grande dame of Garcia Street An artist revives a Santa Fe adobe of a certain age that had fallen on hard times.

Kirby Kendrick likes to say her house, which she affectionately calls the Grande Dame, has gotten the reverse of a face-lift: the Grande Dame still looks her age—she was built in 1932—but she’s all new inside. That is, new wiring, new plumbing, all the structural elements made sound. But in that restoration, the house has not lost her well-loved, well-lived-in look. In fact, most of her signs of age and slight decrepitude—water stains on the walls and crusty, peeling paint in a nicho, for example—were carefully re-created to preserve a sense of the passage of time.

Kendrick’s home reaches back to an era in Santa Fe when the world was a much quieter place. In the 1920s and ’30s Garcia Street was a tree-lined dirt lane on the edge of town. Long narrow properties ran back from the road on the hilly land where children played and families kept chickens and goats. On one property a wealthy lawyer and ceramic artist named Ann Webster, who came to Santa Fe from Chicago, created a haven for artists and writers. The compound has been home to a number of highly creative people since then.

Kendrick’s house was among several modest-sized studio/homes Webster had local builders construct beginning in 1932. Designed for an artist, the thick-walled adobe features a high-ceilinged studio with large north-facing windows and several small adjoining rooms. In one corner of the studio is a shepherd’s fireplace—a cozy nook with a banco and fireplace built into the wall. In the late 1940s a steep narrow stairway and two-room second floor were added, according to 80-year-old Fred Garcia, a lifelong Garcia Street resident. Garcia’s brothers and their father, Bernardino Garcia, did much of the construction on what Fred believes to be among the oldest existing compounds in Santa Fe.

For a time Webster kept goats and other animals in a row of pens and stables at the far end of the property. These were later converted to small apartments, which Webster rented for a nominal rent—or in some cases, rent-free—to her artist friends. Still later the apartments were individually sold. The compound’s other units saw tenants and owners over time that included internationally known painter Odon Hullenkremer (1888–1978) and ethnographer/explorer/author Thor Heyerdahl, who wrote Kon-Tiki while living there. Among other residents was writer and solar heating pioneer Peter van Dresser.

Today the compound continues to be home to the creatively inclined—including Kirby Kendrick, a contemporary impressionist painter who divides her time between Santa Fe and San Diego and whose work recently earned an international merit award from the San Diego Museum of Art. No newcomer to New Mexico, the Houston native previously spent 17 years in Santa Fe, where she raised her four children. With a deep love for the city’s historic character, she sought out and found her own little share of that history on Garcia Street.

Kendrick purchased two adjoining houses in the compound in late 2001 and soon was gathering ideas and a creative team for their restoration. (She is selling the second home to her daughter.) At the time, she was living in New York City’s Greenwich Village, studying art at the New York Studio School. She made frequent trips to Santa Fe to oversee work on the Grande Dame, which required extensive repairs and updating of electrical, plumbing, and other aspects of its original structure. But Kendrick had no desire to give the old girl a new face.

“The minute I walked into this room I fell in love with it,” she says, gazing around the yellow-walled kitchen, its wide double doors open to the warm spring air. “The Grande Dame had fallen on hard times, but I was so relieved that no one had come in and modernized her.” With a personality as warm and lively as her Van Gogh–inspired walls, Kendrick leads the way up a couple of steps to the home’s main level. The small entryway, with terra-cotta-red walls, opens into the original studio, now a combination living/dining room and Kendrick’s studio. Here, a deeper shade of yellow graces walls that are marked by slight buckling in one spot and, especially near the ceiling, by rust-orange water stains.

It’s the look of age, yet in reality the “stains” were added after the new paint went on, thanks to the talent of Santa Fe faux painter Shannon Farnsworth of Farnsworth Finishes. “I started subtly putting in a little aging [on the walls],” Farnsworth recalls. “Then Kirby walked in and said, ‘More! More!’ So I took it way back in time, in terms of vigas dripping and water stains.

“What Kirby had in mind was an old Mexican or New Mexican villa, but it was actually more about interpreting the character of the house,” Farnsworth continues. “It’s not age-specific in terms of the colors we used. I work quite intuitively, and it’s more about the character of the house as it works with Kirby’s personality and tastes—her own wonderful, wacky, artistic nature.”

Kendrick began with basic color advice and assistance from interior designer Linda Applewhite of San Francisco (who has a home in Santa Fe). Farnsworth came on board initially to paint an aged-looking checkered pattern on the upstairs bedroom’s wood floor, but soon was hired to add faux touches throughout the house. “I love checks,” Kendrick says of the scuffed-looking floor, painted in large pale gray and white squares. “I wanted this to look like a floor that was laid 75 years ago, and then someone put on a carpet 30 or 40 years ago, and then I come along and rip up the carpet, and look what was under it!”

Kendrick refers to the upstairs room as the “tree house” for its views of leafy branches and, in spring, a profusion of white apricot blossoms just outside the windows. The room’s airy feeling of fancy is completed by white lacy fabric on a brass poster bed. By contrast, the home’s guest bedroom, which doubles as a library off the living room, feels nestled into the earth. A window at ground level looks out into a small garden space. Artisan-created iron window grillwork in the shape of a heart repeats a motif found in many places inside and outside the house. The guest room also features a pressed tin ceiling that was new and shiny when it was installed just a few years ago. Farnsworth covered it with faux rust and water stains, making it appear to have been there a hundred years.

In the guest room and elsewhere, details such as stenciled Maltese crosses and scalloped trim on wooden bookshelves reflect Kendrick and Farnsworth’s research into historical Spanish and New Mexican furniture. “The house was fabulous to work with, and Kirby’s eclectic taste really gave me the freedom to be very creative,” Farnsworth observes. “We worked as a creative team.”

Throughout the house, Farnsworth took the designer’s suggested palette and refined it with such aging techniques as a lime finish over the paint in the entry hall. A century ago, “They used lime in plaster and stucco, and the lime continues to age and change with time,” she explains. “What we used were not necessarily traditional materials, but I replicated the look by mixing contemporary materials and lime.” For example, lime was also added to blue paint on the interior of a nicho in an upstairs wall, producing an “old, crusty, lime-plaster, peeled-off look,” Farnsworth notes. The nicho now houses a figure of Our Lady of Guadalupe from Kendrick’s extensive collection of religious art.

Outside, the feeling of old Santa Fe remains in the canopy of trees and the home’s placement, which creates a sense of quiet privacy even as the city has grown up around the compound over the past 75 years. The enclosed courtyard, with its small landscaped terraces, concrete fountain, and stonework fireplace, is entered through two arched gates, each topped with a rusty iron bell. A visitor might imagine decades of happy gatherings having taken place here: warm evenings punctuated by laughter and guests climbing a Pueblo style ladder for sunset views from the guest house roof. Again, that natural assumption would be wrong.

When Kendrick purchased the property, there was no patio, landscaping, or stonework—only dirt. With the help of landscape architects Tere Lee, Sarah McCarty, and Richard Barrett, ironwork by John Leatherman and Mike Chavez of Albuquerque, and Michael Jon Martinez serving as general contractor, the outdoor areas were transformed, like the rest of the house, to seem as if they’d always been that way.

The home’s exterior walls needed work, but Kendrick didn’t want the entire surface restuccoed. So after the stucco had been patched, Farnsworth came in with tricks to hide the repairs. “We wanted the new to match the old, stained stucco, so I concocted some stuff I had the guys drip down from the parapet, like ages of grime dripping down the wall,” she relates. “It was so much fun coming up with things like that on this project, opportunities to be innovative.”

For Kendrick, the restoration yielded a seemingly endless series of pleasant surprises as layers were removed and long-held secrets revealed. In the courtyard, for instance, a small structure housing a water heater was torn down, exposing a section of exterior wall. In the stucco, close to the ground, is a pale-colored terra cotta panel set into the darker stucco around it. Unseen for who knows how long, the panel features several figures in sculpted relief.

There were other, more significant surprises as well. Partway through the project, Farnsworth started thinking about Kendrick, who was single, and about another of her clients, a lawyer from San Diego whose second home was not far from Garcia Street. “Kirby and Robert . . .” she mused. She “innocently” introduced the two. They hit it off.

That happy outcome might have been presaged in another unexpected discovery in the house. Farnsworth was working on the upstairs floor one day shortly after she had introduced the pair. “I was putting the finish on the checkered floor, which has a red undercoat,” she recounts. “I looked down, and there was a perfect little red heart that had magically appeared when I’d distressed the floor. I showed it to Kirby and she said, ‘This is a good omen.’” Before long Robert McLeod was courting her long distance. He flew from San Diego to see her every other weekend in New York, and they were married in Santa Fe. Kendrick smiles with the memory. “I was thrilled.”

Gussie Fauntleroy, a longtime Santa Fe resident, writes about homes, art, and architecture for national and regional magazines, among them Art & Antiques, Southwest Art, New Mexico Magazine, and Native Peoples Magazine. She is the author of three books about visual artists.

Unless otherwise noted, businesses below are in Santa Fe, the area code is 505, and the prefix for websites is www.
General contractor: Michael Jon Martinez LLC, 992-0846. Interior designer: Linda Applewhite, Linda Applewhite & Associates, Sausalito, CA, 415/331-2040, Artwork: LIVING ROOM (pages 82–83; left to right) Mirror, Mirror on the Wall; Apricot Trees; Satan, Get Thee Behind Me; and The Studio, all acrylic on canvas by Kirby Kendrick, (Pages 86–87; painting on the right in the foreground) Enunciation, acrylic on canvas by Kirby Kendrick; (page 86; pieces on the left in the foreground) watercolors by Kirby Kendrick; (page 86; beside arched doorway) Sammy Mc, pastel by Kirby Kendrick. (Page 87; top to bottom) Assisi I and Assisi II, oil on paper by Kirby Kendrick. Bed: vintage. Bed coverings: Ralph Lauren Home Collection, Ladye Kay Allen, designer. Cross: (page 82) purchased at the Spanish Market in 1990, Faux painting: Shannon Farnsworth, Farnsworth Finishes, 466-1609, Fireplace screen: (page 88) Norman Lovato. Ironwork: John Leatherman and Mike Chavez, Albuquerque. Landscape design: Tere Lee, Harmonia, 501-0874. Landscape design & gardening: Sarah McCarty and Richard Barrett, 982-3266. Our Lady of Guadalupe statue: (page 88) antique from Mexico. Photograph: (page 87) by Robert McLeod. Rug: LIVING ROOM (page 83) bequeathed by Paul Resnik. Sculpture: LIVING ROOM (page 82; sculpture on the right on the rectangular table) bronze sculpture by Mary Hodge.