I recently had the good fortune to visit Santa Fe and the surrounding area. I’d never spent much time in the region, and I was only vaguely aware of its unique and complex history — a combination of native tradition and European influence, a fascinating example of the melting pot that makes America an amazing place to live. While there, I was lucky to visit an incredible home that combined the best, and most beautiful, of the region’s rich history.
The home was built in the traditional adobe style. Modern adobe buildings incorporate concrete, making them stronger and more durable. In this more primitive construction style, the layers of adobe wear away continually, requiring the outer layer to be replaced every year (and reminding me of the perpetual renewal going on inside and outside our own bodies).
The family’s history was one centered in both agriculture and the arts. Its former owner, who passed down the place to his daughter who still lives there, had spent time living in Europe in the 1960s, and he collected an astonishing array of European art including exquisitely woven Polish tapestries and ancient Roman statues. The family had also collected some of the most beautiful native art of the region—preserving traditional religious artworks that had ended up in estate sales and thrift stores after local missions began renovating starting in the ’50s. Throughout the home, family heirlooms, precious works of art and invaluable pieces of regional history commingle, creating a museum atmosphere. And yet, alongside its sophisticated art collection, the home is also a hardworking farm. We learned about the farm’s work with a microbiologist who studies the ways fungi, nematodes and bacteria in compost influence the plants that grow around them; and we admired the 400-year-old irrigation system.
Some of you may know that I was an editor at Natural Home magazine for many years (as well as at The Herb Companion; we merged those two titles into Mother Earth Living four years ago). Part of my job at Natural Home was traveling across the country, interviewing the owners of interesting, green-built homes and directing photo shoots of their inspiring residences. These homes ranged wildly in style—some were handbuilt homes made entirely out of salvaged materials (I profiled six of these case studies in my 2011 book, Housing Reclaimed); others were uber-modern renovated warehouses, minimalist and industrial. But no matter their style, every one of these homes shared one common element with each other, and with the home I toured near Santa Fe—they were absolutely unique, and reflective of their owners’ tastes, styles and preferences.
It’s unfortunate, and something we might not think about often, but in many ways modern housing has been commoditized and homogenized in much the same way as industrial foods. Developers have found a lowest common denominator they believe can please the most people, and it often looks like a large, plain white box.
But our domiciles shouldn’t be made for just anyone. They should, in design as they do in practice, house us, in particular, unique individuals with unique needs. Whether you live in a home you built yourself to your exact specifications or, more likely, in an apartment or condo or basic contemporary housing development, I hope you’ll consider the many ways in which you can make your home your own. A house designed to suit our own needs is the best one for us, and we all deserve a home where we feel ourselves, our history and our lifestyle reflected.
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