The beauty of Far West Texas lies not in its lushness, but in its isolation. More than 400 miles west of San Antonio, the small, handsome town of Marfa sits in the rocky Chihuahuan Desert, backlit by two mountain ranges and a panorama of ocotillo-speckled shrub land. It’s exactly the view Don and Linda Shafer wanted.
"We just had that need to live in the high desert," says Don. Before moving permanently to Texas in the late 1980s, the couple had spent years back and forth between Santa Fe and Austin, with five grandchildren spread across the two cities. Nearing retirement, they started spending time in the Big Bend region and became smitten with the landscape, but after trying their hand at desert living at a friend’s cabin in the nearby town of Marathon, they found it "a little small for us," Linda says.
Marfa—where your neighbors might, with equal feasibility, be local ranchers or art-world sophisticates on holiday—skews a bit more urbane, and better met their criteria for a place with "few or no mosquitoes" and cooler climates than those in Austin. Access to a latte and The New York Times didn’t hurt, either.
Having once restored a 200-year-old adobe in Santa Fe, the Shafers itched to complete another historic remodel and purchased a 1914 prairie-style dwelling. But as they worked with a restoration architect to unpeel renovations completed by its subsequent owners in the 1950s, crucial signs of decay and disrepair led them to take it down.
Deciding to build new, they bought plans by an architect based in Taos, New Mexico. But the same isolation that lends Marfa its charm and beauty, they found, also makes for building costs that can rival those of New York City. When they saw the construction estimate creep toward $350 a square foot, those plans, too, were shelved.