Old Home Gets New Love

Couple renovates 120-year-old house in Mesilla


Joe and Elaine Foster sold their 4,200-square-foot house in Talavera last fall and bought a 900-square-foot home in Mesilla which they have spent the last nine months renovating.

Built about 1900, it was originally part of the house next door, Joe Foster said. It was separated into its own property and has had three additions, all with different floors and ceilings. Joe and Elaine have lived there since they bought it, and the renovations are almost complete, as Joe has almost single-handedly converted an historic Mesilla home into a modern, comfortable living space while preserving its original look and feel as much as possible.

Joe tore out and replaced the kitchen, added a colorful tin-look ceiling in the dining room and rebuilt the fireplace, using river rock and clay pots. He removed the sheetrock ceilings throughout the house to expose the antique beams..

Joe took the floors “down to the dirt” in a couple of rooms, pouring cement foundations and preserving original wood floors. He replaced a dilapidated window in the dining room with French doors and installed a new bedroom window. Hardwood and granite kitchen cabinets were handmade by a cabinet maker in Chihuahua, Mexico from Joe’s design. He even made the mesquite tables and the cutting board that hangs on the kitchen wall.

Joe discovered wood trim around the tops of the walls when the ceiling came out, and kept that, using the trough it created to hide wiring for track lighting. He added old cedar beams rescued from a nearby yard and from C & D Southwest Lumber to maintain the house’s authentic look, which includes exposed adobe walls.

Some of the lumber comes from Oregon and was cut from trees that had died of fungus. The cedar kept the fungus from penetrating deep into the wood, but it still created a stylish pattern.

The bedroom set was handmade in Sunland Park by the same furniture maker who supplied the home’s antique doors and front gate.

Most of the furniture and art Joe and Elaine have added to the house is antique or authentic to the décor. The kitchen contains a high-tech stove and microwave – “We wanted this place to be a cook’s delight,” Joe said – but you won’t find a television or a clock in the house.

Joe and Elaine have lived in the house since they bought it.

As renovations to the house and property near completion, “We’re ecstatic,” Joe said. “It’s livable now.”

The key has been patience, he said, “not being rushed, taking your time and trying to be artistic.”

Elaine continues her psychology practice at her nearby office and is an adjunct professor at New Mexico State University. Joe retired five years ago after a career as a rocket scientist at White Sands Missile Range, developing missile systems for special forces, including the United States Navy Seals and U.S. Army Rangers. Much of the work Foster did was top secret, he said.

Joe is the author of “The BiniSphere,” a techno thriller, and he and Elaine co-wrote “I Wish I Knew This Before My Divorce: Ending the Battle Between Holding On and Letting Go” and “In Movement There Is Peace: Stumbling Along the Way to the Spirit,” about their backpacking trip down the Camino de Santiago in Spain.