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For The Home

Desert Equestrian Home

Author: Nancy Erdmann
Issue: October, 2013, Page 70
Photos by Steve Gunther

The homeowners wanted to board and ride their horses on their own property, so they built this three-stall barn with a kitchen, a wash room for the horses and a tack room. On a nearby wall hangs a wrought-iron grill with hooks for flowerpots and lanterns.



A New European-Style Equestrian Estate Anchors a Historic Setting

Tucked throughout this 3-acre property near the base of Camelback Mountain are bird emblems in myriad shapes and sizes. The woman of the house, who adores animals and horses and loves the sound of birds, named the estate House of Song. “This house just sings,” she explains. The residence, which is loosely based on the style of the nearby Royal Palms Resort & Spa, does more than just sing, however; it transports one from the raw beauty of the desert Southwest to the magnificence of an elegant European retreat.

Parlaying her 18 years of design experience into the home, the woman of the house says it took nine years from concept to finish. She codesigned and collaborated with builder Bernard Dixon, architect Jim Blochberger, landscape designer Jeff Franklin, dozens of talented artisans and nearly 80 subtrades. And because she likes having two sets of eyes on a project of this magnitude, she also consulted with interior designer Georgia Bates.

But it was the homeowner who had the vision, did extensive research, filled more than 240 binders with ideas and details, and worked diligently to make her family’s 19,000-square-foot dream home come to life.

Prominent design features include arched windows and entryways, Juliet balconies, old wooden doors, and carved cantera, as seen in the fountain (above), where a majestic angel holds court atop a tiled pedestal.
Although the residence lives large, with its 19 fireplaces, five kitchens, massage room, below-ground wine room, and resort-style pool with a swim-in grotto and three-story water slide inside an enclosed tower, it exudes a cozy, comfortable ambience. Much of this has to do with the salvaged materials and architectural elements that were imported from Spain, Italy and Mexico. The rest may be attributed to the inclusion of such rustic Western touches as a cowboy bar, stables, a full-size riding arena, cowboy barbecue patio and a Western-themed guest casita.

The homeowners—a couple from the Midwest with four children—say they love the desert and have lived in Arizona more than two decades. “It was while I was horseback riding years ago that I really had a sense of the desert and fell in love with it,” says the wife. Their lot is located on acreage that contains the historic Jokake Inn and was grandfathered for up to 10 horses, she notes. It also is big enough for the family to ride their two horses on a  trail that meanders around their property.

With windows and doors everywhere opening to courtyards, gardens, patios and water elements, the home’s indoor/outdoor sensibility is readily apparent. “This house is all about the covered terraces, patios, water and fire features,” says the homeowner. “There are so many outdoor spaces to enjoy, and they all have a different ambience.”

Although one might easily get lost in the expanse, that was part of the plan. “This house was designed to feel like you were going on a journey, with a surprise around every corner. Every room is unique and has a purpose, yet ties in with the rest of the house,” the wife remarks. Adds Bates, “It’s not what you would expect from a house this size. All of the courtyards and rooms feel quaint and welcoming.”

With its Spanish influences, imported materials and sprawling grounds, this European-style estate really is a dream come true.

Imported cantera was used for the motor court to evoke the feel of an Italian villa. Yet many of the home’s elements make a distinct connection to Arizona’s Spanish heritage, including 100-year-old barn beams, roof tiles from old Spanish dwellings with the moss still on them, decorative iron grilles and hand-painted ceramic tiles.

The woman of the house says she loves the sound of water, so she added an indoor Moroccan-style fountain behind the main sitting room. She also designed the tile “rug” around the water feature. “I love working with patterns, especially in flooring. It’s like putting the pieces of a puzzle together.” The window and doorway are outlined in carved cantera.
Three sets of double doors bring the outdoors in to this Old World-inspired dining room. The massive hand-carved fireplace surround frames a tile inset. Most of the art and furnishings were picked up during the couple’s European travels.


In this covered breezeway, a unique mix of antiques lends a collected feel. The unusual ceiling treatment is just one of many that were incorporated into the sprawling estate.
This romantic setting, with doors that pocket open to a private garden, is part of the master bathroom suite. Amenities here include a fireplace, fountain/plunge pool, and trees that produce fruit, flowers or nuts. The homeowners wanted a mature landscape as soon as possible, so many full-size plants were incorporated.


A fireplace with an antique carved wood surround keeps the master bedroom’s sitting area warm and cozy on cool nights.
From his home office, the man of the house can view the St. Francis garden. Cherubs on pedestals anchor the wrought-iron cross trellis. White-flowering oleanders flourish in the background.


In the Four Seasons Garden, carved cherubs from Italy extend a gracious welcome. Herbs, vegetables, roses, hollyhocks and a rotating assortment of flowering annuals fill the brick-rimmed planters, which are set in a classic formal configuration. “I wanted everything to look old and authentic,” explains the woman of the house.

Photos - Clock-wise from top left: Called the Love Terrace due to its “amazing city views and romantic setting,” this outdoor room includes an old-brick fireplace and a tile-topped wet bar. According to the homeowners, all of the fireplaces were designed with different firebox patterns. The wood ceiling beams were imported from old barns on the East Coast. Flooring is reclaimed clay tiles. • An antique trough serves as a wishing well in this European-style garden setting. Dichondra grows between imported stone pavers. • Water flows from the upper pool­ (where stone steps appear to be floating)down to the lower-level diving pool. A raised tile spa draws the eye toward a secluded patio behind the arched openings. Dichondra and nasturtiums grow between steps that lead to a covered breezeway. • Views of the upper pool can be enjoyed from the draped barbecue patio, which includes a raised fireplace with a tile surround. A farm-style table paired with a mix of seating options adds to the casual ambience.

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