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   MEXICAN COTTAGE  From Off-White to Vivid Color... and More
2011 - Volume 1 Issue 1
Casas Bonitas
Feature Home
Article: Joe Burgess
Photos: Joe Burgess
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We believe that we transitioned from a cold, off-white home with an ugly yard to one that is warm and friendly,” says co-owner Elaine Childs. “I describe the décor as ‘Cottage Mexican,’ a step above rustic, but not quite elegant. It has sort of a quasi Old World feel.”

“People are comfortable here and seem to connect with each other in the atmosphere that we have created. Most of our guests seem to approve of the color schemes, but only a few of our friends have moved toward bolder colors themselves. That’s why there is a sign on the front gate, ‘Casa de Colores,’ just as a warning. On Independence Day, with the view we have from this hillside, it’s a great place to celebrate our ‘colors’ while watching displays of fireworks across the city.”

" But it took many years of work to turn the place around,” chimes in Ken Eastlack. “We provided both the design and labor for most of it. Quality was a high priority, so we took whatever time and steps necessary to do the job right.”

    Photo Captions

1.) Ken Eastlack and Elaine Childs expended the time and energy necessary to turn a bold vision into reality.

Kitchen Countertops:
Cervantes Tile Installation

Casa Bonita
  Ken points out, that Casa de Colores will remain a work in process, he doesn’t even pretend to believe that it will ever be… “finished.” “The great thing about working on the house ourselves,” Ken and Elaine agree, “is that there is a story to go along with every job you tackle and every nick-knack you collect.”
Ken grew up in New Jersey and came to Las Cruces by way of San Francisco and Seattle. At South Seattle Community College, he was a student counselor and teacher, he served as the Evening Administrator and had a private counseling practice on the side. “I truly enjoyed my work at the community college,” Ken relates, “because community college students tend to have specific goals and are dedicated to learning what is needed to keep their lives moving forward.”

His retirement goal was to own a hacienda. Ken had originally considered Costa Rica, but as he approached retirement age, that option dropped several notches on the list. Hoping to find a warmer and dryer climate than either Seattle or San Francisco, Ken began eyeing the Southwest. Having lived for a while in San Francisco, well, northern Californians just don’t consider retirement in Southern California, and many of the people that he didn’t care to be around moved to Phoenix, thus eliminating that city.

By this time, Elaine had become part of the equation and so they traveled to Tucson, which turned out to be a bad experience, and then to northern Arizona, northern New Mexico and finally to Las Cruces. Working through Rotary contacts, they determined that Las Cruces had the right climate and people, and when they happened upon an “open house” with a great view in Picacho Hills, they knew that had to be the place. The terms were agreed upon, but the next three years waiting on actual retirement were “pure agony.”

Elaine is a very visual person – a landscape designer. She has taught classes at two community colleges. At South Seattle Community College, she earned an associate’s degree in liberal arts, horticulture and landscape design and also a technical teaching certificate. Elaine loves the Las Cruces area and obviously loves color.

Elaine and Ken met on volunteer projects in Seattle, and as an administrator, Ken had twice witnessed Elaine graduating from the college. But it was a cup of coffee and a dinner invitation…by Elaine, that finally brought them together. In Las Cruces, Ken and Elaine have become active volunteers with Las Cruces Community Theatre. Ken, in fact, directed a recent play, The Murder Room.

Once the two settled in Las Cruces, they began transforming a relatively drab house that still had “builder’s off-white walls” into a well-landscaped, colorful and intriguing abode with a Mexican flair.

The first item of business was to repaint the exterior, and the color that was chosen garnered a lot of attention from passers-by. With Elaine being a landscape designer, the yards became the priority for the next several years, with nine months focused totally on constructing the front courtyard. The original wall around the courtyard didn’t even block headlights, so the height was doubled and small shuttered ports were installed. Tile work and a fountain were added, including an oversized, artistic starburst in the walkway that was hand-cut and placed by Ken and Elaine.

The courtyard construction was followed by filling the gaps with a host of plant life. “One thing that surprised us was the resiliency of desert plants,” Elaine states, “very tenacious.” In an effort to relocate a desert willow, Elaine dug around the base for a couple of days, finally lost patience and ripped it out of the ground with their truck and chain. She dragged it to another hole off to one side and told it to “live or die, it’s up to you.” The tree is doing amazingly well.

Instead of a front gate to the courtyard (which they transferred to the back patio), they decided to search for old doors with some character. At a flea market in Santa Fe, they spoke with a dealer who was actually from Carrizozo. Traveling to Carrizozo, a deal was eventually struck for a set of 100-year old Mesquite doors originally from Monterrey, Mexico.

A solar-heated lap pool and Jacuzzi were installed in the relatively small east-facing rear patio creating a great space for relaxing in the summer evenings and enjoying morning sunrises.

It was four or five years after moving to Las Cruces when Ken and Elaine finally started work on the interior. The first objective for the interior, of course, was to add a touch of color, and at least a “touch” was added. Early on, they had purchased tile for the countertops that dictated the colors of the interior, and stored it in the garage until time to install. Bold, but tastefully matching paints were carefully chosen and applied to the walls to provide the foundation for everything else that followed. When it came time to install the tile, the line had been discontinued, thus changing some of the details of the countertop designs.

They were unable to find replacement cabinets in this region in the style and color that they wanted for the kitchen, so the two ended up stripping and refinishing the existing ones. While engrossed in that arduous process, they replaced a couple of the wooden cabinet door panels with glass to inject a little variation.

“For three years, we searched for a pot hanger with lights to install over the kitchen island,” states Ken, “and one day we stumbled across the right one at a Lowe's... and the price was right.” A skylight was installed over the bar, French doors replaced the kitchen window overlooking the courtyard, ceiling fans were changed throughout the house, track lights were added and the wood-burning fireplaces were changed to gas.
Elaine turned the bathrooms from boring to exciting by tiling the countertops, painting, and decorating. The guest bedroom became a cozy, reminiscent trip to Puerto Vallarta.

“We didn’t bring any furniture from Seattle, except for Ken’s ‘counseling couch’, says Elaine. “We picked items from far-east El Paso to Albuquerque, with a couple of items specially made. Following a particular theme requires a little time and effort but eventually it all comes together. The other furnishings and nick-knacks came from local markets and trips to Mexico. The parrots… we collected those critters everywhere we went. We had fun with the parrots.” ///
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