Rodin Residence

Taos, New Mexico
Architect
  • Molly Bell (Designer)
Builder
  • Ed Bell
Photographer
Publications
  • Location
  • Taos, New Mexico
  • Structure
  • House (Single Residence)
  • Type
  • Modern
  • Square Feet
  • 2500
  • When Taos contractor Ed Bell called his daughter Molly in the fall of 2014, he had a simple enough request: "I’ve got a potential client for you. Why don’t you send her your portfolio?" Molly, who was working in Los Angeles after earning her master’s in architecture, laughs at the memory. "I didn’t actually have a portfolio from grad school, but I said, ‘Sure.’"

    She pulled together some images and sent them off to Lois Rodin, who had moved to New Mexico in 1984 and finally had the means to build a place of her own. The septuagenarian knew exactly what she wanted: a loftlike space with shed roofs, white walls, wood floors, big windows, and a silk screen studio. She’d met Ed while she was working for the artist Larry Bell—no relation—and showed him an undeveloped five-acre lot on the windswept outskirts of Taos.

    "I said, ‘Can you build on this? Yes? Great,’" she recalls. And despite Molly’s lack of experience, Lois saw something in the aspiring architect’s work. "I was looking at the design relationships," she says. "Was she sensitive to how things relate to each other? I could see it immediately."

    Born and raised in Taos, Molly had left the area to spread her wings, studying at the University of San Francisco before getting her B.A. in architecture from the University of New Mexico and then returning to California to attend USC’s School of Architecture.

    After some back and forth—"I sent Lois three drawings and she didn’t like any of them, but she continued to work with me," Molly marvels—the design was complete. Topped by three shed and two flat roofs, the 2,500-square-foot structure—whose main block opens east across miles of sagebrush to the magnificent panorama of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains—reads like a cluster of individual elements, just as Lois had visualized: a long space for the living/dining room and kitchen, a wing for the guest bedroom, laundry, and master bedroom, and another wing for the studio. Since Lois wanted this to be her "forever" home, Molly incorporated elements like lever handles, a curbless shower, and easy access from the carport to the studio.

    When the project began, Molly intended to remain in Los Angeles while her father and his team of subcontractors and craftspeople built the house. But after the well was drilled and a transformer that would provide electricity was installed, Ed made another call to his daughter. "Why don’t you just come out?" he suggested.

    Already pondering moving on from her job in L.A., Molly returned to New Mexico and got to work. Soon she was pushing wheelbarrows, helping to dig trenches, trying her hand at laying concrete blocks, and absorbing the building process from the ground up. Though the precision of her detailing earned her the moniker "Zero-Tolerance Molly," she embraced the learning curve that came with the job. "It was an atypical experience for an architect, but I now know this house backwards and forwards," she says.

    Ed saw it as an invaluable rite of passage. "I had Molly here every day to learn how to build a house," he says. "I’m pretty hands-on as a builder. Pushing a broom is the smartest thing a contractor can do, because every day you see everything."

    Along with the difficulty of getting materials to a place that’s relatively remote, designing in a different vocabulary challenged everyone involved. "I came with ideas like the rusted metal siding and the corner windows—not knowing how difficult they would be," says Molly. "It was totally an architecture school thing."

    But her father welcomed the chance to do something different. "Before I moved to New Mexico in 1980, I read that I should leave my level behind. And here’s Molly, for whom sharp edges and shadow lines are everything," he recalls. "I thought, ‘This is really hard.’ But as the project progressed, I saw how incredibly beautiful it was."

    Lois agrees. "When Molly said she wanted to put rusted metal on the sides of the house, I said something stupid like, ‘It’s roofing, it belongs on the roof.’ It took me three days to come around."

    Molly stayed in New Mexico for the eight months it took to build the house, which was enough time for Taos to work its magic. "I went back to Los Angeles and realized I wanted to live here," she says.

    As Molly completes her architect’s license, she and her father are already plotting their next house. In the meantime, Lois revels in her high-desert dwelling, making prints in her studio and taking in the ever-changing light. "I’ve lived out in the middle of nowhere," she says, "and I’m always trying to get back to that."

    Modern home with Desert, Shrubs, Exterior, Stucco Siding Material, House, and Wood Siding Material. On a five-acre property outside Taos, New Mexico, designer Molly Bell worked closely with her father, builder Ed Bell, to create a new residence for owner Lois Rodin. “Lois requested that it appear as a grouping of individual masses, so that it read more like a cluster than a solitary shape,” Molly says. “I hope it shows that it’s OK to do something modern in such a traditional environment, and not to be afraid of it.” Photo 2 of Rodin Residence

    On a five-acre property outside Taos, New Mexico, designer Molly Bell worked closely with her father, builder Ed Bell, to create a new residence for owner Lois Rodin. “Lois requested that it appear as a grouping of individual masses, so that it read more like a cluster than a solitary shape,” Molly says. “I hope it shows that it’s OK to do something modern in such a traditional environment, and not to be afraid of it.”

    Modern home with Outdoor, Front Yard, Hardscapes, and Walkways. Rusted metal, used on three of the home’s five roofs, extends to the entrance facade, which, in a nod to northern New Mexico’s haciendas, opens to a courtyard. Rather than buy pre-rusted siding, Molly and her father oxidized the steel themselves. Photo 3 of Rodin Residence

    Rusted metal, used on three of the home’s five roofs, extends to the entrance facade, which, in a nod to northern New Mexico’s haciendas, opens to a courtyard. Rather than buy pre-rusted siding, Molly and her father oxidized the steel themselves.

    Modern home with Living Room, Sectional, Table, Chair, Standard Layout Fireplace, and Table Lighting. The living/dining room occupies a long, high-ceilinged space. The sectional is from CB2. Photo 4 of Rodin Residence

    The living/dining room occupies a long, high-ceilinged space. The sectional is from CB2.

    Modern home with Kitchen, Ceiling Lighting, Drop In Sink, Range, and Wood Cabinet. The kitchen cabinets hold dishes by Butterpie Productions. Photo 5 of Rodin Residence

    The kitchen cabinets hold dishes by Butterpie Productions.

    Modern home with Outdoor, Side Yard, Shrubs, and Hardscapes. A gravel perimeter keeps mud from splashing on the walls when it rains. Adds Molly, “You can get away with minimal landscaping because there’s so much natural vegetation here.” Photo 6 of Rodin Residence

    A gravel perimeter keeps mud from splashing on the walls when it rains. Adds Molly, “You can get away with minimal landscaping because there’s so much natural vegetation here.”

    Modern home with Bedroom, Table Lighting, Bed, and Light Hardwood Floor. “It was important to Lois that the outside come inside,” says Molly, who designed the master bedroom to maximize the views. “The windows make you feel like you’re in a sea of sagebrush.” The Equo Gen 3 LED floor lamp is from YLighting. Photo 7 of Rodin Residence

    “It was important to Lois that the outside come inside,” says Molly, who designed the master bedroom to maximize the views. “The windows make you feel like you’re in a sea of sagebrush.” The Equo Gen 3 LED floor lamp is from YLighting.

    Modern home with Bath Room and Freestanding Tub. The master bathroom features one of two corner windows in the house. “At night, when I take a bath, I can see the moon and the stars,” says Lois. Photo 8 of Rodin Residence

    The master bathroom features one of two corner windows in the house. “At night, when I take a bath, I can see the moon and the stars,” says Lois.

    Modern home with Outdoor, Side Yard, Shrubs, and Hardscapes. The house measures approximately 2,500 square feet. Molly, who was born and raised in Taos, says, “Proportionally, it’s a very human scale, and it salutes the unconventional architecture found in local Earthship houses and owner-built homes.” Photo 10 of Rodin Residence

    The house measures approximately 2,500 square feet. Molly, who was born and raised in Taos, says, “Proportionally, it’s a very human scale, and it salutes the unconventional architecture found in local Earthship houses and owner-built homes.”

    Illustration courtesy of Lohnes + Wright  Photo 11 of Rodin Residence modern home

    Illustration courtesy of Lohnes + Wright

    Get a Daily Dose of Design

    Sign up for the Dwell Daily Newsletter and never miss our new features, photos, home tours, stories, and more.