Above: The guesthouse patio of David Campbell and Heidi Steele in Cerrillos is ringed by raised garden beds.
THE PARTY WAS POPPING, and David Campbell and Heidi Steele were nervous. With a guest list of a hundred or so and a jazz trio, this was not the time for a summer rain to bear down on them. The couple’s property was built to funnel people outside—into gardens, a sunken brick patio, and a flower-rimmed porch—and not into the house. But rain it did. The musicians moved inside the long, narrow house, and the guests followed. Sheltered by high ceilings that imparted a sense of roominess, the party continued apace.
“I counted 65 people in this room,” Campbell says. “But it didn’t feel crowded,” Steele adds. “It just felt great.”
With less than a third of an acre, Steele, an interior designer, and Campbell, a general contractor, have built a sociable compound in Cerrillos, the once boisterous mining town south of Santa Fe that’s now a quiet village of a few square blocks. The property is a meditation on space, a mix of convivial and intimate, old and new. From the outside, the suite of buildings is pure New Mexico, squat stucco bounded by native plants. Inside, it’s spacious, modern, and filled with design-minded details.
“The traditional building styles in New Mexico are so exquisite, and so soulful, and so simple,” Steele says. She always looks for a sense of balance when designing. Her own home was no different. “To me, the sweetest spot is the intersection of old and new, where things come together.” She likens it to umami, the elusive fifth flavor, a kind of savoriness you can’t quite describe. “You just feel it,” she says.
The four buildings—a 1,000-square-foot main house, 850-square-foot 1880s miner’s cottage turned guesthouse, 500-square-foot office, and pole-barn-style garage—sit smack-dab in the middle of Cerrillos, “halfway between the church and the petting zoo,” Campbell says. Once sparse, the cottage now features a kitchenette with marble counters and floating beadboard ceilings. The office runs along the edge of the property, facing the street with a wall of blue river stone beneath hulking vigas. Black-brown shiplap boards, most often used as siding, wrap the inside of the main house; though initially used to accommodate Steele’s light sensitivity, they were eventually embraced because of the way they draw attention to the carefully placed windows and make art stand out. A pocketed barn door made of the same galvanized steel used on the garage and fencing can be slid across the main house’s French doors, allowing visitors in the guesthouse to journey fearlessly outside in their bathrobes. A friend from a theatrical drapery company supplied the canvas ceilings in the main house. In the bedroom, a strip of LEDs tucked under the edge of the canvas provides ambient light. A botanist friend donated a particularly hearty type of prickly pear cactus that stands sentinel by the classically New Mexican entry gate Campbell made by hand. Last summer, they plucked a wheelbarrow’s worth of prickly pears from the massive succulent, perfect for making a mess of jam.
Steele began dreaming up details after she bought the little sliver of land with the miner’s cabin in the 1990s. For the next 12 years she saved enough cash to buy the adjoining property, then created a master plan. Everything was in place—except for someone to build it. In 2006, she began working with a lanky contractor in Santa Fe. David Campbell had the skills and could wrangle up enough materials—red brick for the patio, oiled walnut for the bedroom floor—to make it happen. One day, she decided to give Campbell a kind of tryout, asking for help installing a wood stove. “And he never left,” Steele says. They married on the property in 2011. Friends who frequent the home, attending parties or dropping in to stay at the guesthouse, feel welcome when they walk through the gate. It feels great here, they say. Campbell props his leg on an ottoman as the wood stove crackles. “Feels like home to me.”
Senior editor Andrew Roush says his dream New Mexico home would include ample views of sunsets and a heavily used shuffleboard table.