How to add to the perfect little house? You don’t.


When Terry Mowers first encountered the dry and dusty landscape of Marfa, Texas in 2006, he felt his life was about to change.

“It was just a very, very special place,” said Mr. Mowers, 66, a textile design consultant who was in awe of the vast desert, the great sky and the legacy of artist Donald Judd. “And I fell in love.”

Within days, he decided he needed a home there, a getaway far from his primary residence in Manhattan. He contacted a real estate agent and, before his return to New York, found a house he wanted to buy: a modernist box partially constructed of adobe bricks designed by the architectural firm. Rael San Fratello.

A few months later, after closing the 1,500-square-foot one-bedroom home for $ 279,000, Mr. Mowers worked with architects to finish it. At first, the space seemed perfect. It was a loft-like open plan house with a concrete floor and plenty of space to display artwork, with little storage – ideal for someone who only used it a few weeks a year .

But over time, and Mr. Mowers divorced and then met his new wife, Lindy Thorsen, in Marfa, he came to the conclusion that a vacation home there was not enough. “Ultimately, I wanted to be here full time,” he said.

Mr. Mowers and Mrs. Thorsen, 69, owner Ranch dressing, a Marfa store that sells vintage Navajo rugs and sterling silver jewelry, got married in 2016. For a few years, they commuted between Marfa and Chattanooga, Tenn., for Mr. Mowers’ work. But as they were planning to move to Marfa together, the couple encountered a few issues with the adobe house that needed to be addressed.

The exterior walls were finished with mud and straw that protected the bricks, but the plaster came off during storms and had to be constantly reapplied. “The mud would just fly away in the rain,” Ms Thorsen said, adding that sometimes after a storm, “you couldn’t even open the door because there was so much mud on the ground.”

“We’ve been through several years of just resurfacing the exterior of the house,” Mowers said.

They finally covered the house with a more durable lime plaster. Then that was the next glaring problem.

“We just didn’t have enough space,” Mowers said. There was also no bedroom door to close when he had to dial an early conference call and Ms. Thorsen was still asleep.

In 2017, looking to grow, the couple got engaged Dust, an architectural firm based in Tucson, Arizona. But they didn’t want an addition; instead, the owners and architects agreed to leave the original house alone and build a new structure accessible by an outside path.

“The house that was there – a sort of long bar with an interior courtyard – is really a deep room, so we didn’t want to dwell on it,” said Jesús Edmundo Robles Jr., founding director of Dust. “The natural response was a bow to that.”

By placing a new 1,200 square foot building approximately 36 feet from the house, Mr. Robles and his partner, Cade Hayes, sought to reflect some of the aesthetic cues of the existing structure while adding spaces that would improve livability. of the compound set.

Ultimately, they came up with a self-contained master suite made of compressed earth and cement blocks that are similar to adobe but can withstand the elements without a coating of mud or plaster. Inside, the space is divided into a bedroom, a generous bathroom, and a living room that includes a long, one-window desk as an inspirational place to work from home.

The new building opens onto two patios through sliding glass doors: one off the living room, with views of the Davis Mountains; the other next to the bedroom, near a vegetable patch.

“It’s that big volume with a lot of glass,” Mr. Mowers said. “You frame the sky and the landscape. “

The couple had spent years persuading Chihuahuan desert grasses, agave, yucca, and cacti to grow on their four-acre property, so they gave their builder, Eric Martinez, a tightly controlled area in which to grow. work. “We only had a 10-foot perimeter that could be disturbed” around the new building, Mr. Mowers said. “Because once you degrade the natural desert here, it just takes a long, long time for the natural herbs to come back and thrive.”

Inside, they’ve kept the material palette to a minimum – exposed block walls, concrete floors, doors and built-in white oak – and added a selection of mid-century modern furniture and art, as well. as vintage Navajo rugs from Ms. Thorsen’s collections.

After more than two years of construction, the project was completed in July 2020 at a cost of approximately $ 595,000. Now the couple are enjoying having two separate spaces to inhabit, as well as the outdoor transition between them.

“Lindy and I, if we want to go to work in privacy, it’s so different than a separate room in the same building,” Mowers said.

Each space not only offers a place to focus on different activities, but also a different ambience. And walking between them is far from awkward, he adds: It’s a moment to be savored.

“We’ll see the moon and the stars at night, and that really connects you,” he said. “You are one with the landscape.”

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