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Rendering: Intuition to Create

Santa Fe’s Woods Design Builders blends the high-desert landscape into a legacy of homebuilding

Written by Robert Kaufman  
February | March 2015


If conventional wisdom is right to suggest following one’s own instincts, Sharon Woods is indeed a wise woman. She has built a career on the concept. As a self-trained home designer and builder who founded Woods Design Builders 38 years ago, Woods has used her intuitive attributes to nurture the creativity that has allowed her to build nearly 300 extraordinary homes throughout the high-desert landscape surrounding Santa Fe, New Mexico.

This occupational route may not have been the path the one-time public school art teacher envisioned, but shortly after she moved from New York to Santa Fe 42 years ago and completed a remodel design on her own home, Woods discovered a passion that helped solidify a sense of place for herself and her family. Her comfort with the collaborative process is of benefit to every client who has ever taken residence in one of her living works of art.

“It’s always been a progression of growing and learning as my instincts get honed with every project,” says Woods. “What I find so captivating is how the puzzle pieces fit together — volume, proportion of windows to the walls, height of the fireplace or ceiling, and the relationship of the outside to the inside. It’s very complex, but once I started years ago, it all became very intriguing. Now I tell clients not to worry because I’ve been doing this so long, I’ve made all the mistakes there are to make, or I’ll just fix it.”

A spirited promise, indeed. But while the characteristics that embody the distinctive personality of every Woods Design Builders’ home are the imagination of its founder, the end result is never a singular effort. In addition to a team of architects and designers, Sharon’s two sons, Rob, who oversees the business operations, and Shane, who serves as project manager, joined the firm seven years ago and are being groomed to carry forward their mother’s brand after she retires or “unless we change the locks first,” Rob says in jest.

Until such time, Santa Fe’s oldest family-owned design-build firm continues to build clients’ dream homes in a variety of styles ranging from Pueblo to Spanish Colonial, traditional to contemporary, or Northern New Mexico to Territorial. Regardless of the client’s preference, the one common denominator connecting all the lines is Sharon’s signature attention to light and how that radiates throughout all her remodeled or new homes.

“My initial vision begins with being on the lot,” says Sharon, who, as chair of the Historic Review Board for the city of Santa Fe, has been a leader in preserving the region’s architecture. “I don’t see the house initially. It builds after looking at the land, examining the light and determining how to bring the outside views in. From there it becomes an evolutionary process. If I’m doing a remodel, I rarely pay attention to where the rooms are in the existing house, but rather I look at the potential of where they can be in relation to the views.”

For Woods Design Builders, nowhere has it been afforded a more grandiose panorama and flexible opportunity to employ its craft than at The Club at Las Campanas, a 4,800-acre master-planned luxury golf
community situated 10 miles from the historic Santa Fe Plaza. At this sprawling development that includes two Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses and a world-class equestrian center, Woods designed and built one of the first custom homes in 1992. Woods Design Builders has since enhanced its Las Campanas portfolio with another 49 homes and, to commemorate the milestone, recently published Woods Design Builders Celebrates 50 Homes in Las Campanas to showcase its achievements.

“Sharon’s amazing design vision will surpass your greatest expectations,” says Texas residents Bill and Robin Eiland, who own a Woods’ home at Las Campanas. “With the addition of our adjacent casita 10 years after the original home was built, her team was so in tune with molding our vision into this masterpiece. And their eye for every little detail is astounding, further proving how classic and timeless Woods’ homes are.”

With use of indigenous and high-quality materials, capitalizing on creative inspirations has never been an issue for Sharon, but being bound to a number of strict building guidelines in a community such as Las Campanas has presented challenges. “You don’t want everything to look like a brown wedding cake. That’s the trick,” explains Sharon.

That criterion is guiding Woods in the building of her 51st home at Las Campanas, now underway for Donna and Jay Ralph, currently residing in Germany but planning to split their time between Switzerland and Santa Fe upon retirement.

“We looked at a number of properties for sale at Las Campanas before deciding to build, and identified certain homes as having a special appeal due to their character, charm, warmth and quality of design,” says Donna. “Each time, we heard ‘That’s a Sharon Woods’ home.’”

Woods has undeniably generated an enduring legacy through her creations, but when asked to choose her most favorite project, Sharon’s quick-witted answer is one word: “Mine!”

Tucked against Moon Mountain with views of Santa Fe and the Jemez Mountains, Woods transformed a 30-year-old house into a 4,000-square-foot home blending 21st-century elegance with Santa Fe style. To do that, she incorporated kiva fireplaces, stately vigas, wood antique doors and hand-troweled plaster walls in custom colors with a traditional beeswax finish. Outside, she converted an empty yard into a high-desert oasis, adding brick and flagstone patios, and portales.

Sharon delights in the finished product. “I got to do everything I wanted to do ... for me.”