written by:
photos by:
June 14, 2016
Originally published in Rethink Recycling
Designer Barbara Hill transformed the derelict building into a sophisticated and slightly rough-around-the-edges retreat.
Designer Barbara Hill in front of her weekend home

Designer Barbara Hill, in front of her recently renovated weekend house in Marfa, Texas. A series of Galvalume roofing panels clad the underside of the eaves.

Photo by 
1 / 10
The seating area includes an extra-long sofa by Piero Lissoni, and a leather armchair designed by Alfredo Häberli for Moroso. The Twiggy lamp is from West Elm.

The seating area includes an extra-long sofa by Piero Lissoni, and a leather armchair designed by Alfredo Häberli for Moroso. The Twiggy lamp is from West Elm.

Photo by 
2 / 10
Designer Barbara Hill's bedroom

In the bedroom, an improbably placed tub is situated in front of two closets that can easily be maneuvered thanks to skateboard wheels affixed to the underside.

Photo by 
3 / 10
Dining room with antique table

Lacquered chairs from Holland cut a low profile next to the dining table, a French antique found at Installations Antiques in Houston. "I don't like anything to match too much," says Hill.

Photo by 
4 / 10
Designer Barbara Hill reading

A voracious reader, Hill kicks back in a Hans Wegner chair topped with a shaggy throw made from the wool of a longhair sheep.

Photo by 
5 / 10
Modern kitchen with salvaged sink

In the kitchen, Make Tacos Not War, by San Antonio-based artist Alejandro Diaz, is mounted over a putty-colored sink Hill Salvaged from a demolition yard.

Photo by 
6 / 10
Outdoor sculptural gas fire pit

Hill worked with metal artist and designer George Sacaris to create a sculptural gas fire pit in her backyard. Using repurposed pipes uncovered during the renovation, Sacaris welded them together in a vertical formation. When the fire is flickering, it engulfs the sculpture and adds another note of drama to the outdoor area.

Photo by 
7 / 10
Designer Barbara Hill's bathroom with vanity countertop

Hill, a vocal proponent of "distressed" surfaces, had a large slab of gray marble installed in her bathroom as a vanity countertop. Once it was in place, though, she found it too slick for her liking. Rather than return it, she flipped the piece upside down to display the underside, warts and all.

Photo by 
8 / 10
Modern bathroom with salvaged privacy screen

Seeking a large-scale artwork that could also act as a privacy screen for her bedroom, Hill hung the vintage hotel sign she scored at Installations Antiques in Houston on a sliding track. When she wants to block the view from the backyard, she simply slides the sign along its blackened-steel track into place in front of her doorway.

Photo by 
9 / 10
Barbara Hill renovation bathroom

Hill's custom closets do double duty as both clothing receptacles and movable partitions, thanks to skateboard wheels affixed to their bases. Substantial enough to create a visual barrier but translucent to allow light through. the closets are backed by panels of formerly glossy white Plexiglas that Hill asked Sacaris to rough up with a piece of sandpaper.

Photo by 
10 / 10
Designer Barbara Hill in front of her weekend home

Designer Barbara Hill, in front of her recently renovated weekend house in Marfa, Texas. A series of Galvalume roofing panels clad the underside of the eaves.

Hill Residence Marfa

It may be an old saw, but gutting and renovating an old building is like opening a can of worms—there's always much more beneath the surface than you ever bargained for. But I think that if you want to do something right, you have to be unafraid to do everything. Fortunately I have X-ray vision: I can see right through debris. I call it my "design disease."

The first step was cleaning the place out. I filled eight huge dumpsters and many more flatbed trailers with trash and construction scrap. In doing so I realized that everything that contributed to the cramped feeling, from the ten-foot ceiling to a bunch of awful temporary walls, could be taken out. I became obsessed with taking the building to what it once was—-essentially one large room. Plus, I hate walls and an open living space is the next best thing to being outside.

I tried to save the floorboards, but the planks were rotten due to leaky plumbing, a roof that was in bad shape, and years of standing water. We dug them all out and in the process found several pits under the house—which suggested that the building's adobe was sourced from the site itself. This delighted me. There's something comforting about being inside a house made of mud. In addition to the natural insulation from weather and noise, there's always a slight scent of the earth in the air. I find it calming.

Removing the hideous walls wasn't a problem, but stabilizing the interior to allow for a high ceiling was certainly a challenge. And high is never high enough for me. It was immediately obvious that I would need to call upon a structural engineer, so I found Dan Ray, who knows how to work with adobe. Dan suggested immense steel beams to shore up the tension. While adobe can withstand enormous pressure from top to bottom, it will buckle if the pressure comes in from the sides.

Since I went with birch plywood for the flooring—I felt it referenced the building's past—I thought I'd cover the pitched part of the ceiling with it as well. I like the look and the continuity; it unifies the space and complements the blackened steel.

It turned out to be cost-prohibitive to create high ceilings throughout, so I ended up with one big, soaring central space flanked by two areas with lower ten-foot ceilings. In the end, it was a good thing, because the difference in height helps to define clear eating and sleeping zones. I placed the kitchen along the length of the street-facing wall. I don't cook a lot in Marfa—in fact, I use the dishwasher as a drying rack most of the time—so I kept it simple. I found a great old putty-colored sink at a demolition yard and saved my splurge for a 13-foot-long French table with a base that looks like steel to match the beams overhead.

Now, I realize that having a bedroom and bathtub in the middle of an open space isn't for everyone, but the romance of it appeals to me. I get so much joy waking up, because the first thing I see from my bed is this trough-shaped bathtub that reminds me of a cowboy boot. For times when I need a little privacy, I deigned two closets atop skateboard wheels so I can move them as I please and create a partition from the seating area.

Another element I love is the old sign, salvaged from Marfa's Crews Hotel, now part of the Judd Foundation. I found it in a shop in Houston; actually, I guarantee the guy pulled it out of a trash pile and marked it up something awful—but I had to have it. The sign isn't just for looks; it's mounted on a sliding steel armature, so I can position it over the doorway and block the view from the backyard. Balancing openness with options for concealment is aways smart.

The outdoor area was very important to me—the light in Marfa is soft and wonderful, and I knew I'd be spending a lot of time outside. I had the idea of a courtyard space build around a central fire pit, so I asked George Sacaris, a designer, to create a sculpture in the shape of a campfire using  some pipes unearthed during the renovation. Weeds had overtaken the entire site, so I tore up everything and replaced it with native plantings like sage, yucca, and great white cactus. I paved the walkway with old bricks from El Paso and found some great rusty steel plates from the railroad to use for additional footing in the yard. People are always poking their heads in, complimenting me on the colors and the symmetry, which is nice. This is a real community, where neighbors and looky-loos are always welcome to peek over the fence. It's part of the reason why I love it so much here.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

45 dva 2270 persp1 cmyk 0
The prospect of retirement doesn’t just signal the end of a career; it offers the chance to recalibrate and re-prioritize in life.
July 25, 2016
You don’t have to choose between sustainable energy and curb appeal.
July 19, 2016
jakemagnus queensland 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
July 06, 2016
content delzresidence 013 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 29, 2016
abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016