Right Sizing

Home may be where the heart is, but the right type of home depends on a variety of considerations. Three Santa Feans share how they found their ideal living situations for their phases of life.

By Kelly Koepke | Photos by Steven St. John

Home may be where the heart is, but later in life considerations such as budget, family, and health can pull in different directions. Three Santa Feans weigh in on the best home for them, whether it’s a dream home, condo, or casita.

Finding the perfect place to land when your life is evolving can be tricky. An AARP survey found that 87 percent of adults aged 65 and over want to stay in their current home and community as they age. Among people aged 50 to 64, 71 percent want to age in place. Sometimes that isn’t possible or practical, though. Health concerns, family connections, and the desire to live a different lifestyle can all lead people to opt for different living situations later in life.

The American Society on Aging reports that more than half of surveyed 65- to 74-yearolds and 63 percent of those 75-plus say that their home’s “emotional” value is more important to them than its monetary value. Home really is where the heart is — no matter where it ends up being.

These homeowners exemplify the shifts people make to suit their phases of life. One relocated to be closer to family. One downsized into an apartment. And one couple built their dream home as a place to combine family, friends, and business. All have found their perfect, right-sized spot.

Previous: Jodi Vevoda and Will Prull open the doors to their dream home. Above: Patty Volpi and the Cates family built a casita to keep their family close. Right: Mary Allred chose to downsize.

Making Room for Mom

After eight years of caring for her own mother, Patty Volpi was ready for a change. The 68-year-old wanted to be closer to her son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren in Santa Fe. But her search for a small house close to town without many maintenance demands was proving fruitless. Then Joe and Tracy Cates found the perfect solution: they built a literal mother-in-law guest house for her. “We have a good-sized property, with a big section that was just dying cholla and dirt,” Tracy Cates says. “We loved the idea of Patty being close by, both for her and for us. Sometimes our culture doesn’t value being close to family, but we’re watching so many of our peers taking care of their parents and having to relocate them or themselves to do it. Patty’s still young and healthy, so it seemed reasonable to us to welcome her here. She’s an active grandparent who loves hanging out with the grandkids. We also like the idea of caring for Patty when she needs help.”

The Cateses started looking for an architect and builder. They didn’t have to look far. They knew Matt Declerck of Yazdec Construction because their children went to school together. “Matt loves doing casitas instead of remodels. It felt right because he was incredibly respectful of the creative process. He also found our architect,” Cates continues.

Tracy acted as on-site liaison with the architect and builder until Volpi could relocate from California. Volpi funded the guest house, a 1,000-square-foot twobedroom, one-bathroom structure with a single-car garage. As she made decisions on furniture, appliances, fixtures, and other decorative elements, Tracy got what she could locally from Builders Source Appliance Gallery, using online outlets for other items. Volpi visited from California to purchase decor from La Luz, Santa Fe By Design, and other local stores.

The Cateses’ main home was built in the late 1950s in a Stamm neighborhood near St. Francis and San Mateo. The casita design harmonizes with the surrounding homes, adding some modern elements. With lots of windows and natural light, the space maximizes energy efficiency with mini-splits for cooling, an on-demand water heater, a kiva fireplace and banco, and a small washer and dryer. Volpi designed the custom kitchen cabinets, and she insisted on granite countertops and a gas stove.

“We come from a long line of chefs, so we needed gas for cooking,” says Volpi, who retired from a career in transportation logistics and customer service before taking on the role of caregiver. “There are also beautiful wooden ceiling fans, vigas in the living room, and several nichos. We tried to keep a funky Southwest spirit with modern touches.”

The guest house is sited with the garage closest to the main house, and it has a separate driveway. For privacy in the shared outdoor space, there are no sightlines between the two structures. Volpi moved in on July 1 and has since turned her attention to landscaping and building a garden.

She enjoys that everything in the casita is new. She packed up and brought from California only what was special and important to her.

Building the guest house has also been an empowering process. “It almost felt selfish — like ‘me, me, me’ for the past six months. I’m not used to that,” she says. “But it was fun accenting with beautiful things that I chose myself. And not caring for others now, I could build to suit myself. It’s a fresh start.”

From Isolation to Community

Mary Allred says she’s 95 going on 65. This active, creative grandmother of five and great-grandmother of five loves her life at El Castillo senior living community. She moved there from a large four-bedroom, three-bath home in Tesuque in 2018, two years after her second husband died.

Though she loved her Tesuque home and the space she had there for entertaining and family to visit, “The house was too big for me alone and was isolated in the sense that there was no other house close by and people couldn’t see me come in and out. And it was on a hill that could be slippery in the winter. It wasn’t wise for me to stay there alone,” she says.

As the daughter of Martin Bode, who purchased the retailer that would become Bode’s General Store in Abiquiú in 1919, Allred has a natural love for Northern New Mexico. “I grew up in Abiquiú and went to Loretto Academy. I worked at LANL as a secretary and ended up office manager,” she says.

Allred pondered the idea of downsizing for about a year. Her three children, who live in other states, supported the idea; they felt concerned about her safety and isolation. She had visited and put her name on the long waiting list at the senior living community 10 years before she moved in. Once she made up her mind to move, she didn’t want to worry about the logistics.

To help her make the transition, she hired Karen Lievense of Downsizing Made Simple. “I tried to get rid of things on my own, but it was more than I could handle,” Allred says. “I had to get rid of so much — years of collecting art

Health concerns, family connections, and the desire to live a different lifestyle can all lead people to opt for different living situations later in life.

and mementoes. My husband and I had traveled around the world. We liked micaceous pottery, paintings, china, dishes, and kitchenware,” she says.

Lievense helped Allred decide what to bring and arranged the new apartment gracefully before Allred moved in. Allred’s daughters organized an estate sale and donations after taking sentimental items for themselves.

Now her two-bedroom, one-bath, 860-square-foot space is filled with the best and most meaningful objects from her collection. Allred says she occasionally remembers what she used to have and misses it, but she also feels grateful that she doesn’t have to deal with house repairs and upkeep.

For her, the hardest part about downsizing and relocating was the physical move itself, as well as mentally leaving things behind. The best part has been less responsibility and more freedom. She takes advantage of the activities, museum visits, and concert and movie outings offered through the El Castillo and its proximity to downtown Santa Fe. She concentrates on staying well and being active.

Allred says downsizing to a senior community was the best choice for her because she wanted to live independently and have access to assistance when she needed it. She also likes to be around people. “Nothing appealed to me in Austin, Montana, or Houston where my children are. I love New Mexico, and the feeling of independence is so good — I walk to the Plaza and Canyon Road, along the river and parks. My friends are here, and I don’t feel isolated at all. It feels like home.”

Dream Home Built for Two, and More

Jodi Vevoda moved to Santa Fe in 2011 after more than three decades working in the international publishing industry. Little did she know that she’d find a husband, start a career in the custom home building industry, and build her dream home here.

“Will is 68 and I’m 66. We met in Santa Fe 11 years ago and married seven years ago. He has been a high-end custom home builder in Santa Fe for more than four decades,” she says of her husband, Will Prull, president of Prull Custom Builders. Vevoda is now executive vice president of the award-winning firm that constructs spec homes. She’s also the associate publisher of Santa Fe Magazine. When the couple met, they lived a quarter mile from each other on Bishops Lodge Road in older remodeled homes. When they married, it made sense to build something that reflected both their styles. While on a morning walk, Prull, a self-described country mouse, discovered their Las Campanas lot abutting Bureau of Land Management open space. Vevoda likes the amenities of city life but also appreciates views of the Jemez and Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Local architect and friend Craig Hoopes consulted with them to design a space that could accommodate their love of the outdoors and entertainment, and their extensive art collection. Both Prull and Vevoda had separately and together traveled extensively, acquiring sculptures in Africa, metalwork in Mexico, and pottery. Vevoda had been purchasing paintings since the 1980s, and they both collect local artist Kellogg Johnson’s ceramics.

“Our eclectic furniture wouldn’t work in the new house, so we sold everything. We identified the larger pieces of art that went into the home together. It was fun to design the space for what we have, with the furniture coming later so the art stands out,” Vevoda says. Prull acted as general contractor, and Vevoda engaged Santa Fe’s Robin Gray Design to create rugs from wool and silks to the couple’s specifications. Local Chandler Prewitt Design harmonized artwork, furniture, and other elements with the architecture.

The mid-century-inspired 4,350-square-foot three-bedroom, three-bath house offers spectacular views from the large windows in every room. The main suite is separate from the two guest rooms for privacy when family and friends come to visit.

The couple are also prepared for aging in place: there are no steps or elevation changes, and all the showers are walk-in. They moved in February 2018, and the house earned 2020 Haciendas Parade of Homes awards for best design, best kitchen, and best master suite.

While many home building and improvement projects are recipes for conflict, the couple says they worked together in a true partnership to build what they both consider their dream home. Mixing their business and personal lifestyles, they’ve created a compound that’s grown over the last five years. The pair is now building a guest house with a pool. The structure will serve as offices for their business and extra guest accommodations. “The house is designed for entertaining, which we both love for personal and professional reasons. There’s an outdoor kitchen and pizza oven, barbecue, and fire pit,” Vevoda says. “We love to gather people . . . and often host business events and nonprofit events to give back to the community.”

Kelly Koepke and her husband built a guest house with the idea that someday one or both of her parents could live there, and that one day they would downsize into it themselves.






Santa Fe New Mexican