Monthly Archives: April 2021

Back Portal Redesign Phase 2

The Portal gets an Outdoor Fireplace!

Before the fireplace...

With fall approaching, we started dreaming about how we could make the space more of a year-round living area.  Another disclaimer here – when we dream up ideas, we start big! Our first thought was “I wonder if we could have those great retracting glass doors installed?” We had no idea how expensive those are, not to mention how difficult it would be to retro-fit them into the space, plus the minor detail that even if we were able to enclose the space, there wouldn’t be any heat!  But dreaming big serves a purpose – it’s fun, it gets your creativity flowing and helps you envision how you’d like to be able to use a space, and it often gets you on the path to an idea that might not have occurred to you otherwise. 

Our idea became an outdoor fireplace - we just had to figure out how to make it work!  A fireplace would really anchor this outdoor living space, and would be both warm and welcoming, making the portal a destination, not just the space between the house and the back yard (which was awful, but that’s another story for another post).  If you’ve had a chance to read the About Us section of my website, you’ll know that Andy and I have been DIYers for decades, but this project was way beyond our scope, and it was time to call in the pros. 

We had met a local builder at a recent Parade of Homes, and he came out to our house to listen to our ideas and give us his thoughts.  Turns out that our plan for a corner fireplace would be prohibitively expensive because the column in the corner was holding up the roof for the entire portal, so it would require a structural engineer to make any changes.  But the builder had another solution – we had a very wide opening on one side, and there was room to build a fireplace and still have enough room on either side to access the flagstone patio in the side yard (which, thankfully, was much better looking than the back yard!).  An added bonus was that a fireplace in that location would block the main view of the side of our neighbor’s house as well.  We decided to go forward with the project, and were so excited!

We had a few things on our wish list – we wanted to have a hearth the right height for people to sit on, we wanted a mantle, and we wanted the finished fireplace to look like it was original to the house.  When the craftsmen arrived the next week, I showed them a few photos I had seen on-line and they got started.  What a fascinating process to watch - with only my description and a few photos they created our fireplace in less than two weeks! 

I admit to being nervous when I saw how big this seemed during construction...but once it was finished the scale was perfect for the portal's twelve foot ceilings!  

This was the first time we had ever hired someone to do a home renovation project for us, and truthfully it was a bit surreal.  Over the years we have painted, repaired appliances, removed and installed wallpaper, replaced flooring, built fences, decks and pergolas, torn out walls, done minor plumbing, turned a carport into a garage and even installed an in-ground swimming pool – mostly because we came up with great ideas, but didn’t have the budget to hire out the jobs.  We had to figure it out as we went along!  We still love to do projects, and I’ll share many through these blog posts, but in this case we enjoyed being spectators!

If you missed our earlier posts about this project, you can catch up here... Intro and Back Portal Phase 1

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Back Portal Redesign Phase 1

Working with what you have...

When we were looking at houses in Santa Fe, one of the things that was high on our list was being able to take advantage of the outdoor lifestyle that we envisioned – so a courtyard or back patio was a must, and a view would be a big bonus.  The available houses with “the full package” were out of our price range, so the compromise became an L-shaped, covered back patio, which in Pueblo architecture is called a Portal.  The space is large, and thankfully we had wicker furniture from the porches in our previous home, so we were able to start enjoying the portal right away.  We literally had dinner out there every evening from May-September.  We tried several arrangements with our wicker furniture, and the portal became more than a back porch – it was our second living space.

Our starting point...

I flipped through catalogs looking at outdoor furniture ideas, and we brought home more than a few indoor/outdoor rugs to try, but nothing was quite right – so many outdoor spaces have either a tropical vibe or a nautical theme, which is definitely not what I was going for here.  I tried some bright southwestern pillows, but the intensity of the sun faded them so quickly, and while I found some great furniture options, the truth was that our outdoor wicker furniture was still in great shape, and I couldn’t justify spending the money on new pieces.  We’ve learned that sometimes it’s best to stick with what you have for a while.  Andy made a coffee table by cutting down the legs of an old kitchen table that we had gotten when we were first married, and I painted it with Navy blue chalk paint – this became the anchor of our seating area as well as the inspiration for our color scheme.  More than once I thought about painting the wicker to provide a contrast to the never-ending tan, but something stopped me each time.  I love painted wicker, and think it’s a great choice in many situations, but I wasn’t confident that it would be the right choice here (and there’s no turning back once you’ve painted wicker!). 

While you don’t see much painted wicker here, you do see lots of painted wood pieces, and I had a few odds and ends hanging around.  An old oak cabinet (literally from a neighbor’s trash pile about 30 years ago) and mirror with a carved wood frame got a new look with turquoise chalk paint and a brown wax finish. Once they were painted and had new hardware, they looked like a matched set! So that became our starting point…tan wicker, a navy blue coffee table and a turquoise chest and mirror…

Odds and ends become a set!

The design evolved organically.  We had been in our home for about a month the first time we had friends over for dinner, and of course we were outside.  As the sun was setting, the light was intense  – something that was easy to work around when it was just the two of us, but not so much when we had a group and all of the chairs were occupied.  Before the next gathering, we decided that outdoor curtains would be a practical solution.  Installing the curtain rods (plumbing pipes and brackets) became one of our first frustrations that we laugh about now – it turns out that drilling into a massive beam that has been baking in the NM sun for 15 years is not as easy as you might think, and Andy literally broke 6 drill bits before all of the curtain rods were up!  I selected tan panels, made of an outdoor fabric (found them for a great deal at, so they would blend into the stucco columns when they were open.  Mission accomplished, in that we had a solution for when the setting sun was the most intense.  But I had not expected the impact the curtain panels would have on the space – they literally turned it into a room!

Then, on a random trip to Home Depot, we spotted two outdoor area rugs – navy blue with turquoise borders!  There were only two – one large, one smaller – and we guessed that someone had returned an on-line order because there wasn’t anything else like them.  The colors and sizes worked perfectly…now we were getting somewhere! Portal Redesign Phase 1 – complete! The next two phases were much more involved, but I think it's important to remember how much we enjoyed the portal from the very beginning, even when we were "making-do"!

If you missed the Intro post, you can catch-up here Intro

To see the next phase of the project (and the fabulous outdoor fireplace...) Back Portal Phase 2

If you'd like to chat about a design idea for your home, please give us a call!

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Welcome to our Santa Fe Redesign!

It’s been quite the adventure, moving to Santa Fe, NM and turning our house into a home – learning about Pueblo architecture and landscaping, making our furnishings and décor work (to make it feel like ours and also stay on budget) and envisioning, planning and executing new projects! 

Our house hunting experience started a few months before we arrived, with many searches on Zillow and, but nothing prepared us for actually seeing the area – the topography (high desert) surrounded by several mountain ranges, no grass, completely different vegetation, and all of the houses as well as most of the commercial buildings are some shade of tan, designed to blend into the desert.  So completely different from South Carolina, with its lush lawns, azalea bushes and trees everywhere…

But there is a beauty in the desert that calls to you – the brightest blue skies, and views that go on for miles (literally!) The summer flowers range from cactus blooms (expected) to Hollyhocks (unexpected, and literally growing from cracks in the sidewalks!) and even Trumpet Vines and Bougainvillea, which I have always considered to be tropical plants.  The colors of the blooms are topped only by the sunrises and sunsets, which are extraordinary, and often take up 360 degrees of the sky!

It’s no wonder that the focus of the houses is often the view from the inside, looking out.  This became one of the differences that we first noticed - there is really not a concept of “curb appeal” here, at least not in the southern sense.  In many cases, you can’t even see the front door in a Pueblo home because there is a walled front courtyard between the home and the street, accessed by a decorative gate that might be carved wood or perhaps forged iron.  No front porches with ferns and geraniums hanging from pots and rocking chairs inviting people to stop and stay a while (a disclaimer is necessary here – we had one of those amazing front porches on our home in SC, and in 20 years we rarely used it because in addition to lush lawns, azaleas, etc, that part of the country has high humidity and plenty of mosquitos!)

But we wanted to embrace the Pueblo style – we were in Santa Fe, after all – and we were enchanted!

The house hunt was extensive, and emotions ran from excitement to overwhelm with occasional bits of disbelief thrown in (we put in a full-price offer on one home, and the seller’s response was to take the property off the market!?)  But we had a wonderful realtor, and the knowledge that God had a plan…so we kept at it, and after about 6 months found a house that worked for us.

Then the fun began – moving in, getting settled, and starting the list of projects to turn this house into our new home!  The house and the process together have become our Santa Fe Redesign, and I’m excited to share the projects – the fun ones, the frustrating ones, the wins and the lessons learned, with plenty of before and after photos along the way 😊 

Columns of drying chili peppers are called Ristras, and can be found all over the southwest.  Traditionally, when chilis were harvested each fall, they were hung to dry so they could then be ground into chili powder.  Hanging ristras have become a symbol of hospitality, and while this bunch is only about 15" long, you can find them as long as 6-8 feet!

Read about Phase 1 of our Back Portal.

If you'd like to chat about a design idea for your home, please give us a call!

Follow us on Facebook Santa Fe Redesign to receive all of the news and updates!

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