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For The Home

History in The Remaking

Author: Ben Ikenson
Issue: July, 2017, Page 70
Photos by Ben Ikenson

During renovations, a stone divider wall that separated the living and dining rooms was removed, and the dark floors were replaced with whitewashed oak, creating a bright, airy feel. The gas-burning fireplace was repaired and remodeled with a contemporary, streamlined surround and mantle. The painting by Emily Mason adds a pop of vibrancy to the otherwise serene room.
A Design Duo’s Old Adobe Home Gets a New Lease on Life

Before Santa Fe’s Canyon Road became a renowned art mecca with its throng of more than 100 galleries, it brought 17th-century Spanish settlers and their firewood-bearing burros from the foothills of the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains into town. Later, after the city established a beautification program in the mid-1800s, the route meandered through a pastoral landscape of abundant cherry, apple and quince orchards.

The couple has collected works by British photographer Nick Brandt for years, adding pieces in celebration of milestones. Grouped together, the images make a dramatic statement in the living room. The opening on the left leads to a guest bedroom, powder room and the master suite.
When interior designers Paul Rochford and Michael Violante set about renovating their 1930s adobe home, located just steps from the storied road, they wanted to preserve some of that past, including a hand-dug well built in 1897 that nourished the fruit trees growing along the banks of the Santa Fe River.

“Even though we’re very close to town, there is a sense of history here that feels very untouched. And since we’re so close to the river, it is already naturally lush,” says Michael. “So we really wanted to focus on creating a tranquil oasis oriented around our garden spaces, and an homage to Santa Fe’s rich heritage.”

A Midwestern native, Michael moved to Santa Fe in 1990. While working for a furnishings showroom and interior design company, he met Paul, a Santa Fe native and Canyon Road art gallery owner who had purchased the 1,700-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath Pueblo/Spanish Territorial cottage in 2001. The two became fast friends, joining forces to establish a design firm in 2008 and eventually marrying in 2013. 

Michael Violante (left) and Paul Rochford relax in their remodeled kitchen.
A few years ago, the couple—wanting a more open, contemporary home—began weighing the idea of moving. But given the cottage’s ideal location, they decided to renovate with an eye toward creating a contemporary interior within the existing shell, and to add some 400 square feet to its footprint.

“We really didn’t want to leave because we are so close to everything,” says Paul. “We can walk to meet clients, see galleries and visit our favorite restaurants.”

Paul and Michael turned to builder Sharon Woods, with whom they had worked closely in the past for other clients. Woods had also chaired the city’s Historic Design Review Board, which oversees construction and renovation projects in several distinct historic districts. “The home had been designated as ‘historically contributing (see sidebar, Page 81),’ which means that it contributes to the historic character of the district,” she says. “So we knew that while addressing changes, we had to maintain the home’s basic character.”

French doors welcome guests to the entry/dining area. Bright, white walls throughout and furnishings in subdued shades of green combine for a surprisingly fresh take on a traditional adobe home.
For instance, the ceilings, which were quite dark, could not be raised, as Paul and Michael had hoped. Instead, “we decided to paint the original beams and plaster over the dark decking between them, and we incorporated skylights, which help create a more open feel,” says Paul.  Additionally, the existing windows, which were not original, were replaced with more efficient glass. Because the home’s designation precluded the use of lower-maintenance metal-clad windows, the new ones were simply installed in the original wood-framed openings.

Also, “the floors were dark brown with a really high sheen,” says Michael. “They were gorgeous, but they required so much work to keep clean because they’d show every little speck of dust.” Since it was made with a darker oak, the flooring could not simply be resurfaced and stained with a lighter finish. Instead, it was replaced with lighter oak that was whitewashed, enhancing the infusion of light from the new windows and skylights.  

“We wanted to make our home feel like a vacation getaway, very airy and open and light,” says Paul.

While the kitchen retained most of its cabinetry during the renovation, the couple replaced the over-the-range microwave with a stylish hood and added a large island with ample space for meal prep and entertaining. The counters are topped with a simple gray Caesarstone that enhances the room’s contemporary feel.
Other major revamps included the removal of both a narrow hallway, allowing for expansion of the master bedroom, where doors that open to an intimate enclosed courtyard include independently operable windows, and a load-bearing wall that had been cramping the kitchen area. A gas-burning fireplace in the living room required reparation and updating as well. The home also saw the addition of a mudroom, laundry room, dining room, guest bedroom and garage, and a new HVAC system.

And, just as they have done for countless clients, Paul and Michael worked together to design the interiors of their dreams. Drawing from their mutual love of art and their shared travel experiences, the couple injected evidence of their eclectic tastes throughout with artwork, photography and many standout antique furnishings, including a 17th-century Spanish vestment piece.

“We love juxtaposing old and antique items with modern elements, and that echoes the sense of place we wanted to establish through the entire project,” says Paul. “Altogether, we were able to create something modern, efficient and elegant inside while retaining the old-world feel of the home’s exterior.”

Once a dark and oft-unused space separated from the kitchen by a wall, the media room is now one of the couple’s favorite places. Large windows overlook an arbor-covered seating area. The painting is by Emily Mason.
In fact, the house earned top honors in the fall 2016 Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association’s Parade of Homes in two categories: historic renovation and craftsmanship.

And then there’s the object of the couple’s obsession: their gardens.

“We’ve spent years working outside on the property,” says Michael. The lush oasis brims with lavender, larkspur, wisteria, Icelandic poppies, black-eyed Susans, rose bushes and robust Rocky Mountain boxwoods. An enclosed courtyard off the kitchen features a steel grape arbor stretched above a sitting area paved with a river rock design inspired by the couple’s travels in Portugal, while an outdoor area off the master bedroom provides another idyllic retreat with seating around a mosaic-tiled table made by a blind craftsman and purchased by the couple during a trip to Jordan.

Together, these small areas are but pieces in a larger masterpiece. Bordered by a stand of four mature cottonwood trees that are more than 100 years old, the entire property, Paul says, is a “real showstopper. People are always coming by in the fall to snap pictures.”

Adds Michael, “It’s really nice to be able to share some of the beauty here—and it reminds us how fortunate we are to be able to call this place home.”

Surrounded by lush plantings and colorful blooms, and shaded by mature trees and climbing vines, the intimate seating area just outside the master bedroom offers a relaxing escape for the busy couple. Paul and Michael purchased the mosaic-tiled table in Jordan.

A long hallway behind the living room’s gallery wall was removed, allowing for the addition of a master bathroom.
In the master bedroom, French doors lead to a newly created patio. The Chinese horse sculpture is from the Tang Dynasty.


In the courtyard off the kitchen, a steel grape arbor was affixed between the home and a perimeter wall. It provides support for the flourishing wisteria vines and a shady outdoor retreat for Paul and Michael. The setting was inspired by a street scene the couple saw during a trip to Spain.
The classic appearance and soft, neutral tones of Paul Rochford and Michael Violante’s historic Santa Fe abode, seen in the “before” photos on the left, were given a fresh update that opened up the spaces and gave the home a bright, welcoming feel inside and out. From top to bottom: kitchen, living room, media room, master bedroom and front garden/entryway.

Preserving Santa Fe’s Style
In Santa Fe, the old adage that past is prologue has long been an important mandate. In 1912, the city initiated an improvement plan to “reverse the popular trend to look more American and to define and develop a Santa Fe Style.” In 1957, the city adopted the Historic Styles Ordinance, the second oldest historic preservation ordinance in the U.S. In the mid 1990s, the city passed legislation to protect historic homes, adding a ‘preservation’ ordinance to the existing historic styles ordinance. Today, Santa Fe boasts five distinct historic districts in which buildings are given one of three designations:

Noncontributing: A structure less than 50 years old and/or does not exhibit sufficient historic integrity to establish and maintain the character of the Historic District.

Contributing: A structure approximately 50 years old or older that helps to establish and maintain the character of the Historic District.

Significant: A structure approximately 50 years old or older that embodies distinctive characteristics of a type, period or method of construction.

All exterior architectural and hardscape changes, including everything from paint color and stucco repair to windows, fences and additions, in the historic districts must be approved by the Historic Preservation Division, with homes deemed contributing or significant having the most restrictive regulations.
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