: Linda Applewhite, Sausalito, CA, 415/331-2040, Accessories: KITCHEN black and white jar (for flowers on sink), Sparrow Antiques, 982-1446; terra cotta confit (on counter) and antique copper teapot (on stove) Mary Corley Antiques, 984-0863,; two large green pears (on counter), Artefact Design & Salvage, Sonoma, CA, 707/933-0660, artefact; dishes in niche, Sue Fisher King, San Francisco, CA, 888/811-7276,; three antique green olive oil jars (on counter) The Butler & The Chef, San Francisco, CA, 415/626-9600,; antique angel plaque (on wall) Diseños Art & Antiques, 988-5728. Adobe: 1930s 2,800-square-foot adobe in a former compound on Santa Fe’s historic eastside. Angel: (page 70) antique Mexican angel over fireplace, purchased at Hands of America, 983-5550. Appliances: Sub-Zero 700TC refrigerator,, and Asko two-drawer dishwasher,; from Sierra West Sales, 471-6742. Lacanche Cormation enamel range in Terra Cotta, from Art Culinaire French Ranges, Woodinville, WA, 425/481-7500, Artwork: (page 68) by T. Higgins Hurt, Joe Wade Fine Arts, 988-2727, (Page 71) artwork over sofa, by Ann Broadaway,; Waxlander Gallery & Sculpture Garden, 984-2202, Small artwork, by Logan Hagege,; Giacobbe Fritz Fine Art, 986-1156, (Page 74) newspaper and hemp by Gugger Petter, Jane Sauer Gallery, 995-8513, Banco: OUTDOOR designed by Linda Applewhite, Sausalito, CA, 415/331-2040,; built by Clemens & Associates, 982-4005, Banco cushions: designed by Linda Applewhite, Sausalito, CA, 415/331-2040,; fabric, Donghia Textiles, San Francisco, CA, 415/861-7717; Lira’s Home Upholstery, Albuquerque, 343-1193. Banister: (page 75) designed by Linda Applewhite, Sausalito, CA, 415/331-2040,; built by Samora Woodworks, 471-5728. Bed: reproduction of an antique New Mexican bed, built by Samora Woodworks, 471-5728. Bench: (page 74) antique Mexican Colonial bench, Hands of America, 983-5550. Bookcase: (page 75) designed by Linda Applewhite, Sausalito, CA, 415/331-2040,; built and finished by Samora Woodworks, 471-5728. Bowl: (page 68) antique French ceramic bowl on table, Mary Corley Antiques, 984-0863, Cabinet: (over desk, page 70) designed by Linda Applewhite, Sausalito, CA, 415/331-2040,; built and finished by Samora Woodworks, 471-5728. Cabinetry: designed by Linda Applewhite, Sausalito, CA, 415/331-2040,; built by Samora Woodworks, 471-5728. Candelabra: OUTDOOR antique Italian candelabra, Foxglove Antiques, 986-8285. Candle holders: (page 69) iron candle holders, Sonoma Country Antiques, Sonoma, CA, 707/938-8315, Ceilings: existing 8-foot-wide pine planks with 8-inch-diameter fir vigas, stained. Chairs: (page 68) large red antique French bergere chair, Ambiance Antiques, San Francisco, CA,; fabric, Stroheim & Romann Issey Figured Woven Black 9768B-0941, Stroheim & Romann, San Francisco, CA, 415/864-1212,; trim, Kravet Dot Dot Gimp T30427-818, Kravet, San Francisco, CA, 415/626-3037,; upholstery, Lira’s Home Upholstery, Albuquerque, 343-1193. Two small cream antique French bergere chairs, Ambiance Antiques, San Francisco, CA, 415/626-0145,; fabric, Rodolph Floris Strawberry, FLR 77431, Sloan Miyasato, San Francisco, CA, 415/431-1465,; trim, Lee Jofa Solarium Bobble/Blaze TL10059-94, Lee Jofa, San Francisco, CA, 415/626-6921,; upholstery, Lira’s Home Upholstery, Albuquerque, 343-1193. (Page 70) pink antique wingback chair, purchased at Faircloth/Adams, 982-8700; fabric, Bora Bora Lychee Nut 10123, Donghia Textiles, San Francisco, CA, 415/861-7717,; trim, Coraggio Brush Fringe T17677 Regal, Sloan Miyasato, San Francisco, CA, 415/431-1465,; upholstery, Lira’s Home Upholstery, Albuquerque, 343-1193. (Page 75) antique Mexican blue chair, Artesanos Imports Co., 471-8020, (Page 77) all-weather wicker chairs, Janus et Cie, San Francisco, CA, 415/551-7800, Chests: (page 69) antique painted green English chest, Sonoma Country Antiques, Sonoma, CA, 707/938-8315, BEDROOM antique English chest, Chelsea Antiques, Petaluma, CA, 707/763-7686. Concrete: 12 x 12 x 2-inch-thick concrete pavers made by Tile & Stone Concepts, San Rafael, CA, 415/457-9422,; installed in garden by Clemens & Associates, 982-4005, Countertops: KITCHEN honed honey onyx, Arizona Tile, Albuquerque, 883-6076, Cross: (page 70) modern metal cross on fireplace, Robert Nichols Gallery, 982-2145, Desk: (page 70) antique Spanish Colonial desk, Diseños Art & Antiques, 988-5728. Doors: four-panel, recessed-panel solid doors; (page 75) exterior doors, Wood Tech Corporation, 424-1585. Drapes: fabric is Opuzen Justine Sheer Ecru/Spring purchased from Sloan Miyasato, San Francisco, CA, 415/431-1465,; labor by Diana Abella, Window Dressings, 820-6677. Electrical: Rio Electric. Exterior corbels: Lumber Inc., 474-4841, Faucets: KITCHEN Rohl, Santa Fe by Design, 988-4111, Faux finishing: Shawn Man Roland, Sausalito, CA, 415/331-2040. Fireplaces: two existing indoor fireplaces. New kiva fireplace outdoors designed by Linda Applewhite, Sausalito, CA, 415/331-2040,; built by Clemens & Associates, 982-4005, Flooring: random 5-inch, 6-inch, and 7-inch white character oak, purchased through W. Peterson & Company, 983-0500, Fountain: freestanding fountain, Mexican stone, Jackalope, Albuquerque, 349-0955, Wall fountains designed by Linda Applewhite, Sausalito, CA, 415/331-2040,; made by Tile & Stone Concepts, San Rafael, CA, 415/457-9422, Framing: W. Peterson & Company, 983-0500, Gates: Artefact Design & Salvage, Sonoma, CA, 707/933-0660, Hardware: existing; antique reproduction hardware purchased at Old World Hardware, 983-7290. Heating & cooling: J.A.G. Plumbing & Heating, 438-4660. Ironwork: Harmony Forge, 471-3745, Island: antique English store counter, Sonoma
Country Antiques, Sonoma, CA, 707/938-8315,; top of island, aged and distressed French zinc, Southwest Metals. Lamps: (page 69) Arrediamo, 820-2231, (Page 71, on side table) antique Spanish candlestick base; shade custom-made by Wiseman & Gale & Duncan Interiors, 984-8544, BEDROOM bases, antique candlesticks; shades, Wiseman & Gale & Duncan Interiors. Landscaping & latillas: Clemens & Associates, 982-4005, Light fixtures: (page 68, over dining table) 1940s Mexican tin chandelier, A. Rudin, San Francisco, CA, 415/431-5021, (Page 69) Mexican tin, Diseños Art & Antiques, 988-5728. KITCHEN over sink, antique iron, Chelsea Antiques, Petaluma, CA, 707/763-7686; over island, contemporary fixture made in Holland, Artefact Design & Salvage, Sonoma, CA, 707/933-0660, (Page 75) 1940s Mexican tin chandelier, A. Rudin, San Francisco, CA, 415/431-5021, BEDROOM antique iron chandelier, Nowell’s Lighting, Sausalito, CA, 415/332-4933, OUTDOOR Diseños Art & Antiques, 988-5728. Lintel: (page 68) W. Peterson & Company, 983-0500,; faux finished by Shawn Man Roland, Sausalito, CA, 415/331-2040. Lumber: Hope Lumber Building & Supply Co., 471-7474. Mexican tin light switch plates: (page 71) Diseños Art & Antiques, 988-5728. Paint: Sherwin-Williams Company, Pitchers: (page 68) two black contemporary ceramic pitchers on chest, Wiseman & Gale & Duncan Interiors, 984-8544, Plaster & stucco: A & J Construction. Plumbing: Carlson Plumbing, 424-8145. Pots: OUTDOOR Jackalope, 471-8539, Rugs: (page 68 & 70) antique Turkish Oushaks, KITCHEN checkerboard rug, and (page 75) hand-woven and dyed Tibetan rug, all from Arrediamo, 820-2231, Sinks: KITCHEN Sonoma cast stone, Santa Fe by Design, 988-4111, Sofa: (page 71) custom sofa, A. Rudin, San Francisco, CA, 415/431-5021,; fabric, Clarence House Chiang Mai/Pink 33552-1,, Kneedler-Fauchere, San Francisco, CA, 415/861-1011; trim, Brunschwig & Fils Clementine Small Fringe Moss Green/Gold, Brunschwig & Fils, San Francisco, CA, 415/522-1622, Staircase: designed by Linda Applewhite, Sausalito, CA, 415/331-2040,; built by Samora Woodworks, 471-5728; faux finishing of staircase and lintel, Shawn Man Roland, Sausalito, CA, 415/331-2040. Tables: (page 68) painted antique American pedestal table, Faircloth/Adams, 982-8700. (Page 70) coffee table, antique English cut down, Chelsea Antiques, Petaluma, CA, 707/ 763-7686. (Page 71) antique English walnut table, San Anselmo Country Store, San Anselmo, CA, 415/258-0922; antique Mexican pine trastero base table, Claiborne Gallery, 982-8019. (Page 76) bedside table, antique Brazilian desk, Summer House Gallery, Mill Valley, CA, 415/381-1345. (Page 77, outdoors) iron table base, Fantasma Home Decor, Petaluma, CA, 707/778-0892,; antique French train clock on table base, Chelsea Antiques. Vigas: existing. Windows: custom-made to match existing historic windows, Wood Tech Corporation, 424-1585. Wooden figure: (page 75) antique Spanish angel, Gloria List Gallery, 982-5622,