At home with a world-famous musician at his Southwest-Modern digs in Santa Fe.
He has performed with Santana, opened for Miles Davis, and reinterpreted Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” with a bossa nova beat. He’s toured around the world and could live anywhere that gives him decent access to an airport he can jet in and out of for his concert travels. So where did Ottmar Liebert choose to put down roots? When he’s not touring, the best-selling flamenco-jazz guitarist lives on a quiet mountaintop almost as high as the clouds in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
You might say Liebert’s property is an alt-ranchette. No cows, but horses whinny across the arroyo. No chickens, but Liebert’s Tibetan mastiff, Bella, barks protectively. No barn, but an adobe guesthouse he built as a recording studio offers shelter through a vivid blue door.
“Blue doors keep the witches away,” Liebert says playfully, as he shows off the 1,600-square-foot studio he designed with architect Addison Doty. It’s Liebert’s absolute favorite place. “The way I found the architect was that I said, ‘Two things: Japanese teahouse and Mexican architect Luis Barragán.’ [Doty] said, ‘You’re in luck — I’ve studied both.’ ” And to great effect. Shaped like a trapezoid, the studio boasts a pitched ceiling and skylights. Since smooth surfaces create echoes, it has rough plaster walls. One hundred white candles sit on welded-steel rolling racks that Liebert, 51, takes on tour with him. There are more candles in the built-in wall nichos. Even lava lamps. Plenty romantic to jump-start the creative impulse.
A simple Japanese-style entry gate with a heavy sliding latch is the first clue that Liebert is a Zen Buddhist (in fact, he was ordained as a Zen monk in 2006). Clad in a denim shirt and jeans, looking the bohemian cowboy with spiky brown hair and cool silver glasses, Liebert has evolved beyond the sexy longhaired Euro pop star he was when his Nouveau Flamenco album sold 2 million copies in the United States in 1990. That cover, splashed atop L.A.’s Sunset Boulevard on a 10-by-10-foot billboard, now sprawls across an upstairs hallway wall. Vintage Ottmar: ponytail, suit jacket, serious look, classical guitar.
Seeing him Santa Fe-style — cropped hair, often barefoot, mellow — is a bit of an adjustment. Going Southwestern was an adjustment for him, too. Born in Germany, Liebert moved to Santa Fe in 1986 and purchased his hilltop house six years later. He has since added on an angular master bathroom with irregularly shaped windows inspired by a Le Corbusier-designed French chapel (Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp), a guest bedroom, and a garage. And he removed several interior walls. The 3,800-square-foot frame house now has an open floor plan, with 30-foot ceilings that soar up from the living room. “It’s expansive!” Liebert says, clearly enjoying the liberation of the openness. “To me it’s very much what I like about Santa Fe: This sense of space. I find space is probably the greatest luxury there is.”
While the feeling outside is serenity — one-and-a-quarter xeriscaped acres with aspen, pinyon, and lilac trees punctuated by peonies and poppies, watered by a catchment system with 100-gallon cisterns — inside, a minimalist aesthetic prevails. Think Bauhaus meets Eames in the Southwest. An old Navajo rug hangs on one living room wall across from an elegant wall-mounted Prouvé Potence lamp, which is suspended on a single metal rod that rotates over the room.
A 1930s Le Corbusier reclining chair covered with horsehide is the showiest piece, placed near a 1970s white deconstructed Ligne Roset Togo chair, two black leather lounge chairs, and an old Mexican colonial trunk. “I think the old furniture goes really well with chrome and black leather,” says Liebert, who designed the blond maple-covered dining room table and two credenzas with recessed hardware that contain his 1,800 CDs. Desert light through huge windows nurtures monumental cactus and rubber plants.
This is a man who likes his high-end house toys. By the staircase, Liebert demonstrates how his computer-controlled wall-mounted stage lights shift from yellow to pink. And the kitchen is all recessed hardware and built-ins, like the steel Sub-Zero fridge, steel Dacor stove, and German Miele dishwasher.
Liebert — an easy conversationalist given to discussing Schoenberg’s atonal preferences in one breath, his own fondness for Internet-ordered Pouchong half-green tea in the next — used to throw parties here. The highlight of his entertaining was always a Grammy bash. “Whenever the ‘wrong’ person won a Grammy, you had to take a shot of tequila,” Liebert says. “The mob decided every time Michael Bolton won, we all had to take a shot. We were really into Prairie Fires — that’s one-third Tabasco, two-thirds tequila.” These days, entertaining is more subdued: He has friends from the Upaya Zen Center in for spaghetti carbonara with turkey bacon or chicken schnitzel and Viennese potato salad.
If Grammy night used to be party central downstairs, upstairs has always been an oasis. The bedrooms overlook the treetops, the master bath is home to thriving orchids, and an open shower shines with recycled-glass tiles. Not a thing looks out of place and there’s not a smidgen of clutter. The secret? More built-in cabinets. “You know why a Japanese house looks so clean?” Liebert asks. “It’s 40 percent hidden storage!”
His lifestyle here is both orderly and idyllic. But if he should ever leave it for a place of his own design in the West, Liebert’s fantasy is something more modest and green. “I’d build a cabin in Pecos, New Mexico, that would have as little impact on the land as possible,” he says. “I’d probably build something elevated on stilts so it wouldn’t really impede on anything.”
Stocked with red wine, half-green tea, and some guitars, it would be his very own Southwestern Zen sanctuary. With blue doors, of course.
Ottmar’s Viennese Potato Salad
½ cup capers packed in salt
2 pounds small new potatoes, scrubbed
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
½ cup finely chopped red onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
WHAT YOU DO
Rinse the capers, dry with a towel, and fry them in a pan with olive oil until crispy. Place potatoes in a large pot, cover with cold water by 2 inches, and bring to a boil. Add salt. Turn down heat to simmer until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Drain and let cool. Peel and slice into ¼-inch rounds. Place in mixing bowl. Add balsamic vinegar and toss gently. Add remaining ingredients and toss gently. Marinate for at least ½ hour at room temperature.