The writer Helen Thompson had been a lifelong visitor to Santa Fe, but when she arrived at Georgia O’Keeffe’s home at Ghost Ranch 30 years ago, “I was shocked,” Thompson says. “Everything there was modern: Her furniture was modern; her light fixtures were modern; her art, of course, was modern. And in this rustic setting, the landscape is so powerful, it was all so elemental. That shock stayed with me.”
It was an experience, Thompson says, that led her to the conclusion that Santa Fe, long understood as a city filled with vernacular, decorative architecture, was ripe for a rethinking. “I kept wondering, why does something like that look so right here?” she says. “The landscape is so distinctive, and so not-modern, and yet these very precise pieces of furniture looked so right.”
Now, with her new book Santa Fe Modern: Contemporary Design in the High Desert (Monacelli, $50), Thompson has cracked the code. “Modern ideas are site-specific, and tied into what’s right for the landscape and the environment,” she says. Naturally, she continues, this conceptual framework works well in a place like New Mexico, where the dramatic horizon meets an even more dramatic sky.