At home in many houses
Douglas Atwill signs his book at Collected Works Bookstore
Douglas Atwill Houses (Boxwood Press) relates the stories of the 59 houses the author, painter, and builder has owned over a 40-year period, most of them in Santa Fe. First he tells of his days working a Virginia farm with his life partner Pete Stewart, whom he met at La Fonda in 1964. “Goshen Farm was an idyllic property for the two westernborn bachelors, committed lovers in a disapproving county during a largely disapproving era.” In 1969, they sold the farm and idled around France looking for a house to buy. “Outside of Grasse, there was a crumbling country house of stone, covered with an ochre-colored stucco, all the shutters akimbo,” Atwill recalls in his beautiful, vivid style.
Later that year, they moved to Santa Fe and spent the next six years building a series of houses on Canyon Road. By the fifth, Atwill, Stewart, and “a courteous old man” named Ortiz could lay up 500 adobes a day. On the interior walls, they worked to achieve a surface “like old-country marble” using gauging plaster, and they added two doors recycled from the old Loretto Girls’ School for a hallway.
Atwill wonders if Stewart would like the last of the 59, the house Atwill built and lives in now. “His taste was more elegant than mine, tending to choose burnished wood or painted surfaces with European ancestry. But it is now more than forty years since he died and maybe, had those years been given him, he would now share my love of simpler surfaces, pine rather than mahogany, straight leg over cabriole leg, brass over silver and cotton over tapestry.” The final chapter is a wonderful primer on windows, doors, floors, heft, rectangularity, and other “parts that go into a Santa Fe house.” Atwill signs copies at 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3, at Collected Works Bookstore, 202 Galisteo St., 505-988-4226. — Paul Weideman