This 100-year-old structure, originally built as a private dance hall, has seen many incarnations–from a grocery and candy store to derelict building. Houston-based architectural designer Barbara Hill spent a year and a half transforming the building into a sophisticated desert retreat a few blocks from downtown Marfa. The designer has never backed away from strong design statements—she extended the entire kitchen across one wall and accessorized it with an extra-wide industrial sink.

Architect Kristen Bonkemeyer and interior designer Marlys Tokerud plotted with client and recent retiree Anne Adams to infuse her corrugated metal house with references to the past as well as acknowledgments of the future. Inside, Sherwin-Williams’ “Snowbound” cools off the interiors which are decorated with a mix of modern furniture and Adams’ heirlooms. The frothy pendant is from IKEA.

The late Houston- and Marfa-based designer Marlys Tokerud collaborated with fellow Houstonian (and now fellow Marfan) George Sacaris to spruce up an undistinguished and very run-down house she had purchased sight unseen. Tokerud wanted everything to be simple, white, and easy to maintain, so she and Sacaris gutted the dwelling and reconfigured the space. They discovered oak flooring, and behind the ceiling there was a perfectly preserved long-leaf pine ceiling that had been the underside of the original roof. Sacaris also built the base for pine dining table which was formerly a Mexican door.

Marfa Modern Reviews

When Donald Judd began his Marfa project in the early 1970s, it was regarded as an idiosyncratic quest. Today, Judd is revered for his minimalist art and the stringent standards he applied to everything around him, including interiors, architecture, and furniture. The former water stop has become a mecca for artists, art pilgrims, and design aficionados drawn to the creative enclave, the permanent installations called “among the largest and most beautiful in the world,” and the austerely beautiful high-desert landscape.

In keeping with Judd’s site-specific intentions, those who call Marfa home have made a choice to live in concert with their untamed, open surroundings. Marfa Modern features houses that represent unique responses to this setting – the sky, its light and sense of isolation – some that even predate Judd’s arrival.

Here, conceptual artist Michael Phelan lives in a former Texaco service station with battery acid stains on the concrete floor and a twenty-foot dining table lining one wall. A chef’s modest house comes with the satisfaction of being handmade down to its side tables and bath, which expands into a private courtyard with an outdoor tub. Another artist uses the many rooms of her house, a former jail, to shift between different mediums – with Judd’s Fort D. A. Russell works always visible from her second-story sun porch.

Extraordinary building costs mean that Marfa dwellers embrace a culture of frontier ingenuity and freedom from excess―salvaged metal signs become sliding doors and lengths of pipe become lighting fixtures, industrial warehouses are redesigned after the area’s white-cube galleries to create space for private or personally created art collections, and other materials are suggested by the land itself: walls are made of adobe bricks or rammed earth to form sculptural courtyards, or, in one remarkable instance, a mix of mud and brick plastered with local soils, cactus mucilage, horse manure, and straw.

Publishers Weekly Review
This book of modern interiors captures both the unique sense of place and the vibrant artistic community of Marfa, Tex., a mecca for art pilgrims, design aficionados, and international hipsters. Artist Donald Judd (1928–1994) first moved there in 1971 and eventually set up set up the Chinati Foundation, attracting other artists and art fans to the area. Some of the homes are recent additions, while others predate Judd’s arrival, drawing upon the “autonomous kind of modernism” of a remote location with a simple set of local materials. Renovation for modern use typically involved stripping these structures— a former dance hall, a former jail, a former Texaco with car battery acid stains retained on the floor—down to their basic elements. The materials range from age-old compounds of mud to very modern aerated concrete. The desert landscape is a both a boon and a challenge. Several of the buildings find unique ways to showcase the landscape without becoming swallowed up by it. Courtyards and unconventional windows blur, blunt, and dramatize the scenery, shielding interiors at points while opening them blissfully at others. The idea, in the words of Thompson (former Texas city editor of Metropolitan Home), of “a place where the demand to live for art is so compelling as to be unavoidable” might sound hyperbolic, but when readers see how these residents live, they’ll understand.

Architectural Record Review

When the artist Donald Judd began buying up land in Marfa in the 1970s, he saw the sleepy West Texas town and its sweeping desert vistas as the perfect backdrop for his austere sculptures. In Marfa, as opposed to the Manhattan gallery scene, Judd could conceive his own sprawling utopia.

Though he died in 1994, the 40,000 acres Judd purchased with the help of the Dia Art Foundation have made Marfa into a town-as-museum, including two artillery sheds exhibiting 100 of his untitled works, operated by the Chinati Foundation. Though most people make the pilgrimage to Marfa just to see Judd’s work, some have come and stayed, inventively building or adapting houses that have a unique desert modernism attuned to the light and landscape, mirroring Judd’s work or serving as a precedent to it.

Now, writer and editor Helen Thompson presents 21 case studies of the area’s domestic architecture. She places them in three categories: “vernacular modern,” which she describes as “old, probably adobe” and containing modernist elements that predated the movement; “handmade modern,” a more ad hoc building style of simple forms; and “recent modern,” contemporary houses by an architect or designer.

In the third category, a design by San Antonio–based architects Lake | Flato makes use of their line of prefab units called “Porch Houses.” An artist couple with a remote site north of Fort Davis purchased two modules for an off-the-grid scheme that connects to the outdoors with sliding glass doors and a dogtrot between the bedroom and living units. Covered in a gabled zinc-andaluminum roof, the residence nods to the metal barns and sheds of Texas’s agricultural legacy.

For an old adobe example, Thompson describes a 100-year-old building that had been used as a lawyer’s office and beauty parlor until Houston-based architectural designer Barbara Hill purchased and gutted it, preserving the original adobe walls. She covered them in white plaster and added new steel beams and rods for structural support. The result—now owned by a couple—is a luminous progression of rooms.

Thompson’s clear, brief essays describe how each homeowner arrived in Marfa—a nice contextual touch, given that it’s a remote place where residents and visitors have to decide very consciously to be. Her descriptions of plans, materials, and design concepts give heft to what could have simply been a lifestyle coffee table book. Photographer Casey Dunn leaves people and styling (extraneous food, flowers, and props) out of his shots, for the most part, which keeps the focus on design choices as well as the play of the desert light inside.

The result is a visual page-turner and is clearly a result of Thompson’s reporting skills from her days at Metropolitan Home magazineMarfa Modern serves as a primer on how a “watering hole” that Judd put on the map has evolved without him, and lets it lay claim to importance as a place of vernacular design, not solely an art destination.