house made of mud

rescuing a sonoran row house

plans, plans and more plans.

“we’ve got to get off the pot.”  this, yes, is what our contractor said to me last week when we were over at the house.  “what,” i said to him, “do you think i’ve been trying to do?”

before writing more about the house’s history (which is long and fairly intriguing), i thought i’d take a break to say what we’ve been doing since, yes, march (!), when we bought the place. the answer, of course, is plans.

turns out that when you’re dealing with a huge project involving an historic property, plans can take a looooong time. the reason we were at the house, for instance, was to try to settle questions about the heating and cooling system (attempting to cram air vents and access panels into a house with 100+ old ceiling beams in every room and virtually no closets can be tricky). just that issue alone has set us back a good two weeks. we were supposed to be done with the architectural drawings by this thursday. oh well.

but anyway. the plans. i’ve mentioned that our house is a Sonoran row house. that means that back at the end of the 19th century and into the early 20th, not one family lived there, but many families, all of them in a row. typically people would begin with a main house, then build sets of rooms onto the sides (as needed, or until they ran out of property) that they would then let out to renters, many of whom worked on the railroad that runs through the middle of tucson. see the drawing below.



the former main house is shaded in gray. on each side, you can see the row houses, all of which had a door at the front, then one at the back that opened onto the central courtyard which everyone shared (that’s where the privy was–the foundation of ours is still there, and people have told us that that’s where we’ll find “the interesting stuff”– hmm).

i love thinking of all of the little families that maybe once inhabited our house, or the young couples, or maybe young guys far from home trying to make a buck or two. it’s a pretty cool history (and you can bet i’ll be spending some time at the local historical society trying to pinpoint just who all might have lived there through the years).

but the set up also makes for a challenge to the modern buyer, and i’m sure it’s one of the reasons the house sat on the market for so long. while it’s true we have a lot of rooms in the house, they’re also all pretty small (‘it’s rabbit-warren-y” as chris puts it). figuring out how to make them work for us–while also attempting to keep the historic feel of the house–took some thinking, especially since we wanted to leave the house’s footprint as intact as we possibly could. a couple of the architects we talked to early on had big plans for either additions or adding more structures in the courtyard (which admittedly might have been more economically feasible because we could have sold the units), and apparently at one point in the past there was even a developer who wanted to pave the back for parking (yikes!). but we knew from the start that we already liked it pretty much just the way it is.

so i spent a lot of nights scribbling on trace paper laid over a sketch of the layout, trying out different configurations. and then we took our plans in to the architects, who had some excellent suggestions. in the end we came up with the floor plan below, which removes only two walls (one to create a living/dining room and the other to make a master bedroom actually large enough to hold our bed–yay!) and adds three new doorways (to link the former row houses so you can walk from one part of the house to the other without going outside). on one end we’ll have a nice sized rental unit, and there’s also an office space that could be rented out (though it will be chris’s study when we live there). the only other small alteration we’re making is to expand the former bathroom in order to make a slightly larger pantry off the kitchen (because lord knows we’ll need the space since we won’t have any kitchen cabinets!).

fingers crossed we can actually get these to the city for permitting soon…


CAD new floor plan



  1. So very excited to see inside next week!

  2. We’re looking forward to it, too. If the house could talk, I’m sure it would say it’s excited for its photo shoot…

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