Photography ©Laurie Allegretti.

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Casita Style 101: A 1950’s Guest Quarters Reborn

by Jennifer Ashton, ASID

Taking on the renovation of a two-bedroom, 1,100-square-foot guest house built in the 1950s was an exciting design adventure for me. The first time I walked into this small house, I saw an old, dark, dingy and neglected space that had not been occupied in quite a while and needed some major love.

Being Inspired

Inspiration can come from unexpected sources. For this renovation project, the inspiration came from Chef Sean Sinclair, whose robust yet sophisticated farm-to-table cuisine was the spark. Sean has a passion for handcrafted pottery, a preference for natural earthy linens and a philosophy of simplicity about modern living and cooking.

Interior designers and chefs were randomly paired to work together to design an assigned space for the 2018 ShowHouse Santa Fe, an annual interior designer home tour and a gala event that raises money for local school programs. Sean and I, both volunteers, were tasked with redesigning the old ranch-style casita in a way that reflected the collaboration of a designer and a chef. We spent time in his restaurant kitchen, Luminaria Restaurant in the Inn and Spa at Loretto, where I experienced his superb cooking. I let his sense of personal style and philosophy of living guide my design ideas. We also visited his favorite potter’s shop, looked at textiles and had fun exploring places where cooking and design meet.

The master bedroom’s focal point, a large six-panel art piece
The master bedroom’s focal point, a large six-panel art piece, is combined with other design elements to give the room a fresh, modern feel. Photography ©Laura Allegretti.
A circular table and Wishbone chairs, handcrafted pottery
A circular table and Wishbone chairs, handcrafted pottery and DIY art flanking the windows create an inviting spot to enjoy a meal. Photography ©Laura Allegretti.

Getting to Work

We wanted this renovation to start with a clean palette, so we painted the residence’s interior bright white. For the flooring, we selected a light, off-white, weathered plank tile, which created an open, airy and “farm-fresh” feeling.

The next step was recruiting my fabulous artist friends to help with our ShowHouse project. Our team included artist/decorative painter Cindy Peck who designed six large, etched, silver-foil panels to use above our bed in the master bedroom and created reverse-painted glass for our unique kitchen and bathroom backsplashes.

A cozy and relaxed living room in a Santa Fe casita
To create a relaxed atmosphere, the living room features a daybed, artwork, plants and textural window shades. Photography ©Laura Allegretti.

The corner kiva fireplace in the main living space was eye catching. I asked local artist Karen Earle-Browne to draw on regional influences and paint it as an artistic statement. For inspiration, we also made a trip to see Chef Sean’s work environment. [Publisher’s note: Sean Sinclair is now the executive chef/proprietor at Castañeda (casual dining) and Kin (fine dining), at Hotel Castañeda in Las Vegas, New Mexico.]

A sleek white and grey kitchen
Special touches in the kitchen include decoratively painted cabinets, reverse-painted glass backsplashes, sleek quartz counters and industrial-style pendant lights. Photography ©Laura Allegretti.

Bedecking the Kitchen

Our version of modern industrial style helped bring the casita’s worn-out kitchen back to life. To make the kitchen feel fresh and simple, I kept the original regional cabinetry but applied a modern neutral-tone paint to it. The dining table in the cozy eating nook featured a metal base and a beveled-glass top draped with a natural linen cloth. It was complemented with classic Wishbone dining chairs. The pottery and place settings were by local potter Colin Dyck, owner of Mudslide Stoneware. I flanked the dining area window with Mexican clavos (decorative nails) arranged in a simple grid pattern.

A pale guest room
The light, bright and airy guest bedroom incorporates a variety of textures and a pair of antique chairs. Photography ©Laura Allegretti.

Choosing Décor

Among the pieces of furniture in the casita were modern vintage lounge chairs I reupholstered in a charcoal-dotted fabric from Scalamandré and a cozy, natural linen daybed. To create a sense of modern luxe and freshness, I carefully mixed old pieces with new ones.

Layering in décor adds the magic, so I leaned old and new mirrors against a wall and placed silky, textured rugs among folded Navajo textiles. For the bedding, I went with bold and graphic items with regional patterns to keep a crisp feel throughout the space. I’m always on the lookout for eccentric items that add personality to a space. I also brought energy and an uplifting feeling to this little gem of a home by adding live plants and fresh florals.

A cozy white living room in Santa Fe
A silk rug, beautiful upholstery fabrics, Native blankets and stacked mirrors are living room highlights. Photography ©Laura Allegretti.

Showcasing the Art

In many of my projects, art plays a huge role. Ideally, I like to start with the art before choosing the furniture and accessories. I focus on art that breathes life into space but is owner driven.

In the main living space of the guest house, I hung a few gestural abstract paintings by Karen Earle-Browne adjacent to the fireplace. A vintage ’70s print, bought from a local antique shop and lent from my personal collection, added personality to the corner of the bar area. Oil on panel works by Owen Contemporary artist Stephen Pentak adorned the walls of the main living space and the primary bedroom, and added a sense of cohesion.

An adorable casita in Santa Fe
The relaxing area outside the casita features beautiful grasses, contemporary lounge chairs and handcrafted ceramic sculptures. Photography ©Laurie Allegretti.

Enhancing Outdoor Spaces

The beautiful, natural, tall grasses planted by Serquis & Associates Landscape Architecture near the front door brought lightness and texture to the casita’s outdoor space. I chose comfortable lounge chairs from the Santa Fe store Moss Collection and a modern, striped rug from The Rug Company to enhance the enjoyment of spending time outdoors on a beautiful Santa Fe day.

Jennifer Ashton, ASID

Jennifer Ashton is an award-winning interior designer in Santa Fe. She is the co-founder of ShowHouse Santa Fe which raises money for, a charitable organization that provides direct needs to local schools. Her work can be seen at


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