When you’re a homebuilder remodeling your own home, the years of experience you’ve acquired building other people’s residences certainly comes in handy. You’re less apt to make rash decisions, for example, and you probably have a more realistic budget in mind than many of the clients you build for. But as Keith Gorges, one of the partners at Tierra Concepts Inc., knows all too well, bringing that much knowledge and expertise to a personal project also has a downside.
“I’m my own worst client,” he admits ruefully. “This was probably the hardest project I’ve ever done from an intellectual standpoint. It seems really simple when you look at it, but the decision-making was very challenging!”
Gorges and his partner of 15 years, Ricardo Sanchez, have done one new build and, most recently, two remodels together—a cool renovation of a Casa Solana Stamm, and their current home, a classic, Eastside Santa Fe adobe.
The oldest three rooms of the house were built in 1889 as a dry goods store, owned and operated by the Vigil family. “My understanding from Louella Vigil is that when Palace Avenue went in, the family moved the store and created the Palace Grocery,” says Gorges. The dry goods store was converted at some point into a residence, and in the style of many an Eastside Santa Fe home, was added onto over the years in a jumble of interconnected rooms that expanded the square footage for multiple families. When Sanchez saw it was for sale, he and Gorges were at once taken aback by the decrepit state of the building, and yet thrilled by its possibilities.
“Ricardo’s family goes back forever in New Mexico, and he always gravitated to these older structures—and so did I,” says Gorges. “But we also had a lot of interest in more modern architecture and design. Our dream when we were looking was to find something that had some architectural roots and some history to it, but that we could adapt in a more contemporary way, or at least parts of it.”
“Without compromising the integrity of the historic structure!” Sanchez adds. “We’ve tried to preserve as much of the building as we could, and reuse materials as much as we could as well.”
Gorges jumped at the chance to collaborate with architect A. Christopher Purvis, whose expertise as a former president of the Historic Districts Review Board was invaluable throughout the project. The south-facing walls of the original three rooms—today the kitchen, dining room, and living room—were deemed a contributing façade, the most restrictive of the tiers of historic value. Windows there were rebuilt and repaired rather than replaced.
Any remodel is guaranteed to uncover unexpected twists, but a historic property in Santa Fe—particularly one from the late 19th century—is likely to offer up more than a few well-kept secrets, such as old bottles found on the higher, desert-like part of the property that suggest it might have been a Prohibition-era bottle dump. Gorges was astonished to discover, behind a panel drop ceiling (such as you might find in a commercial building), there was a second panel drop ceiling. And behind that, a treasure. “I saw these vigas, and they were beautiful—almost perfect,” Gorges marvels. “And they’d been hidden for, God only knows, maybe 100 years.” Even more amazing, though bowed from a century of dirt piled atop the roof, the vigas snapped back once the dirt was removed.
Only one of the vigas was damaged, so Gorges and a colleague turned it into a light fixture in the kitchen, hand-chiseling it into a rectangular shape using an adze. “We didn’t use a power tool to make it square; we did it all by hand,” he says. “It was part of honoring the wood, and the history of the wood.”
Even as they revered the house’s roots, history, and old materials. Gorges and Sanchez thoughtfully imparted their modernist sensibilities into the project by utilizing traditional materials in a more contemporary way—an aesthetic Tierra Concepts calls contextual modern. “We wanted a house that literally went through the ages, from when the original rooms were built to more contemporary architecture,” Gorges explains. To that end, the most distant part in the house is the newest; an addition to the previous buildings that became the spectacular, contemporary master bathroom.
Warm, comfortable, and eminently livable, this tastefully remodeled home and property is a sanctuary and retreat for its two busy owners, who both work full-time and have hobbies that frequently take them away from their home (Gorges is a mountain climber and Sanchez plays competitive volleyball). It’s perhaps a testament to the strength of their relationship that they have not only completed three complicated projects together and remained a couple, but that they’ve actually devised a strategy for working through each project’s inevitable challenges and learning to love and embrace the process, come what may. Along the way, they’ve developed a style of architecture and design wholly their own.
Neither harbors any illusions that this home will be their last; but they’re honored to be its stewards and caretakers until the next enticing design and build opportunity comes along.
“I think anybody who’s close to a designer or builder sort of allows for the freedom of creativity and change, and at this point I think the process is fun, too,” says Sanchez. “And I’ve learned that a house we’ve loved isn’t just our space; it can be somebody else’s space.”
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