See how a designer turned a New Mexico pueblo into a little slice of Southwestern paradise
Written bySarah LattaNovember 6, 2015
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Susan Stellafirst fell in love with the brown and rose-colored badlands of New Mexico when she was a girl.The interior designer (susanmstella.com) bought a two-bedroom 1972 pueblo house in Tesuque, a river-valley village that feels rural though it’s minutes from Santa Fe. The home needed stucco repairs and a new roof, so Stella took the opportunity to make some historically minded renovations. “I wanted it to look worn in,” she says. “Nothing new or shiny.” She used clay plaster and paint on the walls, replaced windowsills with hand-hewn pine, and added traditional banco seating.
At first, Stella decorated with New Mexican and Spanish colonial antiques in a spot-on rendition of Southwestern style. But lately, she’s sprinkled in Moroccan pieces from her travels, as well as a few midcentury touches inspired by a trip to Georgia O’Keeffe’s home: a Saarinen womb chair and a Noguchi coffee table, among others. The mix hits Stella’s sweet spot. “ ‘The historical meets the modern’ is really exciting,” she says. “Here, I feel creative.”
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Stella swapped her sofa for a banco, a traditional, built-in style of seating that she fashioned from solid adobe brick, wire, and plaster, then topped with cushions. “When you’re dealing with a small space, built-ins help things feel less cluttered,” she says.
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Also in the living room, Stella removed the eyesore wall heater and installed a mini pine sill in the resulting niche to display collected curiosities.
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Heeding local custom, Stella painted the window and front door frames a traditional blue, said to reflect the sky and keep out evil spirits.
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“They’re warping, but I like them that way,” Stella says of her hand-hewn pine counters. Willow-twig cabinet doors match the window screens throughout the house. Chandelier:Chondelierra, artesanos.com.
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“Since it’s a small house, the rooms needed to flow easily into one another,” Stella says. To make that happen, she used similar colors and patterns in all the main rooms, including the master bedroom, opposite. Variations of the stripes, for example, are nearly everywhere. Pink clay pigment, applied like plaster to the walls, mirrors the colors of the hills beyond the house. Accent wall:americanclay.com.
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For more character, Stella covered the old white tub face, above right, with blue Talavera tiles to match the shower-wall tile that was there when she bought the house. New pine cabinetry, designed to look old, is finished with Mexican iron hardware from a local shop. Tile:Standard Talavera pattern 99, artesanos.com.
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At night, the candlelit Moroccan lantern illuminates the wooden Mexican table and cafe chairs. Committed to keeping the house as wild as she found it, Stella left the wisteria vine gloriously overgrown, enveloping the patio in leafy splendor. “It’s my favorite place to work, write, and entertain.”