All the Right Moves

Inspiring accounts of how four homeowners bought, built, or renovated their New Mexico dream houses.

Editor's Note:  Lifelong Californians Ken and Susan McNeill retired to a golf course-adjacent home in Las Cruces. They love it!

Three more fascinating stories on renovating a Las Vegas Victorian, custom building in Santa Fe, and buying an investment property in Ruidoso, await you in the pages of the April Home and Garden Special issue.

Ken and Susan McNeill are accustomed to beautiful landscapes and interiors. They lived in southern California’s Palos Verdes for 40 years, where breathtaking views of the Pacific coast surround the lushly floral peninsula. They traded their seaside house for a larger one perched on a Las Cruces golf course, and now find themselves equally enchanted. They’re not alone; Money and AARP magazines have lauded the Sunshine City as a top retirement locale.

Ken, a fourth-generation Californian, met his wife when they both worked for Sunset magazine (he in advertising, she as a stylist). Raised in Pasadena, he has a background in advertising, marketing, and real estate. Susan lived in Arizona’s Verde Valley, and made her way to California after college and time spent in Europe, where she studied ceramics and sculpture. Her artistic background led to the creation of a national children’s arts program; as a new resident, she has contributed to the urban revitalization movement spearheaded by the Downtown Las Cruces Partnership, a magnet for arts-minded retirees. Ken has developed friendships of his own after joining the Rio Grande Rotary Club.

The couple wished to move “away from the smog and congestion” when they retired, and they fell deeper in love with Las Cruces with each trip to visit their daughter, son-in-law, and grandsons.

“I wanted something artsy and adobe in Mesilla,” Susan recalls when they started home hunting, but she didn’t have any desire to renovate, or to be a slave to a sprawling lawn.

When the pair walked into the airy, Pueblo-styled home backed up to the Sonoma Ranch Golf Course, with the ruggedly gorgeous Organ Mountains looming to the east, Ken announced, “This is it!” Susan didn’t argue. The home’s expansive walls and nichos display her treasures: Native American pots, Mexican plates, and collections of folk and fine art from around the world, some belonging to the couple’s art-collecting son, Liam. Outside is just enough open space for Susan, a master gardener, to grow vegetables, fruit trees, and flowers, which remain vibrant through most of the year. Ken feels right at home with palm trees. “And we have a large, green lawn I don’t have to mow,” he jokes about the golf course, where he often plays. A wall of windows in their living/dining area and the master bedroom escort the great outdoors into their light-filled rooms.

Retirement was still on the horizon when Susan and Ken fell in love with this house, so they rented out the spacious, three-bedroom, three-bath home until five years ago, when they could move. The couple became familiar with the area before their move, and advise others wanting to relocate to do the same. “We have friends here who rented a condo for several months before they decided to buy; it’s important to learn about the community,” Susan observes.

Susan stalked Las Cruces secondhand and antique shops to discover eclectic furnishings, and from the international masks dominating one spotlit wall to the bent candlesticks that survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, each piece occupies its own carefully chosen space. Her background as a stylist for Sunset has everything to do with that.

Even though they briefly considered retirement in Susan’s beloved Verde Valley, or a California location free of bumper-to-bumper traffic, the McNeills are pleased with their New Mexico home and Las Cruces amenities: a small city with a university and arts community, friendly people, wide-open spaces, good shopping and healthcare, plus a mild climate. “It’s so quiet here. I just love it,” Ken says, adding one more reason to be passionate about their locale: he’s a confirmed chile head whose motto is “the hotter, the better.”

“We live outside, with patio misters in the summer and a heater when it’s cold,” Susan says. “We sit outside in the evening and watch the Organs turn colors. And once you experience Fiesta Season [September–December], you’re hooked! If you want to experience New Mexico, there’s just so much to do.”
She acknowledges that they’ve cheerfully settled in, and admits, “I think it’s time to change my cell number from 310 to 575.”