“I love the solitude,” Karen Bunkowski says of her home in the Galisteo Basin Preserve near Santa Fe, New Mexico. “Sometimes I sit out there and there’s no noise.” Texas Hill Countrybased artist Bill Worrell made the spiral sculpture.

Finding Home

“SOMETHING HIT ME RIGHT IN THE GUT,” says watercolorist Karen Bunkowski of her first visit to Galisteo, New Mexico, a village about 25 miles due south of Santa Fe, some 20 years ago. “I thought, ‘This is it. This is where I’m supposed to be.’”

For years, Karen and her husband, Ken, who builds carbon-fiber plants across the world for Hexcel Corporation, looked for properties. But nothing struck them until they discovered a 14-acre site on the Galisteo Basin Preserve, a 13,522-acre land-conservation and community-development project between Galisteo and Santa Fe.

Up went a single-story, flat-roofed 4,300-square-foot contemporary home — two bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths and a three-car garage — with a casita housing another bedroom, bath, kitchenette and, finally, a studio for Karen.

“My first studio was a laundry room,” she says. “I moved laundry to paint.”

Builder Will Prull of Santa Fe-based Prull Custom Builders recommended Santa Fe’s Hoopes + Associates Architects LLC, and Craig Hoopes and Andrea Caraballo went to work designing the home.

“Out here, the wind never stops,” says Hoopes, who has been in Santa Fe for 23 years. “So the thought behind the house was to create sort of a courtyard that the house opens up to so that they could have a protected area to be out of the wind and be able to enjoy being outside without being buffeted by the wind. And of course for the times when it’s not windy we have the great portals to mountains to the south. The way the house works, you’re always able to see through the house and see the different areas.”

Paul Rau of Santa Fe’s Paul Rau Interiors handled the interior designs, while Santa Fe’s Solange Serquis of Serquis + Associates Landscape Architecture did the landscaping.

The Bunkowskis are not strangers to new homes or contemporary houses. They built one home outside of Cincinnati, then built two while living in Pensacola, Florida, and remodeled a fourth in Salt Lake City before moving to Galisteo. But once they had moved in, Karen found a new challenge.

“We’ve never had so much space to cover before,” Bunkowski says. “And being a watercolorist, my paper only comes so big. I can’t do everything.”

She didn’t need landscapes. Look out every window in any direction and she could see stunning vistas in the day, or brilliant stars and the Milky Way at night.

Even while living in Utah, she knew she would wind up in New Mexico, so she wanted an American Indian influence. Robert Rivera made a mask to hang on a wall; Bill Worrell’s shaman wall sculpture found a spot in the entryway; and a buckskin shirt by costume designer Cathy A. Smith (“Dances with Wolves,” “Son of the Morning Star”) fit perfectly in a hallway.

The challenge became the dining room wall.

“It would require a big painting,” Bunkowski says, “but I couldn’t find anything that was really abstract or cost $30,000.”

Then she saw the textured steel-cement bronze sculptures of Siri Hollander, and one of her horse sculptures went up. Hollander also did a smaller horse for a spot on a table beneath the Rivera mask.

Animals became a theme. No surprise, as Bunkowski’s favorite subjects to paint are animals. “Animals have all the soul that we have,” she says. “They have everything we have, except they’re not mean. They’re nice.”

When she saw coyotes frolicking in her yard, she snapped photos and created a watercolor. A mountain sheep by Jill Shwaiko found a home on a rock fountain in the courtyard, and Jim Eppler’s metal raven is perched on a rock near the entry.

The timeless curvature of Bill Worrell’s outside spiral gates matches another architectural theme around the property.

“Solange did the black rocks in the landscaping,” Bunkowski says. “If you were looking down from a plane, you would see that the black rocks imitate a stream that creates a spiral throughout the house.”

Serquis even put a spiral meditation path in the backyard.

“I didn’t even know she was going to do that,” Bunkowski says, “but it tied everything together. I think of it as being on the path … and I’m on what path I’m supposed to be on.” 

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