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For The Home

Historic Adobe

Author: Terri Feder
Issue: September, 2014, Page 92
Photos by Karen Shell

Clay roof tiles, brick pavers, white stucco walls and brown window and door trim lend character to the facade of this Phoenix home. The front door, which is painted green and deeply set in a niche, is adorned with metal cherubs. Evergreen vines scramble up and across the walls of the well-shaded home.



Verdant Surroundings and Unique Details Define a Historic Adobe

Historic properties tend to stir the imagination and pique curiosity about those who first built and dwelled in them. They are also inclined to have features that convey pieces of their story and lend character. And, when well constructed and lovingly tended over the years, the homes endure. Such is the case with this historic Phoenix residence.

The Spanish Territorial-style home was built in the early 1930s by Walter Douglas—a member of the wealthy mining family after whom Douglas, Arizona, was named—and his wife, Catherine, a renowned gardener. Christened Aranjuez after a Spanish city by the same name, the residence boasts all of the elements one hopes to find in a structure of its era, style and ilk. Included are hand-carved beams; ornate, hand-painted ceiling panels; stained-glass windows; elaborate iron grille work; scored cement floors; hand-plastered walls and fireplaces; and multiple courtyards, patios and other alfresco spaces. Made of adobe, brick and stucco, the 5,000-square-foot home and guest casita percolate with interest at every turn.

The property on which the structures reside is equally impressive. Back in the day, the estate was comprised, at its zenith, of around 120 acres—many populated with orange trees when the Douglas family purchased it. “Back then, people wanted to do away with the desert and make it more lush and habitable. Citrus was also a profitable crop, so there were many groves in the area,” says historian John Larsen Southard.

Gracing an exterior wall is this vibrant wall relief. Angels, which appear in various forms throughout the property and in a painting the Douglas family donated to the Heard Museum, are figures that apparently were favored by the original lady of the house, Catherine Douglas.
Walter and Catherine, who were more gentlefolk farmers than actual agriculturalists, placed their home and gardens on a fallow section of the land. The shining star of the couple’s landscaping efforts is a verdant allée, or tree-lined walkway, whose now-mature cypress trees soar high in the sky. During its heyday, the allée bordered a long, narrow reflecting pool culminating in a array of rosebushes.

Following Catherine’s death in 1963, the estate was sold, and in 1968, the family that purchased it worked with a developer to create a small neighborhood around the Douglas home. Named Dos Puertas, or “Two Gates,” the enclave is composed of 14 town-homes that were built in the ’70s and two freestanding homes that likely were constructed earlier as guest houses for the original residence. All sport the same white-washed walls and Spanish stylings.

Aranjuez’s latest owner—one of only a handful since the Douglas family—purchased it in April of 2013. “I’d always wanted to live in a historic residence. When I first saw this one, I was immediately captured by its Santa Barbara-style look and its many unique features, including the original hand-painted tiles—some with sayings in Spanish—that are on the fireplace surrounds and patio walls. I also loved the kitchen’s hand-carved cabinets,” he reports. Because the buildings required no structural renovations, he was able to move in by October of the same year. “The only change I made to the house itself was to give the ceiling beams and some of the doors a deeper finish.”

Gifted with an eye for design, the new owner has furnished Aranjuez himself. Commingling items he purchased from the former homeowner and furnishings already in his possession with consignment-store finds and new pieces, he has imbued the house with a warm eclectic style that imparts a “collected-over-time” feel. Every piece in the house is something that I love,” he confides with a smile.

This walled-in courtyard off the living room offers a stunning perspective of the cypress-lined allée that dates to the 1930s. Back then, a reflecting pool ran down the length of it.

This boldly hued plaque, which is original to the home, offers interest on a wall in the kitchen.
Original box beams surrounding hand-painted panels decorate the dining room ceiling. An elaborate iron grille allows a view through to the home’s foyer. Leather and canvas African campaign chairs surround an antique pine table.


This decorative  tile graces an interior hallway wall.
Anchoring the living room is a hand-plastered fireplace featuring hand-painted ceramic tiles—both are original to the home. The plank-and-beam cathedral ceiling—formerly stained blond—was faux finished in a richer hue to impart greater warmth. The wrought-iron chandelier was purchased from the previous homeowner. Furnished with a mix of antiques and new pieces, the space conveys an eclectic, collected style. Open-plaster shelves flank French doors leading to a patio. Lining the shelves are various bric-a-brac that the homeowner unearthed in antiques shops and consignment stores. The floors are hand-scored cement.


One of the features that most attracted the current owner to the home was the kitchen’s carved cabinetry. The counters are topped with Saltillo tile. Ceramic tiles form the backsplash. The tile was introduced decades after the home was built. A decorative grille ornaments an opening that looks into the garden potting room.
This original stained-glass window depicting an angel brightens a white wall on the home’s upper level.


Once used as a dog room, this airy space now serves as a garden potting room. The table and iron chandelier were purchased from the former owner. The sink is original to the home.
The master bedroom features ceiling beams with carved corbels and a corner beehive fireplace adorned with hand-painted tiles. The sleigh bed is upholstered in leather. A striped linen fabric dresses the wingback chair. The crystal chandelier is an antique.
French doors open to a private patio where a statue of St. Francis of Assisi stands watch.

Photos - Clock-wise from top left: Located in the basement—once the boiler room—is a new cigar space where the man of the house likes to entertain. Lit niches display wine bottles and various objets d’art. Wingback chairs upholstered in a bold print give off a safari-like feel. The walls are faux finished in a golden hue. Flooring is concrete. • This tile mural depicting daily life in a Mexican village enhances an exterior wall. • A covered patio offers a shaded area for dining at the back of the house. Adding charm and a touch of whimsy are various niches—some large, some small—each sporting its own unique shape. • Gracing the back courtyard is this tiered fountain set in a tiled basin. Bougainvillea and grapevines clamber up and over the walls.

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