On the historic east side of Santa Fe, where the old Pecos and Santa Fe trails converge, designer Linda Applewhite found the adobe home she’s always wanted. With it also came a lifestyle distinctly different from her thriving busy life here in Marin.
Applewhite and her husband, Marshall Miller, a San Francisco banker, purchased Casita Alegria (Happy Little Home) more than a year ago and have since given it Applewhite’s signature touches—an abundance of color, a warm glow, architectural salvage pieces, whimsical accents and a strong connection to the outdoors.
“I love her work,” Miller says. “It creates a place of harmony and beauty for us.”
Miller may be the most direct beneficiary of Applewhite’s aesthetic, but her design approach has fans across the country, the result of her exposure on HGTV’s Sensible Chic and Curb Appeal, on the Food Network’s Ultimate Kitchens, in numerous national and international shelter magazines and through her book. (She also sells her own branded pillows and candles and conducts design seminars in Marin.)
The part-time move to Santa Fe raised Applewhite’s profile even higher. She held her first “Design in the Desert” seminar last fall, and Su Casa, a New Mexico magazine devoted to Southwestern homes, plans a photo spread on Casita Alegria in the spring, when Applewhite will begin writing a column for the magazine.“
In addition to creating homes for my clients, my other goal for the past 17 years has been to write books and teach seminars to help more people live in beauty,” she explains. Here in Marin, that mindful approach is embodied in her cozy 2,800-square-foot, 1930s Spanish revival–style home set just above sea level on one of the most desirable streets in Belvedere. Graced with direct views of Sausalito, San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, the house has arched leaded windows, great stucco details, private decks off each bedroom and a terrace that overlooks an established garden of hydrangeas and fragrant roses, rosemary and lavender.
A lower wild garden is home to a variety of critters and an 80-year-old Monterey cypress. The day Applewhite and Miller bought the house 10 years ago, they found twin fawns hidden in the lower thicket. They rushed the little creatures to WildCare, the San Rafael animal rehabilitation center, only to discover the fawns were newborns and needed to be reunited with their mother. “We considered them to be a good omen,” Applewhite says, and since then any plans to expand the garden have been shelved. “I wanted to leave room for the deer and raccoons and to keep the cypress as it is.”
Inside, she covered the house’s white walls with glazes of apricot over pale yellow and played up the perimeters of archways and niches with a rich persimmon. She chose an engaging palette of pinks, terra-cotta, salmon, golds, blues and yellow-green and used lavishly detailed lampshades in warm colors to splash a diffuse glow onto the walls.
The house has an unusual brick turret that forms an archway between the family and dining rooms. Five fireplaces are embedded within it, warming several common rooms, two bedrooms and the terrace.
From the terrace, Applewhite can see the ferry that Miller takes to the office. She spends her weekdays working with clients in San Francisco and the North Bay. On weekends, the couple takes Biff, a 17-year-old Peke-a-poo, to brunch at Morningside Cafe or Servino in Tiburon; sails with friends from the Corinthian Yacht Club; or explores West Marin and the wine country.
Once a month, they go to Santa Fe. As a painter who’s studied in Taos for more than a decade, Applewhite remains fascinated by the high desert landscape. “It’s breathtakingly beautiful. In Marin we have the ocean, but there we have the blue-blue-blue sky, the extraordinary light and magnificent sunsets. Even when it snows, it melts so quickly there’s never any sludge.”
Miller also feels drawn to the region. “The people are more approachable,” he says. “The place has lots of history and art; there is great natural beauty and great energy.”
Applewhite is a native Texan, so breaking out the western wear for a more casual mode of living comes easily. She wears jeans and boots or sandals, forgoes make-up, pulls her hair into a ponytail and tucks it under a cowboy hat that shades her from the intense sun. “It’s so different from California, where I have to fix my hair and makeup every day,” she notes. “It’s very understated there, very authentic.” The New Mexican cuisine is likewise authentic, with“incredible” flavor—dishes laced with green and red chiles, breakfasts of eggs and tomatillo sauce at local cafes.
Applewhite and Miller spend their Santa Fe days hiking mountain trails in summer, skiing or snowshoeing in winter, visiting old churches and quaint nearby towns, and shopping at Hispanic and Indian outdoor markets. Most evenings they walk to town for dinner; afterward they listen to live music or stroll fashionable Canyon Road, maybe stopping in at one of its many galleries. Some nights they take in performances at Santa Fe’s famous opera house or at the Lynsic Theater.
“There are so many fabulous museums here and it’s so easy to see a performance or hear music every night, and all within walking distance,” Applewhite says. The vibrant arts scene stems from Santa Fe’s extensive population of “amazingly creative people—writers, artists, musicians, actors and scientists.”
Casita Alegria was once part of a Hispanic family compound that included a main building, guesthouse and three outbuildings surrounding a large swath of lawn rimmed by evergreen trees and a stucco wall. Years ago, the main house was divided; Casita Alegria is the remaining two-story, 2,300-square-foot back half. Its main floor consists of living, dining and family rooms, the kitchen and a bathroom; upstairs are the master and guest bedrooms, two bathrooms and a library on the landing. A spiral staircase, unusual in Santa Fe, connects the floors. The house also has a basement.
Oh, and until recently, the house had one more thing—a ghost. A neighbor mentioned the spirit shortly after Applewhite and Miller moved in, and it was Miller who saw signs of it first. He had set the hands of a broken clock to 12, but later found them moved to 1:20. There were other incidents: a stray flower pulled from a bouquet resting on a kitchen counter, small pieces of furniture moved. Once, when two painters both poured themselves a cup of coffee, one cup was mysteriously drained. “The ghost is gone now, but it was a trip,” Applewhite says.
The adobe’s interior was “very much like a Victorian,” she says, “with small, dark rooms, so I did the same thing I do with Victorians: knock out walls, open up the floor plans and add more doors and windows.” She kept the old-fashioned hot-water radiators, the original doors and windows, the vigas (ceiling beams) and the supporting lintels.
The deep-set adobe walls, stuffed with wads of newspaper from the 1930s, were channeled to bring the lighting up to code. Inappropriate contemporary doors and windows upstairs were replaced. Historically inspired scalloped and dentil tiles, designed by Applewhite and made by Tile & Stone Concepts in San Rafael, were installed in the three bathrooms. Custom cabinetry went into the enlarged kitchen.
The home’s architecture may be authentic New Mexican, but the interior is spirited eclecticism. Contemporary fabrics mix with traditional ones and modern art happily coexists with a global collection of antique furnishings. The living room is a world tour of furniture—an old Mexican trunk, a Swedish art deco piano, a French armoire, tables from England and Brazil. Gold and apricot glazes warm the walls and a a good dose of black and white grounds a palette of lime-green, blues, oranges, reds, yellows and golds.
The garden, accessed through French doors in the dining room, provides an outdoor venue for late morning coffee or evening parties. The patio was created from two-inch freezeproof concrete and pavers Applewhite commissioned from Tile & Stone Concepts. She designed the arbor with period corbels that frame a new outdoor fireplace and two scalloped wall fountains. The weather-resistant wicker furniture is from Janus et Cie. Her colorful all-weather pillows are scattered along built-in bancos, or benches.
The patio’s dining table, made from the face of a French train station clock, is a suitable symbol for the difference between the couple’s California and New Mexico worlds. “In Santa Fe, there’s a much different pace than in Marin, where we lead such busy lives,” she says. “One of the great things about going to Santa Fe is that life slows down.”
Image 2: Dining room chairs are clothed with colorful fabrics to create eclectic environment.
Image 3: Kitchen in Casita Alegria, Santa Fe
Image 4: Eclectic art in Casita Alegria