house made of mud

rescuing a sonoran row house


my name is kathe lison. i’m an author (the whole fromage), long-time design freak, and sometime student in the master of architecture program at the university of arizona.


on march 21st, 2014—the first day of spring—my partner, science and nature writer christopher cokinos, and i bought a falling down Sonoran row house in tucson’s barrio veijo historic district. its doors and windows were boarded up, its walls–made of traditional mud adobe bricks from the 1890s–were crumbling, its roof looked as if it might be held on with chewing gum, what little electricity the house had once had no longer worked and the hot water to the single, working bathroom was supplied by a make-shift solar heater in the back yard. by the time we looked at it, the house had been on the market for nine years.

it was clear something needed to be done—and soon—if the house was to be saved from returning back into the dirt from which had come. and, insane decision though it was—we decided we were the ones who should do it.

this is the ongoing chronicle of the house and its stories. the story of its history, the story of its barrio, and the story, of course, of what happens after you fall in love with a house made of mud.

stay tuned. it is–and is going to be–a crazy ride. in the meantime, here are a few “before” pics, taken by our friend, photographer david scott moyer, for you to enjoy.


© david scott moyer.

© david scott moyer.


© david scott moyer.


© david scott moyer.


© david scott moyer.


© david scott moyer.


© david scott moyer.


  1. I was pleased to encounter your web site and on-going tail. Although I am in Los Angeles, I am in Tucson frequently (last week the Book Fair, before for basketball, and I was teaching in the Civil Engineering Department for several years-commuting from LA one day a week, also a UofA graduate). Now you have my resume.
    I’m struggling to find a source for adobe mortar (pre-manufactured and bagged for a public works project). Clay Mine Adobe in Tucson is one source but I was wondering whether you might have any other names to suggest contacting. I will also ask Bob Vint and Eric Means (both of whom I work with) for suggestions.
    I would like to come by and see your project next time I am in town, probably in August.
    Mel Green

  2. Kathe: I am Dane Webster’ s mom. I have been following your posts of progress on your Mud House. I am fascinated by your diligence to find the best ways to renovate this little piece of history with such a devoted sense of elegance as well as your touch of simplicity. I hope to see it someday. You and Chris have been true friends to Dane and Jennifer. I wish you good luck to a successful and “sooner than later” completion. Best of Holidays.

    • Thank you, Sally! We’ve been happy to be able to do it, and were so happy that Dane & Jen could be there for our “unveiling” at the beginning. Perhaps you’ll be able to tag along sometime if they visit Tucson. We’d love to show you the place!

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