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For The Home

Haver Haven

Author: Rebecca L. Rhoades
Issue: August, 2017, Page 52
Photos by Garrett Cook

Once an overgrown jumble, the backyard of Brandon Lee’s 1952 home is now a sleek, stylish retreat that honors its iconic architect, Ralph Haver. Landscape designer Dominic Gettings added alternating swaths of artificial turf and black lava rock, punctuated by palo verde trees that glow gold in the morning sun. The curly form of lady’s-slippers contrasts with the hard lines of the raised steel planters and steel edging.
TV News Anchor Brandon Lee Realizes His Midcentury Modern Dream in Central Phoenix

“I’ve always felt as though I belong in the ’50s. There’s just something about that time period that fascinated me, even as a little kid,” says Phoenix resident Brandon Lee. Born and raised in Laguna Beach, California, the 3TV broadcaster remembers regularly visiting his great aunt in Palm Springs, a mecca of midcentury Modern architecture and home to some of the era’s top home developers, including Richard Neutra, William Krisel, John Lautner and Donald Wexler.

“We needed an absolute showpiece,” says Gettings of the giant agave (Agave chazaroi) that is a focal point in the front yard. Its spiky shape highlights a trio of breeze block walls that pay homage to Palm Springs, California. Brandon had the block, which features an authentic midcentury design, shipped in from the Golden State.
“My parents say that I just loved the architecture, the shape of the houses, the rooflines and the breeze block walls,” he adds. “I was always pointing out homes that I admired, especially the ones designed by Joseph Eichler,” whose post-World War II creations were known for their post-and-beam interiors, tongue-and-groove ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows and light-filled atria.

When Brandon moved to the Valley in 2014, he had no idea what the housing situation would be. “I didn’t know anyone or anything about the area. I honestly thought that Phoenix was going to be like the deserts of Afghanistan,” he recalls with a laugh. The newcomer would spend his days driving around the city, looking for a place to put down roots. Then he spotted them—small single-story block homes with low-pitched roofs, clerestory windows, carports and other characteristics that reminded him of his childhood. “The first thing I did was call my parents and say, ‘You’re not going to believe this, but I have found neighborhoods that have the same rooflines as Palm Springs!’”

The interiors are bright and airy, thanks to an open concept and a wall of windows that looks out to the backyard. “The glass wall really makes the living space,” says Brandon. He had the fireplace and chimney installed after he moved in.
The journalist quickly learned that in the middle of the 20th century, Phoenix was an epicenter of Modernism. Architects from California and around the country came to the Sonoran Desert to experiment with design; one who chose to remain in the Valley—and eventually shape the city’s housing landscape—was Ralph Haver. His modest tract houses, known as Haver Homes, are now some of the most sought-after residential real estate in the Southwest.

Naturally, Brandon hoped to purchase a Haver original of his own, but inventory is limited and competition is fierce. “You really have to be in the game to get a midcentury Modern home, especially a Haver, and you have to have been in the game a long time to know when the next ones are becoming available,” he notes.

Wanting a clean, uncluttered feel in the kitchen, Brandon chose to forgo upper cabinets. For textural interest, he added a wall of glass tiles and a stainless backsplash above the range. The casement window is original to the home.
Just when he had resigned himself to the fact that he was going to have to settle for a nondescript ranch-style abode, Brandon’s realtor called him with a surprise. The agent’s neighbor had a 1952 Haver Home in the desirable community of Marlen Grove that he was planning to sell. A quick drive-by and a view of the front door—bright red, with a graphic image of a gun-toting Uma Thurman from “Pulp Fiction”—cemented Brandon’s belief that the three-bedroom, two-bath, 1,750-square-foot house was meant to be his. “I went up that door, and I knew that the house was mine,” he says. “Nobody else, I feel, would have appreciated the pop artistry of that red door. It’s very much my style.”

One of the reasons the previous owners had chosen to sell was that the hot water heater had exploded, flooding the house and requiring extensive renovations. When Brandon purchased the property, some of the home’s distinctive features had already been remodeled, including the flooring, lower kitchen cabinets (a choice that pleased Brandon, as he did not want upper cabinets), countertops and a wall of windows that overlooks the backyard. With the help of a general contractor, Brandon completed most of the interior refurbishment himself.

An artist, Brandon wanted his home to serve as a gallery for his works. He painted all of the walls white to allow the pop art pieces to shine. The low-profile furnishings are a contemporary take on the midcentury aesthetic. “Sometimes people try too hard to be in the era instead of being inspired by it,” Brandon says.
For the bathrooms, Brandon took inspiration from the W Hotel in New York City when devising a functional yet aesthetically pleasing finish. “It’s all about maximizing space. If you love Havers, unless you’re going to add on to the house, your bathrooms are going to be small,” he says. Sleek floating vanities with single vessel sinks and simple glass shower dividers create a sense of openness without overpowering the compact spaces, while walls cloaked in reflective black 1-inch tiles echo a wall of muted tiles of the same size in the kitchen, adding consistency throughout the home.

Creative planning also played an important role in the master bedroom, where Brandon utilized unused space between the rooms to add a built-in dresser that’s flush with the walls. “I was working with a minimal footprint,” he says. “The new dresser doesn’t take a single inch out of the room.”

“Brandon’s house is one of the few Haver Homes in the city that hasn’t been altered or added on to,” notes Alison King, founder of Modern Phoenix, which promotes and protects midcentury architecture in and around the Valley. “Its footprint remains the same as it was when it was built in 1952.” She’s quick to point out that it also maintains its original single-pane casement windows, an element many of today’s homeowners replace for energy efficiency. “I’m always after Brandon to make sure that he doesn’t remove the crank windows,” she notes.

A cozy guest bedroom is another place for Brandon to display his art.
While the changes inside did little to affect the overall character or historical integrity of the home, the exteriors were another story. Overgrown and unkept, the yards—front, back and side—needed complete makeovers. “It was a real hodgepodge,” says landscape designer Dominic Gettings. “None of the plants made sense. There was a little bit of this and a little bit of that. The same with the hardscape. There were all types of concrete finishes going on.”

Gettings tore out all of the landscaping, replacing it with a symmetrical design featuring artificial turf, black lava rock, steel planters and edging, gabion cages and a pared-down selection of plantings—including lady’s-slippers, purple fountain grass and Sonoran Emerald palo verde trees in the backyard; and agaves, barrel cacti and pink muhly and bear grasses in front—that provide graphic appeal. “I wanted to keep it simple and authentic,” he says.

One of Brandon’s favorite pieces is a vintage record player that serves as a credenza near the front door. “It’s such an amazing design, and people always comment on it,” says Brandon. His painting, “Love Explosion,” hangs on the sandblasted brick wall. The glass block sidelight window is original to the home.
In the backyard, Brandon and Gettings removed a dense overgrowth of oleander that lined the perimeter, and after obtaining easement rights from the city, pushed back the property line 15 feet into an unused alleyway. Gettings fashioned a privacy fence made of hot-rolled steel. “When the sun hits it, its rusted patina lights up,” notes Brandon.

To complement the orange shade of the steel—and to block the morning sun and hide views of a nearby apartment complex—Brandon lined the property with 58 ficus trees. “A lot of people pushed back against my idea of adding ficus and creating hedge walls, but it’s a very Palm Springs-inspired look,” he explains. “They said ficus were the most difficult trees to grow in Phoenix and that they wouldn’t survive, but I really wanted them. Nothing else creates better privacy or that look of green.”

In the front yard, a large, unattractive fiberglass panel that shaded the house from the afternoon sun was removed and another midcentury staple—a breeze block wall  inspired by the famed Parker Palm Springs hotel—was installed. “I wanted people who drove through the neighborhood to feel as though they were being taken back in time. I knew that those who loved Havers would appreciate a breeze block wall.” A showstopping specimen agave in the center of the yard highlights the distinctive feature.

A year-and-a-half after moving in, Brandon still finds himself smiling every time he pulls into his driveway. “There’s something that draws me to this house. It’s like putting on that really old comfortable pair of shoes. It just feels right.

“I never imagined that I would do this much work when I bought the house, but I wanted to remain authentic to it,” he adds. “I hope that Ralph Haver is looking down and smiling and that he approves of what I’ve done. And I hope that his family knows that there’s someone who really appreciates their father’s work and who has tried to keep it true to the day he designed it.”

The master bedroom was given some much-needed breathing space when Brandon had drawers built into an interior wall, eliminating the need for a space-hogging dresser. The large casement window is a Haver original.


The look of the bathrooms was inspired by New York City’s W Hotel. A floating vanity and single sink make the most of the small footprint, while a wall of reflective black tiles adds masculine glam.

To give his home’s exterior that classic Palm Springs appearance, Brandon had the block walls sandblasted to bring out their original character. A trio of breeze block walls and an oversized address monument were inspired by the California town known for its midcentury architecture.

A side patio off the kitchen is now a relaxing place for enjoying an evening glass of wine. Fifty-eight ficus trees surround the property; as they grow, they’ll form a lush green hedge that will help block the harsh morning sun and provide privacy.

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