Placitas, NM - Residential
2005, 985 square feet

The project is a detached guesthouse, a painting studio-great room with a workshop-garage for a couple who live in their existing residence next door. Sited atop a small hill, the guesthouse is both a place of retreat and an observatory, a place of repose and an instrument for inspiration.  The building form is a serene, simple volume, inside and out, from which one can contemplate the vistas of prominent landforms and receive the changing color of the natural light throughout the day.  The Sandia Mountains rise behind you to the southeast as you approach the entry alcove. As you pass into the protected entry penetrating the massive curved wall, and walk through the front door, the bowed wall of the great room terminates with an expansive view of the Jemez Mountain Range to the north through the glazed north wall. Off of the great room, another large expanse of glass with french doors faces west and opens onto a porch and sitting stair. The great room-studio space opens up on all four sides to receive natural light throughout the day, introducing a balance of light from all directions, ideal for the painting studio. The french doors facing west open onto a porch and sitting stair for taking in views of dazzling sunsets on the western mesas overlooking the Rio Grande Valley and on Cabezon Peak in the background.

The architect took his cue from the spectacular views, intense colors of the natural vegetation and nearby mountain ranges, as well as the immediate conditions of the site in order to introduce a unique external form and color palette (interior finishes) into the mundane homogeneity of the subdivision. Color abounds in the garage, spilling out at dusk onto the landscape through the large retractable glazed door, sharply contrasting with the earth-tones of the exterior stucco. Adjacent to the garage, separating the two large spaces is a service core comprised of the bathroom, kitchen and furnace, efficiently locating all the plumbing in one central location; above this core sits the roof-top evaporative cooler.

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The house is part of the La Mesa subdivision of Placitas. The strict design covenants limit the design of the houses to flat roofs, earth-tone stucco colors, wood and/or painted metal trim. Most of the houses in the area are wood frame/stucco structures designed in the Spanish-Pueblo style. The design demonstrates how the style restrictions can be interpreted to create a modern house and how a program requirement for dual usage is accommodated into an area of restricted size. The key design elements of the guesthouse came from addressing the physical site conditions, natural climate, and the program. The primary program called for a guesthouse for occasional visits from friends and family and a workshop for the wood, metal and electrical projects of the owners. The secondary requirement for the spaces is as a painting studio and garage. The house sits exposed, atop a small hill surrounded by sparse, low-lying, vegetation. Therefore solar heat gain is a problem during half the year and is controlled by overhangs, wing walls and recessed entry areas. The ceiling and walls are well protected with insulation. The house has 2x8 wood stud walls on the west side to provide extra insulation where low summer sunshine overheats houses in this climate. However, natural lighting and ventilation were essential to the program and there are many windows carefully located that contribute to the sustainability of design. The floors are all polished concrete with radiant heating coils. The walls are of 2x wood studs and drywall. The glazing is all double pane, insulated, low-E glass.

The topography of Placitas’ many developments is an arid, hilly landscape where curving streets and driveways cut into the small valleys with vertical climbs and drops and hidden access ways used to reach the homes dotted over the land. The dramatic approach to the guesthouse is a natural procession through this varied topography. At a distance, the building becomes visible from above, the road then progressively drops into a small canyon many feet below, out of sight from the house before climbing again and arriving at the private drive that leads one along a curving path to the studio and house. The high desert is a place of contrasts year round. Evergreen juniper and piñon trees dot the buff colored hills, flowering cacti and plants abound. The new landscaping for the house is comprised of drought tolerant, native plants, local rock and concrete block borders and flagstone paths. The desert willow trees, chamisa, and Mormon tea shrubs compliment the architecture and fit in with the surrounding vegetation.