Sawmill Market is a contemporary interpretation of an unsung New Mexico — a place synonymous with electric pink sunsets, bleached white cow skulls, pinon pine and the otherworldly landscapes immortalized by Georgia O’Keeffe and D.H. Lawrence. Together with owner Jim Long (Heritage Hotels and Resorts) and F&B Concept Developers Lauren and Jason Greene (The Grove Cafe), Islyn Studio drew directly from the rich cultural heritage of the Land of Enchantment to create Sawmill Market, a food hall, culinary laboratory and homage to the cultural imagination of New Mexico.
Transformed from a sprawling and sunlit lumber warehouse in the Sawmill District, just a stone’s throw from Albuquerque's original settlement of Old Town, Sawmill Market offers 40,000 sq ft of art, design, and culinary innovation, with boutique owner-operated restaurants, cocktail bars, farm-to-table pantries, tap rooms, test kitchen, pop-up shops and demo kitchens. Sawmill Market is New Mexico’s first food hall, but it’s more than that, too. It’s a place to gather and rejoice, to experiment and take risks and to champion the best, most innovative ideas circulating in Albuquerque. The diversity of offerings at Sawmill Market reflect the eclectic tastes of its audience, a wide-ranging demographic that includes cowboys (there’s horse parking out front), artists, young professionals, low riders, freelancers, scientists and preachers alike.
With meticulously considered design, Islyn transformed a large space into intimate pockets of discovery: Botanic, a hidden cocktail bar masquerades as a lush greenhouse apothecary slinging house-made tonics and local shrubs made from the bartender’s stash of drying herbs. Paxton, a tap room, nods to the heritage woodworking with open-shelving, wood peg boards, stacked lumber and hand-painted signage — a playful, irreverent twist on the former lumberyard; Flora restaurant catapults you to Mexico City with neon flowers and beautiful vintage Oaxacan treasures, hand-sourced from an antique dealer down the road; and The Mercantile Wine Bar and Cafe: an intimate introduction to the pleasures of New Mexican harvest and industry.
Using the mid-century lumber warehouse as an architectural foundation, Islyn Studio eschewed the conventional notions of New Mexican design to opt instead for a deeper, more story-driven approach that roots the guest in place and allows their experience to animate the design. Nods to the site’s past — patina’ed metals, peg boards, the original dust collectors, steel eye beams, historic rail tracks and burnished wood — mingle alongside softer, more sensory touches including natural plays of shadow and light and imperfect painterly strokes of color. In architecting the layout of the space, we were inspired by the flexible functionality and wise use of space of the traditional Navajo trading posts and employed similar way-finding structures throughout.
Reclaimed timber from the original warehouse demolition and poured concrete comprise the flooring and custom furniture and fixtures. Among the historic materials, we weaved in storied elements of heritage and indigenous craft: handmade natural tiles, saddle leather and earthy and organic layers that serve as both an homage — and, given the industrial architecture, a surprising subversion of — New Mexico’s signature adobe. Throughout, we feature the work of local artists, artisans and expert craftspeople and woodworkers, perpetuating the site’s tradition.
The expansive outdoor terrace animates the street experience and serves as a communal dining and entertainment area for the market, a design decision that complements Sawmill’s commitment as a cultural and creative hub for communal events, movie screenings, picnics and co-working — an inclusive and flexible vessel for innovation, communion and aspiration. The stage was built from the original sawdust collector structure, furthering the studio’s commitment to adaptive re-use at every turn. Sawmill Market invites the world to view Albuquerque through fresh eyes, to experience a richness and ease of spirit, rare in today's culinary culture. With its owner-operated outlets, Sawmill Market refreshes the entrepreneurial spirit of the mythical American West with a focus on new, localized voices.
Sawmill Market is designed to usher in a new food and wine revolution in New Mexico — a state known for Route 66, craft beer and green chili. Sawmill Market upends conventions with design that is at once a testament to the beauty of the New Mexican landscape, rich culture, and heritage craft and a contemporary reinvention of the status quo, hackneyed design palette. This is design for and by New Mexico, with sustainable touches that take advantage of the natural elements the state has in spades: light, resources and wildness. We utilized adaptive reuse and creative salvage everywhere we could. Most materials were sourced within a ten mile radius.
Islyn Studio, a nascent New-York based design firm, completed Sawmill Market within its first year of operation. It allowed a small, concept-driven studio to test our ideals of humancentered multi-sensory design in a market longing for reinvigoration. Completely womenowned and operated, with a comprehensive team of five employees, Islyn Studio punched far above its weight in completing a project of this scale and magnitude. With Sawmill Market, we embraced a classic property in a transitional district, and created a sense of history and place there, while reinterpreting those details to invoke a modern classic that married function and romance.
This project was a testament to collaboration and discovery, and Islyn Studio’s approach to design as conductor of local symphony. We were lucky enough to work closely with the land itself and the people who animate it, including a wide swath of locals hoping to make a name for themselves. With Sawmill Market, we were able to hold local talent up to the light, and in so doing, invigorate the new district for the next generation of chefs, bartenders and artists.