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Mixing Eras In an Arizona Adobe

by Brittany Pena

Downsizing: a word that can often strike worry into the hearts of homeowners and renters alike. Even as a self-proclaimed “purge” professional, the thought of downsizing leaves me feeling awfully sentimental about the deepest corners of my junk drawer. This is not the case for Salima Boufelfel and Roberto Cowan, co-owners of .

Two years ago, Salima and Roberto stopped by an estate sale in Central Tucson, AZ. They were on the hunt for vintage clothing to fill their shop, but in a strange twist ended up buying the entire home and all the mid-century modern furniture that filled its 2,000 square feet. “The previous owner had great taste,” Salima attests, though her and Roberto’s homeownership was short-lived. After one year, the couple decided to box up their seemingly palatial, four-bedroom home and move into the smallest place they had ever lived with one thing in mind: “What are 10 things we absolutely love?” With this as their mission statement, Roberto and Salima filled their adobe brick home in historic Barrio Viejo with an eclectic yet refined collection of modern furniture, contemporary art and a few necessities.

Barrio Viejo is one of Tucson’s oldest neighborhoods. The streets are narrow, front doors belly-up to the road, and facades sparse of windows lend an air of mystery to the blocks of colorful mud brick homes. Roberto and Salima live right in the center of a bright blue block, in a one-bedroom Row House built in the 1890s. Originally, the house was built as a temporary stay for Southern Pacific Railroad workers and consisted of a single room with a cast iron stove that served as a heater and cooking range. The stove still warms the house through the winter months, but more rooms, a kitchen, master bedroom and indoor bathroom were added as time necessitated — and in that order.

Square footage does not make a house a home, and perhaps you, too, love the corners of your junk drawer. But you’ll see how the timeless form and functionality of adobe brick, a swamp cooler, and Roberto and Salima’s favorite belongings make 600 square feet the perfect fit. —Brittany

Home of Salima and Roberto from Desert Vintage
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The living room in the home of Salima Boufelfel and Roberto Cowan.
Milo Baughman couch in living room of Salima Boufelfel and Roberto Cowan
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“Think of all the people who have lived here,” suggests Roberto. An idea made apparent by the floors the couple had buffed down to concrete. You can still make out the colors from all the past tenants, giving the space a painterly quality. “Perfectly imperfect,” the duo calls it.
Living room in the Southwest on Design*Sponge
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Craftsmanship is of utmost importance to Roberto and Salima, and it shows. The living room serves as a gallery, displaying artwork by friend and LA-based artist, . The pieces are a remarkable fit for the space, as earth tones counteract the sleek Mies Van Der Rohe furniture and provide a warmth of color against stark white walls.
Salima Boufelfel and Roberto Cowan on Design*Sponge
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When I met up with Roberto and Salima, the couple had just returned home from two months spent crisscrossing the country, buying and selling clothes at vintage markets in New York and Los Angeles. The two were welcomed back by 105 degrees of dry heat, but under the low rolling hum of the swamp cooler, they had no complaints.
Living room in Arizona on Design*Sponge
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The pair have an eye for mixing eras of design, and Salima says her approach to decorating is all about balance. The glam 70s Milo Baughman couch, reupholstered in shearling by the previous owner, lives in a “controlled environment” with two 1950s George Nelson Bubble Lamps and a painting by .
Farm table in kitchen of Desert Vintage on Design*Sponge
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An old farmhouse table from the 1600s folds to accommodate the space or a crowd. They found the piece at an antique market in Tucson. Though the table was marked as sold, upon further inquiry Roberto learned the seller was just waiting to find the piece the right home.
Kitchen table from Desert Vintage's home tour
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The cozy kitchen nook in Roberto and Salima's adobe.
Kitchen from home tour of Roberto Cowan and Salima Boufelfel
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The ceiling in the kitchen and living room is made of rustic vaulted wood. The skylight provides ample natural light in the center of their home.
Art and plants in home of Desert Vintage
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Above the cabinets, Roberto and Salima display a folk art checkers board and a painting by local artist Yu Yu Shiratori.
Master bedroom of Barrio Viejo home
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Peace of mind and the desert heat play a big factor in Salima and Roberto’s lifestyle. “Being from a region where it is 111 degrees, the only thing you really can do is be pared down,” says Salima. After a long day of sorting through piles of vintage clothing, “coming home I want a clear view of things.”
Flea market finds in the home of Salima and Roberto
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You may think that scouring markets and estate sales would overwhelm, but these two are undaunted. It is their job to be edited and so Salima says, “It is very easy for us to hone in on what we like.”
Master bedroom in home tour of Desert Vintage on Design*Sponge
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The mid-century credenza is one of the “10” pieces that made the transition from their first home. Flowers fall into the category of necessity. Salima loves having flowers in the home, whether it be for a pop of color or fragrance.
Roberto Cowan and Salima Boufelfel's master bedroom
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The master bedroom is sparse, just as Roberto likes it. Growing up he always kept a clean room with little in it. Furniture served its sole purpose, “what was over-the-top was my closet and the things I wore, but everything else was minimal.”
backyard pepper berry tree at home of Desert Vintage
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Outside, the rust patina and pepper berry tree make a corrugated metal fence look chic.
cactus garden in home of Salima Boufelfel and Roberto Cowan
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Backyard cactus garden.
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"Smaller can actually mean better." - Love, R +S
Home tour in Barrio Viejo on Design*Sponge
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Powder blue adobe, cactus and Mexican bird of paradise greet you on the way into this 1890s Barrio beauty.

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