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Phoenix Home and Garden
Open House
Author: Teresa Esquivel
Issue: February, 2015, Page 90
Photos by Art Holeman

“Everything we did here was designed to frame the views of the mountains, the sunset, the city,” says architect Tor Barstad. In the great room, sliding glass doors pocket into walls to merge indoor and outdoor spaces. Travertine flooring provides a seamless transition underfoot, and oversize 3-foot-square tiles help keep the look open and expansive.



Flowing Living Spaces, Soaring Walls That Disappear and Creature Comforts Galore Delight Homeowners and Guests

When it came time to find an escape from frigid Chicago winters, one couple wasted no time snapping up a house they liked—furniture, accessories, artwork and all.

“We fell in love with it right away,” the homeowners say. “The open floor plan is perfect for how we entertain our friends and family out here. Making a turn-key purchase was convenient. For us to go through the process of shopping, waiting for furniture and setting it up, it would have been a year or better before we could have actually enjoyed it.”

Since buying the home, they have added items here and there—and will continue doing so—but for now, they are content with the current decor and remain enamored by the house Joni Wilkerson, the previous owner, envisioned for her own family.

A soaring tongue-and-groove ceiling in this outdoor living space mimics the ceiling treatment in the great room. Custom, suspended sofas were designed to gently sway in the breezes common in north Scottsdale.
“My husband and I bought this lot for its views,” Wilkerson says. To the southwest there is Lone Mountain, Black Mountain, the city lights and the sunsets; directly south is Pinnacle Peak. “I didn’t have a style of house in mind; it was all about capturing those views,” she continues. “I was more sure of what I didn’t want. I did not want Italian, Tuscan, Mediterranean or Southwest, which has a lot of curves. I wanted none of that. I like square, straight, crisp. What I did want was beams, wood and stone. I wanted natural materials on a white background so the details could evolve.”

Her vision also included an open floor plan, a master suite separate from the guest rooms, and indoor spaces that melded seamlessly with ample outdoor living areas.

To fulfill this wish list, Wilkerson turned to architect Tor Barstad. When pressed for an answer, the architect labels the 7,000-square-foot house as “Contemporary Southwest”—an apt description given the clean lines and natural materials. But Barstad maintains that, “Every house has a different style, depending on what the homeowner wants. I can’t put a label on it, I just do what the client tells me to do.”

In truth, his contributions are many and significant. He devised a two-story plan that allowed builder Ron Wehe, to raise the lot so that the main level best captures the all-important views from every room. He carefully sited and designed the main residence and guest house so that neighboring houses, two nearby streets and an adjacent golf-cart path are out of sight and out of mind when you are inside—and even outside—the house.

Although the 7,000-square-foot residence sits on a corner lot of a golf course, clever and careful design makes the rest of the world disappear once you walk through the front door.
Barstad tweaked spaces to accommodate items Wilkerson already owned, such as widening a hallway to fit a particular runner, and he added thoughtful details meant to enhance the experience within the home. Double doors to the master bedroom, for example, make for a special, dramatic entry to what he considers the most important room in the house.

Other design details work on a slightly more subconscious level. “There’s no turn or corner in this house that doesn’t have a view corridor specifically planned out,” Barstad says. “Everywhere you turn in this house you’ll see something special. In architecture, it’s called ‘serial vision.’ The idea is to be drawn to all these different places so you feel like you’re constantly excited to move around the entire house.”

And, though they likely go unnoticed, the ceilings help create unique environments within the expansive open floor plan of the main living space. Using soffits and beams overhead, Barstad successfully yet subtly carved out a great room, dining room, bar, kitchen and small sitting area.

“I think one of the most important parts of a house is the reflected ceiling plan,” Barstad says. “When I was a little kid I used to lay on my back and look up at the ceiling. I’d see this big, white, flat ceiling that would go from the living room to the dining room and over the entry and I’d think, ‘I want to be an architect so I can make ceilings that, if I was a little guy and I was upside down walking around on it, it would be cool.’ So ever since then, I’ve been really focused on what kind of a feeling you get from the ceiling when you’re in a space. For me, it’s really important that a ceiling be interesting and really a reflection of the space below.”

Underfoot, Wilkerson further delineated spaces with a combination of oversized travertine tile and pine plank flooring.

“This is such a gorgeous house,” Barstad says. “Every time I’m here I see something special. It’s just an amazing place, it really is.”

The new homeowners can’t argue with that, and neither can their steady stream of visitors. “We have no problem convincing friends and relatives to spend a week with us in Arizona during the winter,” they say.

Joni Wilkerson designed the kitchen so that two cooks could work side-by-side. An antique credenza found in Santa Fe serves as a subtle divider between the kitchen and dining room, and provides storage and serving space for both areas. “For the dining room table I wanted something plain but organic,” Wilkerson says. “I couldn’t find one, so the man I buy all my pots from ordered this cantera stone base for me from Mexico. It weighs 2,000 pounds and it took eight men to move it in here.” She says up to 12 people can dine at the square table comfortably.

Wilkerson and Barstad have worked on several projects together. This one, they say, remains among their favorites.
Joni Wilkerson designed the kitchen so that two cooks could work side-by-side. An antique credenza found in Santa Fe serves as a subtle divider between the kitchen and dining room, and provides storage and serving space for both areas. “For the dining room table I wanted something plain but organic,” Wilkerson says. “I couldn’t find one, so the man I buy all my pots from ordered this cantera stone base for me from Mexico. It weighs 2,000 pounds and it took eight men to move it in here.” She says up to 12 people can dine at the square table comfortably.


Barstad topped every room in the house with a different ceiling treatment, including exterior spaces. In this outdoor dining room, an open network of beams offers a range of experiences. “The shading and lighting is always changing,” the architect says. “So the sun plays a big factor in how the house evolves during the day.”
The challenging lot—all ridges and valleys and washes—was tamed to afford views that skim the desert and stretch to the horizon.


Corner windows allow natural light to flood the main room of the guest house. By paying careful attention to scale, Wilkerson was able to pack a lot of function into the small space.