Kinlock Brown builds beautiful in Taos

Adobe, passive solar, views mark local builder's designs

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The luminous light of the Southwest, along with the mountains and mesa vistas that surround us, make Taos a beautiful place to live. Bringing the light and views in and using local material, such as adobe, create a distinctive look to the homes here and make them uniquely suited to comfortable living in our desert climate.

The adobe approach used to build Taos Pueblo perhaps 1,000 years ago still sets the tone for many of the homes constructed here since that time, said builder Kinlock Brown.

Brown knows a few things about building in Taos. He was born here and has been a licensed general contractor since 1980. During that time, he has constructed 25 homes all across Taos from Llano Quemado to Taos Mesa to Arroyo Seco and Taos Ski Valley. He has built with adobe and pumice - as well as using frame - and post and beam construction. The home in Taos Ski Valley is a five-story A-frame house.

The builder has often constructed just one home at a time, although he has had as many as three under construction at once. "I like to work on my own schedule and don't like to be pressured or have a set time frame," Brown said.

Each home has taken between 3 1/2 months and two years to complete. "I like to be hands on and have done 50 to 75 percent of the work myself in all phases of building, including the doors and cabinets," he added.

El Salto style

Perhaps Brown's most distinctive style is seen in the 10 homes in the El Salto area, which is outside of Arroyo Seco. The first home he built from the ground up was on Black Bear Road in 1978. He lived there and it is still owned by members of his family. His most recent house, completed in 2007, is located nearby on Calle Caballeros.

Brown said his theme has been to design homes with lots of glass on the south side in order to take advantage of passive solar possibilities and to pick up views. "Because Taos has great views," he said with a smile.

In each of the different homes that he built on a similar floor plan, he experimented with house layout to capture the particular views of the location and the exposure to the sun. He says, "I tried to stretch the south face of the house to the east and west and include lots of windows for maximum exposure."

Brown selected each lot with an eye to views and desirability. He designed the home to tailor fit the particular site. Over time, he explored the right ratio for the height of the windows and the length of the overhangs needed for shading. His goal was to pick up the sun during the coldest time of the year from sunrise until sunset. In the winter, the angle of the sun is low, so the overhang allows the sun to shine in directly. As the arc of the sun rises and lengthens in the sky during the summer months, the overhang shades the house, so it doesn't over heat. "The Southwest is ideal for solar," Brown said. "There are unique solar opportunities due to all our sunny days."

He pointed out that adobe is by far the best building material for our dry Southwest climate with its radical fluctuations between day and night temperatures. "The thermal mass of adobe is like a battery. It holds daytime heat and radiates it at night," Brown says.

The interiors of the homes in El Salto have gorgeously carved wooden beams and distinctive corbels that support the vigas of the ceiling. The careful plasterwork and wooden windows framing up views of Taos Mountain are also common features. "I usually design the house from the inside out," Brown said. "I sit on the land and imagine how it will feel to be inside the home and look outside."

The owner of Brown's most recent home said, "We love the passive solar layout, all the views, the transitional zone between desert and mountains, the hum, the acequia, our gringo and Spanish neighbors." He mentioned that the smells and being able to plant an orchard and catch rain and snowmelt in cisterns are attractions. "The light, sunsets, clouds, rainbows and snowstorms are awesome, too," he added.

Another El Salto homeowner who bought a Brown house built in 1997 said that she looked for a home in Taos for seven years before she found her current home. When the house was under construction and there were only walls and a foundation, she could see the artistry that Brown brought to his design and the care he took with siting it. She walked in, sat down in the sunken living room, looked out and said, "I'll take it." She bought it that same day.

Life in Taos

Brown said his experience with construction began when he was 4 years old. He was helping his dad, Malcolm Brown, build with adobe in Arroyo Seco. His mother was Rachel Brown, a well-known weaver who founded the Craft House in Arroyo Seco in the 1960s.

He went to school with kids from Taos Pueblo and spent a lot of time there. His family first arrived in Taos when his grandmother on his father's side came here, attracted by the art culture. "My grandmother, Lesley Brown, a painter, came to Taos in the early '40s, along with my father, Malcolm Brown, one of the Taos Moderns. He was a painter, sculptor and architect," said Brown.

In his 20s, Brown worked as a silversmith. He taught silversmithing and helped organize a guild of 20-25 people working in the field. For a period of time, the group lived and worked at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House when it was owned by Dennis Hopper. "The house was built as an artists' colony, so it was perfect for the guild," he says. He added that home building is similar to making jewelry, just bigger projects.

Although he plans to build another house or two, Brown currently focuses on collecting and restoring exotic cars. He said he is a third-generation automotive engineer. His grandfather was the chief engineer at Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company the 1920s, so it is part of his DNA. He has an active auto restoration shop in Arroyo Seco and has been restoring exotic automobiles since he was 17 years old, including cars made by Jaguar, Maserati and Lamborghini, along with airplanes, motorcycles and antique trucks.

"I consider myself to be a jack-of-all-trades, including contractor/builder, architect, heavy equipment operator, mechanical engineer, metalsmith, exotic automobile restorer, pilot, aircraft technician, jeweler, ski instructor, photographer, gardener, world explorer/adventurer and more," said Brown.

To contact Kinlock Brown, email him at kinlockb@yahoo.com.

Cindy Brown, no relation to Kinlock Brown, lives in one of his homes, completed in 2000. "I met Brown when he was building the house and the first time I saw the carved wooden beams and the views of El Salto, I knew I wanted to live in the house," Cindy Brown said.

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