The Last Hacienda

In Las Cruces, an adobe-restoration expert brings his work home.

“It’s my forever home,” Cliff Schlothauer says of his residence, the Don Rafael Bermudez House on Mesilla Plaza. And he certainly knows a thing or two about the upkeep of historic homes in this part of the state. Schlothauer, along with others in his family-owned restoration business, maintains the look and charm of many old adobe homes in southern New Mexico.

A set of French windows at the Don Rafael Bermudez House provides a stellar view of Josefina’s Old Gate, one of Mesilla’s most photographed landmarks. The hacienda-style adobe sits just a short distance from the historic Mesilla Plaza and the Basilica of San Albino, one of the oldest missions in the Mesilla Valley.

Built in 1853, the Bermudez House is “the only traditional-style hacienda-style home left in Mesilla,” Schlothauer says. “The center door opens on the zaguán [passageway], which leads to the inner courtyard. It’s where we spend most of our time.” With the help of noted artist and designer Carlos Estrada Vega, the courtyard has been painted in bright Mexican pigments and filled with folk art and lush plantings.

Prior to New Mexico’s 1912 statehood, when Mesilla was Mexican territory, the thick-walled adobe building served as the Mexican Government Custom Offices, and as the community’s fort during Apache attacks, Schlothauer says. “Women and children were kept inside the house, animals were kept on the courtyard, and the men stood guard on the flat roof with their rifles.” (Don Rafael Bermudez, an original settler of the town of Mesilla, served as the town’s customs collector before the 1854 Gadsden Purchase). Today, the home’s thick adobe walls and the thoughtful placement of windows help keep the home cool during the warmer months.

An addition, which boasts a row of windows overlooking the courtyard and a gracefully curved fireplace, was added by Carolyn and Henry Bunch, and served as one of the couple’s many art galleries in the Mesilla Valley. Today, Schlothauer utilizes the space as his home office and library. In 2012, he moved into the house with his extensive collection of art and antiques. Even with an upgrade to more contemporary appliances and a tile mural, Schlothauer has been able to retain the home’s period style with a few custom pieces from his collection.