I first heard about Marfa, Texas, in 2015 when architect Simon Mitchell reported for The Guardian on a permanent art installation by a desert highway in the shape of a designer shop. Prada Marfa, as it was called, faced demolition for being an “illegal roadside advertisement” after its creation in 2005, but has since been classified as a museum by the Texas Department of Transportation and preserved.
You might otherwise not have heard of Marfa. A desert town between the Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park, it is home to contemporary artists and mystery desert lights. It might also be the ideal home for those seeking a creative retreat from society but who can’t do without their organic cosmetics.
“Fittingly named after a character in a novel,” says the Visit Marfa website, “Marfa has a history of attracting creative spirits.” The Chinati Foundation, founded by minimalist artist and architect Donald Judd in 1971, is where Marfa began as a contemporary arts community and museum town for large-scale art installations. Two former artillery sheds hold a collection of 100 untitled aluminium works by Judd, and the foundation holds temporary exhibitions and artist residencies, as well as symposiums and sponsored education programmes.
Founded more recently, in 2014, the Marfa Myths music festival has capitalised on the town’s creative mystique, hosting Los Angeles-based artists such as Connan Mockasin and Cate le Bon in 2017. Marfa emerged further from obscurity this year when it became the set of I Love Dick, the Amazon television adaptation of Chris Kraus’s 1997 cult novel.
Home to a mere 2,000 residents, Marfa sits nearly 5,000 feet above sea level, 20 miles from any other town and a three-hour drive from the nearest international airport, in El Paso. Despite its tiny size, it is a hub for arts and craft lovers. Big city life this is not, but with just three cash machines and a patchy mobile phone signal, for some Marfa’s peace and quiet are priceless, especially with the range of art galleries and hip boutiques on their doorstep.
Sunsets and the magic of a drive through the desert will make up for the stripped-back living conditions. The desert Marfa Lights, or “ghost lights”, best seen from Highway 90 near the town, are an odd celestial phenomenon that some have attributed to otherworldly spirits.
Designer homes and postwar Americana
For modern homes in Marfa — frequently labelled the “last frontier of America” — the minimalist look is definitely in. Some of the most attractive properties for sale include renovated 19th-century adobe homes that showcase interiors by prominent Texan designers such as Barbara Hill or that were formerly owned by Donald Judd himself. An undeveloped 1,500-acre plot in the Marfa area can fetch up to $1.25m, and would give you the freedom to build your own ranch — complete with arts compound and spiritist workshop, of course.
Prada Marfa may be the most famous store in town but is, as noted above, a permanent art installation modelled as a replica of a Prada boutique, whose sparse collection of designer goods are not for sale. Fear not, though: most of Marfa’s trendy boutiques are all too real.
Freda, for example, is the town’s most prominent lifestyle shop. It stocks an impressive range of high-end natural cosmetics, desert-themed fashion accessories and locally made jewellery and voodoo candles. Antique and vintage stores are plentiful, while the Marfa Book Company stocks elegant stationery and desk furniture, as well as hosting readings by local artists and writers.
Learn to fly
With its high winds and mild summer weather, Marfa is internationally renowned for its ideal gliding conditions. The town even hosted a world championship in 1970, the first international event of its kind held in the US.
Marfa Gliders, at the municipal airport just outside town on Highway 17, offers gliding lessons as well as glider rides over west Texas with a certified pilot by appointment. There aren’t many better ways to admire the high plateau of the Chihuahuan Desert.
Photographs: Scott Halleran/Getty Images; Getty Images/iStockphoto; Everett Collection Inc/Alamy Stock Photo; Mary Lou Saxon; Al Argueta/Alamy Stock Photo; National Soaring Museum, Elmira, NY