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For The Home

Mission Accomplished

Author: Roberta Landman
Issue: September, 2007, Page 148
Photography by Werner Segarra

Steps with risers faced in Art Deco-style tiles lead from the foyer to the great room.
Southwest elements are artfully blended in a gracious Tucson home

Those conquistadors and their traveling friars who put down roots in the Southwest would no doubt give a nod of approval to Michelle and Ben Day’s Tucson home.

The stone- and stucco-clad residence welcomes visitors with the allure of a centuries-old Spanish mission, albeit one that has improved with the passage of time. While it seems a dwelling out of the past, the house is a product of today—conceived, built and dressed in fine fashion by professionals who captured the homeowners’ vision. That design team included architect Allen F. Tafoya, builder Dan Couturier, interior designer Christy Martin, and a cadre of craftsmen.

Both raised in Southern California, the Days adored the Mission-style homes they had grown up seeing along the coastline from Santa Barbara to San Diego. But for their Arizona Sonoran Desert site, the couple initially had envisioned a residence that blended Santa Fe and Southwestern styles. A vacation in the Mexican colonial town of San Miguel de Allende changed all that, Michelle says. “We came back with a renewed love for more traditional Spanish architecture.”

Tafoya happily came up with a concept that blends Spanish Mission and Southwestern elements, which he says are entirely compatible. Historically, Spain sent its legions to settle both Mexico and what we now call the Southwest. “Our Southern Arizona history is so influenced by Mexico,” the architect points out. And geography alone ties the areas together, he reasons. “The Sonoran Desert extends clear down into Mexico.”

Of the home Tafoya created, Couturier comments, “I think it looks like it could be a couple of hundred years old.” Included in the design are materials that would have been available to the founding padres for building their missions—such as wood, lots of native stone, and stucco. Fieldstone is used in abundance on the exterior and inside the house on Spanish-style arches. Ceiling beams were distressed and stained to look as old as those seen in San Miguel.

“It almost feels like Father Kino and his padres came through it,” Martin says of the house, adding that her design decisions were guided by a similar intriguing tale. As the purely fictional story goes, the Day home was an old Spanish mission that at some time had become a private residence. Vintage-looking iron chandeliers and sconces and other accoutrements speak of that period. The residence, which would have reached a certain elegance in the late 1800s, took on some Arts & Crafts niceties in the 1920s, she continues. And, in the real-life home, the pattern in Art Deco-style handcrafted tiles inspired the choice of the great room carpet and, from that, a jewel-like color palette, the designer states.

Deeply involved in the planning and development of their dream house, and happy with its evolution, the Days note that as the project progressed, they kept a list of words in mind as a kind of “mission statement” for the qualities they wanted in a home. Those words were: Romantic. Spiritual. Comfortable. Warm. Gracious.

From all appearances, it seems, these descriptions were met.

And for the man of the house, there was an unexpected bonus. He says of the residence: “It’s my personal sanctuary.”

Ceiling timbers in a crisscross pattern run the length of the main hallway. Clerestory windows above these trusses let light into the passageway. Architect Allen F. Tafoya says the trusses help bring the extraordinarily high ceiling down to a more “human scale.”

The great room, with its wide stone-arch entry and beam-and-plank ceiling, could be straight out of the Southwest’s multicultural past. Trappings, some with the flair of 19th-century Mexico, blend graciously with Edwardian elements and with Art Deco motifs of the 1920s. Flooring is crafted of wood reclaimed from a shoe company warehouse. The fireplace hints at Old Spain. Comfortably elegant furnishings include an antique Turkish Oushak carpet, a vermilion-color linen velvet sofa and other cozy seating, a heavily carved armoire/media center, and a grand player piano. Custom-crafted with ornate metal grids, the large window, inset with a pair of glass-paned doors, overlooks mountain and desert vistas.
Light streams into the large kitchen from a skylight set within a ceiling of beams and pavers. The room’s central island has display areas, a mesquite top, and a hammered-copper sink. The stove hood is crafted of copper.


A new chandelier hangs above an antique dining table that had belonged to homeowner Ben Day’s grandmother. The old lace tablecloth, newly upholstered vintage chairs, and a 1920s mirror also are heirlooms. The table is set with dishes by Gorky Gonzalez.

A hallway with soaring hand-plastered walls terminates at the home’s powder room. Its mesquite vanity was designed by homeowner Michelle Day and crafted by Taber & Co.

“It looks like it could be a couple of hundred years old”

Above left: Hefty pine posts and upside-down Saltillo flooring define the patio, which overlooks a pool with a boulder water feature, and stunning mountain views. A table of reclaimed wood from Indonesia is surrounded by wickerlike loom seating. Above right: A marble-top heirloom table lends charm to a built-in kitchen seating nook. The chandelier is cousin to the one in the dining room.

Top left: A free-standing tub with lavish faucetry graces the master bath. An original Tiffany vase bearing the initials of Louis Comfort Tiffany rests in a nearby niche. Wainscoting, in the same limestone as the flooring, is bordered with glass tile. Top right, lower left: In the guest bedroom, a built-in window “bed” is surrounded by a curvaceous arch. The richly carved bed is dressed in blue-and-white Les Indiennes bedding. A vintage chair and 1920s art add to the room’s nostalgic feel. Lower right: A stone wall, rustic beams and corbels, and reclaimed wood flooring give this master bedroom the earthy flavor of a time gone by. A four-poster with scrolling ironwork, white mate-lassé coverlet and velvet Fortuny pillows, and an 1890 carpet add subtle touches of femininity.

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