A Duncan Phyfe sofa is right at home in the sitting room of a Federal-style house in Boston or Philadelphia. Blazing white upholstery shines in a sun-bleached living room in Malibu. Almost every corner of the country has its regional style. But a room that hews slavishly to the expected can be too much of a good thing. Balance is key. A blue-and-white palette can be spot on at a beachside cottage, but a coffee table spun from an old lobster trap is a motif too far.
Longtime Santa Fe designers, Michael Violante and Paul Rochford, know their neck of the woods inside out. They know the colors and patterns of the landscape, the shapes and volumes of an architecture spun from indigenous forms and the Spanish influence. So, when a longtime client with multiple homes decided to make their Santa Fe spread their primary residence, the designers had no trouble creating interiors that steered clear of stereotype.
“I’m a native to Santa Fe and Michael has been here 30 years,” relates Rochford. “Naturally, people come to us and say they want to make sure their home feels like a Santa Fe house. Well, our definition of the Santa Fe house might be different from other designers. We always feel that a Santa Fe House is a very collected house. For centuries, people have been bringing their past to their Santa Fe present and that’s the case with these clients, a family from the East Coast. So, we bring their past to their present and pepper it with things that define this area.”
While eager to streamline their personal real estate portfolio — which included properties in London and Barbados — the homeowners were a bit worried that their belongings could be sensibly distilled in their Santa Fe home. “But we assured them,” reports Violante, “that we would unify things using color and pattern and that’s what we did.”
Central to that strategy is the use of Navajo rugs, whose varied geometries and palette not only telegraph a Santa Fe aesthetic, but serve to link the disparate furnishings the owners have assembled over the years. The living room — where English and Anglo-Indian furniture are assembled around a contemporary, glass-topped coffee table — is anchored by a large, 19th-century rug. “We have placed a lot of Navajos in our lives and we’ve not seen a 10 x 14 like this, and don’t expect to again,” says Rochford. “It needed some restoration, so when we found it, we sent it to Colorado for about ten months of restoration before bringing it into the house.” Other regional touches include the saddle blankets draped over the two easy chairs, and in the dining room, a grouping of santos gathered on an English sideboard. “Those are some of the more important pieces they have,” notes Rochford. “They are from documented artisans of the late 1700s who lived in this area. Pieces like this are almost impossible to find now. We bought those for the client and love that juxtaposition of something very indigenous to New Mexico arranged in front of classic Italian paintings.”
Christened Casa Alegría (“happy home”), the compound comprises a main house, guest house and casita, making it easy to welcome family and friends. While slightly less formal than the main house, the guest quarters display the same rich play of fabric, pleasing pops of color and that all-important air of collectedness. At every turn, the eye delights in the artful yet discreet display of cherished objects, from vintage portrait paintings and antique tea caddies, to Spanish Colonial silver and simple white ironstone. And for all the sophistication of their design, Violante and Rochford have not overlooked the basics that spell home — kitchen chairs that encourage lingering over morning coffee, a good-looking reading lamp in the library, a simple chest at the foot of a bed — no matter where one lives.
Photography by Wendy McEahern.
For more like this Santa Fe residence, check out this lush apartment in Sweden.
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