hen Linda Oldham was growing up on a farm in the Texas
panhandle, trips to her Aunt Mabel's in the town of Hereford were
''like going to Disneyland,'' she recalls. ''She had a jumbled
assortment of things in her yard, including a sand pile with a real
cook stove in it where my cousins and I would make mud pies. There
was always a hodgepodge of stuff laying around that she had rescued
from the trash. It was the most magical place ever.''
Out of the discarded ingredients of other people's lives a
childhood idyll was made.
Half a century later, Linda Oldham and her husband, Jack, both in
their late 50's, have created their own desert idyll near the
village of Abiquiu, N.M. Situated on a 30-acre ranch along the Chama
River, the Oldhams' latter-day homestead is a playground for adults,
replete with a hand-me-down tractor from Linda's dad, a couple of
pickups and a wood shop for Jack. There is a storeroom full of
multicolored marbles, mismatched china, glass tiles, colored beads
and vintage flour sacks that Linda smashes, cuts, pastes, gouges,
sews, grouts and generally transforms into tiled fireplace rugs,
antique-looking flowers, fanciful birdbaths, unlikely sinks and
intricate veneer surfacing. Linda's hunting-crafting DNA was clearly
passed on to her and Jack's eldest son, the designer Todd Oldham,
who helped to define the bricolage approach to fashion in the
Two years ago, in the spring of 2000, Linda and Jack packed their
possessions from their Dallas home of 21 years and moved them all to
Abiquiu, best known as the place where Georgia O'Keeffe lived and
painted during her most prolific years. The Oldham family, whose
manufacturing business produced Todd's clothing designs, had sold
off many of its trademarks and licenses earlier that year.
Todd Oldham Studio, for which Linda continues to function as a
business partner, was reorganized to become a multifaceted design
company, developing home furnishings for clients like Target. ''Once
we sold the factory, I wasn't tied down to a specific place
anymore,'' Linda explains. ''And since Jack works as a freelance
technology consultant, all he really needed was a phone, a modem and
Starting with a small, two-bedroom stucco-covered house designed
from a mail-order floor plan, Linda and Jack soon expanded their
home, with Todd's help, into a commodious, 3,000-square-foot abode.
With an oversize family room that accommodates several large,
sink-into-them pieces of furniture (''I like to be comfortable, and
like my guests to be, too,'' Linda says), a study, an enormous
master suite, two guest bedrooms and three bathrooms, the house
amply suits the couple's easygoing, family-oriented life. (While the
Oldhams' nest is empty, their children visit frequently.)
Although the house is only two years old, its plethora of
handmade finishes and objects gives the place the kind of patina
most houses take years to acquire. Linda's hands have glued, laid,
cut and placed so many surfaces -- from her handmade floral kitchen
and bathroom tiles (yep, she made 'em), to the wallpaper she
fashioned of varnished color photographs from old Arizona Highways
magazines, to the oddly shaped twin sinks in the master bathroom
that Linda and her son Brad, a metal caster, made of copper sheeting
-- you cannot help but feel the force of her magnetic personality in
As richly detailed as the house is, the real playground is beyond
its back door, in Linda's two acres of cultivated gardens (''like a
green oasis plopped in the middle of the desert,'' Todd remarks),
and in the large garage out back, which houses Jack's workshop and
Linda's studio, materials storeroom and showroom.
An inveterate flea-market shopper (''I find flea markets
practically everywhere I go,'' she admits), Linda collects American
ephemera: outsize schoolroom maps, vintage children's games,
homemade paintings and rough-hewn Pennsylvania cabinets. Her sizable
holdings also include a veritable library of flour-sack fabrics from
the 20's, 30's and 40's. (''I remember being mesmerized by the
vibrant array of flour-sack patterns in the grocery store when I was
a child,'' she says. ''And Jack can remember wearing shirts his
mother made out of them.'')
Added to these are dozens of oil paintings by unknown artists,
which hang in clusters in practically every room of the house
(''Jack keeps saying I should mount a show of these,'' Linda muses),
and stacks and stacks of vintage china, souvenir plates and
ashtrays, which await smashing once plucked from Linda's
well-ordered storeroom. In short order, these shards are likely to
make their way into floor mosaics, picture frames, mirrors and table
While most of her materials are smaller than a breadbox, Jack
took pause when Linda started lugging home dozens of antique metal
headboards and footboards from flea-market excursions. When he asked
what Linda planned to do with them, she replied she had no idea.
''He just rolled his eyes like he always does and put them in the
garage,'' she says. ''The truth is, I never thought I'd do anything
with them, other than use one or two as a trellis.'' When they moved
to Abiquiu, Linda and Jack finally found a use for those heavy iron
headboards. ''We finished off one side of our 300-foot cottonwood
fence with them,'' Linda says. ''That gave us both a break, since
that fence took us three weeks straight to build, and we were tired
by the time we got toward the end.''
Todd adds, ''What I've learned from my mother is that the process
is always more interesting than the outcome.'' He spent endless
hours as a child helping his mother roll, saw, mix and stitch
whatever she happened to dream up that day (Linda's grandson,
Presley, Todd's nephew, is now the happy recipient of such lessons).
''But the greatest gift she has given me is the gift of being able
to figure things out, which gives you the freedom to try anything,''
''And because so few of her attempts are unsuccessful, she is
always motivated to try new things.''
Revealing her penchant for careful analysis, Linda says: ''I find
it fun to imagine something I want to do and then backtrack to
figure out what the steps are. It's like an engaging puzzle.''
Her friend and neighbor Pat Frazier implored Linda one day:
''Let's get out the dictionary. Do you and Jack even know the
meaning of 'procrastination'?''
Linda replied: ''Well, Jack used to, but I never did. I think, by
now, he may have forgotten, too.''
Bonnie Schwartz is a freelance writer in Brooklyn.