When Terry Mowers first encountered the dry, dusty landscape of Marfa, Texas in 2006, he sensed that his life was about to change.
“It was just a very, very special place,” said Mr. Mowers, 66, a textile design consultant who was impressed by the vast desert, wide skies and legacy of artist Donald Judd. “And I fell in love.”
Within a few days, he decided he needed a home there, a secluded haven from his main Manhattan residence. He contacted a real estate agent and, before returning to New York, found a house he wanted to buy: a partially built modernist mudbrick box 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 the architects to complete it. At first the room seemed perfect. It was a loft-like, open-plan house with a concrete floor and lots of space to display art, with little storage space – great for someone who only used it a few weeks a year.
But as time passed and Mr. Mowers got divorced and then met his new wife Lindy Thorsen in Marfa, he came to the conclusion that a holiday home there wasn’t enough. “At some point I wanted to be here full-time,” he says.
Mr. Mowers and Ms. Thorsen, 69, owners of Ranch Dressing, a Marfa shop that sells vintage Navajo rugs and sterling silver jewelry, married in 2016. For several years they commuted between Marfa and Chattanooga, Tennessee, for Mr. Labor Mower. But when they planned to settle in Marfa together, the couple had some problems with the mud house that needed to be resolved.
The outside walls were covered with mud and straw to protect the bricks, but the coating peeled off in storms and had to be constantly reapplied. “The mud was just washed away in the rain,” said Ms. Thorsen, adding that sometimes you couldn’t even open the door after a storm because there was so much mud on the floor. “
“We only renewed the outside of the house for several years,” said Mr. Mowers.
Eventually they covered the house with a more durable lime plaster. Then it went to the next glaring problem.
“We just didn’t have enough space,” said Mr. Mowers. There was also no bedroom door to close if he had to dial into an early conference call and Ms. Thorsen was still asleep.
In 2017, the couple hired Dust, an architecture firm based in Tucson, Arizona, to expand. Instead, the owners and architects agreed to leave the original house alone and build a new building that was accessed via an external path.
“The house that stood there – kind of a long bar with a courtyard – is really a deep piece, so we didn’t want to encrust it,” said Jesús Edmundo Robles Jr., a founding director of Dust. “The natural reaction was to be in awe of it.”
In positioning a new 1,200 square foot building about 10 meters from the house, Mr Robles and his partner Cade Hayes tried to reflect some of the aesthetic features of the existing structure while adding spaces that would improve the quality of life of the connection.
In the end, they ended up with a stand-alone primary suite made of compressed clay and cement blocks that are similar to clay but can withstand the elements without a coating of mud or plaster. Inside, the room is divided into a bedroom, a spacious bathroom and a lounge with a long desk by the window as an inspiring place to work from home.
The new building opens to two terraces through sliding glass doors: one from the lounge with views of the Davis Mountains; the other from the bedroom, near a vegetable garden.
“It’s such a big volume with a lot of glass,” said Mr. Mowers. “You frame the skyscape and the landscape.”
The couple had spent years growing grasses, agave, yucca, and cacti in the Chihuahua Desert to grow on their four acre property and gave their builder Eric Martinez a tightly controlled area to work in. “We only had a 10-foot perimeter that could be disturbed” around the new building, said Mr Mowers. “Because once the natural desert here has been dismantled, it only takes a very, very long time for the natural grasses to come back and thrive.”
Inside, they kept the range of materials to a minimum – exposed block walls, concrete floors, doors, and built-ins made of white oak – and added selected pieces of furniture and artwork from the mid-century, 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 for around $ 595,000. Now the couple is enjoying living in two distinctly different rooms, as well as the open-air transition between them.
“Lindy and I, if we want to go to work in peace, it’s just so different from a separate room in the same building,” said Mr. Mowers.
Each room not only offers a place to focus on different activities, but also a different mood. And walking between them is far from uncomfortable, he added: It’s a moment to enjoy.
“We’ll see the moon and stars at night, and that really connects you,” he said. “You are one with the landscape.”
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