Enchanted Homes

Historic compound renovated in harmony with natural surroundings

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This home’s address, 9 Plaza Vieja which translates into ‘Old Plaza,’ speaks to the historic charm discreetly tucked behind an unassuming wall. This 3-bedroom/2-bath home is 300 years old. At one time, it was part of the original Ranchos de Taos fort that surrounded the nearby San Francisco de Asis Church, itself a National Historic Landmark.

It is the home’s more modern history, however, that makes this a highly sought-after piece of real estate. Since 1995 it has been owned and lovingly renovated by Chef René Mettler and his wife Kimberly Armstrong, owners of the highly popular Italian restaurant, Trading Post Café located at 4179 State Road 68, Ranchos de Taos.

Labor of love

“I met René in Maui. We were both working for the Grand Hyatt. René had wanted to retire, so we packed up and originally intended to move to Sedona. But we stopped in Taos –– and never left,” said Kimberly.

Working for the Hyatt Corp., the couple was accustomed to moving every few years. So the fact that that they bought a home and a restaurant in the same year and expanded both over the past two decades, Armstrong acknowledges, “The mountain really did call us home.” Mettler passed away in 2016.

The couple renovated the home in stages over the years. From designing a professional chef’s kitchen to outfitting modern baths to installing cedar-lined closets, no detail for modern living has been overlooked.

“This house was a labor of love. I give credit to René. It was his vision,” said Armstrong.

Enchanting courtyard

When guests swing open the heavy wooden antique double-gate, they enter an enchanting courtyard that is cultivated for entertaining.

The compound consists of the 2,504-squarefoot main home, a standalone casita that could be used as an artist studio, and a storage building for tools and gear.

The landscaping draws you right in with a creative mix of brick, flagstone, decorative rock, ceramic pots, and topiaries that fire the imagination. There are koi ponds, high conifer and deciduous trees, stone walls, wrought iron fencing, wooden benches, and outdoor fire pits to gather around and take in the sumptuous experience, which is very private.

The courtyard was an evolution of designs, trying out different boulders, trees, and amounts of grass. “The grass softens the hard surface of the flagstone,” said Armstrong.

Rather than one singular, homogenous courtyard, the exterior of the home is made up of a series of outdoor areas, each with their own character and situated at different levels. For example there is a quiet seating area right outside the master bedroom with its own contemplative atmosphere. There is an elevated patio to the side of the house with a pass-through window from the kitchen. And there is a raised decorative herb garden for easy picking and a back area that doubles as an orchard and a garden for the hearty growing of local vegetables.

“We are both outdoors people. We did a lot of entertaining and catering in the courtyard. We held a fundraiser for Stray Hearts Animal Shelter here and we did a lot of wedding receptions and anniversaries,” said Armstrong.

A chef-designed kitchen

Sitting in today’s modern kitchen, it’s hard to imagine that at one time it was part of a chicken coop. Mettler and Armstrong renovated the kitchen with top quality in mind. The features range from double-door refrigerator with bottom freezer drawer, to six-burner stove with hooded range, to a deep farmhouse-style sink.

Local contractor Bob Loveless designed the stonework of kitchen counters and backsplash.

“All of the plumbing and electrical wiring was redone. All of it was brought up to code,” said Pavel Lukes of Dreamcatcher Real Estate Co. Inc.

Overhead pot hangers and open shelving are trademarks of the speed and efficiency in which professional chefs cook –– so they can spend more of their time mingling with guests. For example, the kitchen has a concealed washer and dryer. This touch is not unusual, but the cabinetry was built in such a way, at waist-high level and with an adjoining window, that it serves as a pass-through countertop for food and drinks to guests enjoying the patio outside.

Historic character

The interior of the home has the character of old Taos renovated with modern-day amenities. Thick adobe walls provide natural insulation throughout the seasons. In the old-style build of the house, some doorways are low and there are some steps into rooms. Saltillo tiles, herringbone latilla ceilings, and wooden viga beams harmoniously blend to give the home an authentic feel and warmth.

“Every door throughout the house is antique or custom-made. There are no two doors alike,” said Armstrong, pointing out the artisan craftsmanship of each room.

The master bedroom is ensuite, with a modern bath and rain shower head fixture. The tile was also done by Bob Loveless.

The formal living room is set up salon-style with multiple seating areas. There is another informal living room on the far side of the house that presently serves as a media room.

This home is perfect for the homeowner who loves to entertain in a historic, architectural setting.

An open and spacious wine room takes a different tack than those typically relegated to closets and/or sub-floors. The open shelving and bottle racks are accentuated by a stained-glass skylight and the room is temperature-controlled with the aforementioned thick adobe walls.

“We have capacity for close to 1,000 bottles,” said Armstrong.

With windows and doors opening out to the lengthy wisteria-topped portal, the decision to sit inside or outside is a wonderful choice. “Artist Ed Sandoval helped build the portal and outdoor fireplace,” said Armstrong, also noting that there is a Sandoval sculpture in the outdoors area. This was years ago so Armstrong couldn’t recall how she and Mettler met Sandoval but says, “It was probably through the restaurant.”

Peter Barlow, who is well-known locally for his exquisite handcraftsmanship, crafted a Dutch door for the third bedroom. For the imaginative homeowner, the present third bedroom and media room can be easily reconfigured into any desired use.

Indeed, various artists, artisans and craftsmen well-known throughout Taos have either contributed to the building or décor of the home, or had pieces collected by Mettler and Armstrong.

“Larry Bell and Thom Wheeler were favorite artists, too,” said Armstrong. “We wanted to incorporate as much local art history as we could.”

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