By: Paul Weideman
Published online: Sunday, November 04, 2012
Appeared in: Home, Santa Fe Real Estate Guide
Edition: November 2012 Vol. 15 No. 8
On a hill just outside the village of Los Cerrillos, Michael Lancaster and Barbara Harnack built a solar home that doesn’t look like a solar home. In the wintertime, the thick flagstone floors and double-adobe walls serve as thermal mass, absorbing the sun’s heat during the day and slowly radiating it at night. Roof overhangs prevent direct solar gain in the summer. The north side is super-insulated with sprayed foam up to 30 inches thick and a trombe wall warms the adjacent kitchen in the wintertime.
The main house boasts an entrance façade that recalls the mission church at Laguna Pueblo. Nearby are a guest house, a studio, a gatehouse, and an iglesia-theme tool shed. “I designed and engineered everything,” Lancaster said during a recent tour of the property. “I wanted the effect of a little village on top of the mesa.”
This is the type of property that could only have been designed by an artist, although the level of the finishes is more that of a skilled craftsman. Witness the copper patina on the metal roof, the beautifully plastered interior walls, and the tall, narrow slit windows on one living-room wall. Opening into a sun room (which is equipped with a fountain and built-in adobe benches), the light and heat from these slits are controlled by frosted-glass panels that swivel open or closed.
Begun in 1994, the main house on Vista Del Mar, off of Gold Mine Road, was completed in 2000. Three-quarters of the materials used in the house project came from within 75 miles. Twenty thousand adobe bricks were used for the main house, and another 7,000 for the outbuildings. The studio with sliding barn doors features straw-bale construction.
The front doors, made from local wood, are accessed by steps on stacked stone. The hall-like living room with a 19-foot ceiling and sealed-flagstone floors is brightened by clerestories: a few as slots in the churchlike facade and a few more from dormer elements on one side.
At one end of the living room is an adobe stairway and a gorgeous, blacksmith-crafted railing to a loft library, media room, and the master suite. Each downstairs bedroom has its own entry and portal.
A powder room sports a faucet of an extraordinarily simple design — a length of copper pipe — and a pot sink thrown by Lancaster. In fact, the house is peppered with the couple’s ceramics: Harnack’s statues and faces and his sculptures and “industrial objects.” Both are also painters.
Lancaster, the great-grandson of American circus innovator Charles Ringling, is the author of a fictionalized biography Ringling: The Last Laugh, published this year. He and Harnack are at work on The Boys from Baraboo, a children’s book telling the story of the Ringling Bros. and illustrated with photographs of Harnack’s ceramic figures in settings.
There are built-in artistic touches throughout the house, for example the rust-patina’d inserts in the pantry doors, and the sherds of old Indian pottery, collected on the property, set into a partial wall in a bathroom.
Lancaster is a cook and paid special attention to the design of the kitchen, with tile countertops and practical access to pots and pans, food, and dishes. The kitchen ceiling is tongue-and-groove decking on vigas.
An attached greenhouse gives the couple winter tomatoes and greens, all irrigated with stored rainwater. Three subterranean water tanks outside have fountains on top; one of those bubbles over a face from a broken Harnack sculpture.
Household water is from a shared well. The house has in-floor radiant heat on five zones.
A cozy patio with bancos and a fireplace offers the relaxing homeowner terrific views — you can see six mountain ranges from the 13-acre property. It’s a short drive to the historic mining town of Madrid (now full of folk-art shops, cafés, coffee shops, galleries, and the renowned Mine Shaft Tavern), less than a mile from state park and BLM land for hiking and horseback riding, and 25 minutes to Santa Fe.
Ted Rivera, Coldwell Banker Trails West Realty, is listing the property at 20 Vista Del Mar for $875,000.