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For The Home

Starting Anew

Author: Katherine Adomaitis
Issue: January, 2018, Page 100
Photos by Michael Woodall

The home’s stepped-back forms take advantage of the scenery. The site’s slope created the opportunity for a raised back terrace that has views of city lights at night.
A New Lifestyle and a Natural Desert Site Shape a Paradise Valley Home

Downsizing is a popular concept these days. The kids grow up; Mom and Dad sell the family home and move into a condo. However, for one Paradise Valley couple whose young adult children were on the brink of leaving the nest, downsizing held little appeal.

Instead, they bought a property close to their original house; considered their newly emerging lifestyle; and opted to create an easy, livable home that was big enough to host friends and family members but that still felt cozy enough for just the two of them.

Architect David Dick designed a desert-centric home for a Paradise Valley couple seeking a simpler lifestyle. At the entry, the home’s squared-off masses create a courtyard. Large windows in the masonry walls give the home a sense of transparency.
“Our new place had a 1970s house on it in addition to a guest casita,” explains the wife, an interior designer. “We liked it because the lot is natural desert and has views of Mummy Mountain and as far away as Four Peaks. We decided to tear down the main house and let the site tell us what the new house should be.”

To help them achieve their vision, the couple brought in a longtime collaborator, architect David Dick, who had worked with them on numerous projects at their previous abode. “Dave knows us well,” says the husband, who has a design and fabrication company. “He has opinions, but he also respects ours.”

Dick and the couple spent many hours on the property, discussing the new home’s potential siting, view corridors, footprint, shade, sunlight and more. “Many a night, we went to the new property and sat on the old plastic chairs that the previous owners had left on the patio,” recalls Dick, a Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner. “We had many conversations about how their lives had evolved and how this new house had to fit how they lived now.”

The wife recalls those evening conversations. “We said we didn’t want a mansion with high ceilings, and we wanted to be able to see the desert from every room. We needed to be comfortable. And we had no desire to take care of a pool or a lawn.”

Landscape designer Bennett McGregor took his cue from the surrounding desert in choosing ironwoods, prickly pear cactus, desert marigolds and other native plants for the home’s outdoor areas. On the terrace outside the living room, classic yellow butterfly chairs are a great place to watch the sun set behind Mummy Mountain.
Collaborating with builder Jeff Gatewood and landscape designer Bennett McGregor, Dick opted to keep the casita and placed the new house and a freestanding garage around an entry drive to create the effect of a family compound, built over time. The architect angled the 5,200-square-foot, single-story house to capture views and take advantage of both sunlight and shade, placing the public areas of the home—living, dining and kitchen—to one side of an entry gallery and the three bedrooms on the opposite side. “Most of the rooms open onto a patio,” says Dick. “We wanted to create an indoor-outdoor experience. If you wanted to, you could walk from the master bedroom to the kitchen through the yard without going across the house.”

Viewed from outside, the home is a series of low-slung, stepped-back rectangular forms, perforated by a series of window walls and clerestory windows that capture views and let in daylight. In keeping with the homeowners’ desire for a soft contemporary style, Dick suggested whitewashed masonry walls for the construction, taking influence from the midcentury burnt adobe desert homes that the wife had admired during her time living in Tucson, as well as the desert modern designs done by the late Arizona architect Bennie Gonzales.

Large windows frame views of the desert in the living room, which is cooled by polished concrete flooring. The comfortable seating grouping is sparked by yellow chairs, vintage pieces that once belonged to the wife’s parents.
“We used two kinds of masonry block for texture,” explains Dick. “The masonry walls have a solid sense of mass that are so different from standard frame construction. Also, we chose the color to be a warm white so that it would stand out against the reddish color of the mountains.”

Inside, the home was detailed with polished white concrete floors, wood-beamed ceilings and simple cabinetry. “I know that wood floors are in style,” says the wife, “but I think concrete floors are perfect for the desert—and our antiques look pretty on concrete. Also, in the kitchen, we kept the cabinetry neutral and simple to keep the focus on the views.”

The couple filled the home with furnishings from their previous house—including numerous family antiques, artwork and collectibles they had acquired over the years, as well as a few new pieces. Many of the older pieces have backstories. An ornate 19th-century square Decker Brothers grand piano that belonged to the wife’s grandparents takes center stage in the gallery between the entrance and the living room. “We don’t play it,” admits the wife. “I’m told that this was never a great piano, even when it was new, but it’s such a great piece of furniture that we never thought twice about keeping it.”

The corner fireplace warms the living room and is a dramatic element visible from the home’s entry. The antique square grand piano belonged to the wife’s grandparents. The painting is by Gary Ernest Smith.
In a hallway leading to the bedrooms, a painted wooden folk art pig serves as a console table, thanks to a new glass top. “I traded work at the old I. Magnin store in Phoenix for that pig,” says the husband. “It was a visual merchandising prop. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it at the time, but I had to have it.” Across the hall, an imaginary-realism-style painting of rabbits was purchased because it made the couple smile.

Around the corner, the husband’s office—illuminated by an old street light—is also home to his collection of vintage American guitars, which he plays occasionally. “My friends joke that I have ‘GAS’,” he says with a laugh. “It stands for ‘guitar acquisition syndrome,’ and it’s incurable.”

The powder room room’s ornate mirror—set against a backdrop of artisan-made tile—once belonged to the wife’s grandparents, while the base of the custom vanity is made of brass piping. As an homage to the house that previously stood on the lot, the couple salvaged a few items and incorporated them into their new home, including an ornate, lantern-style light fixture that now hangs above the master bath’s tub.

All of these personal treasures and artworks enrich the home’s interior, which the wife fleshed out with comfortable seating and contemporary pieces with neutral hues and low-profile lines. The living room’s two deep, welcoming sofas invite lingering conversations, as do a pair of sunny yellow armchairs—also family heirlooms. The dining room’s sleek custom oak table is contrasted by an antique cupboard and a dry sink. The kitchen’s generously sized island is a family gathering place for cooking and talking; as is a small, adjacent sitting area, made cozy with a sofa and armchair. The master bedroom is a serene retreat, sparked with more antiques and art.

A hand-painted wooden pig serves as a console table. The mirror belonged to the wife’s grandparents, as did the lacquered blue box.
Outside, McGregor worked to complement the architecture through plantings, keeping in mind the homeowners’ desire to keep things natural and low-maintenance. “My goal was to have the landscape remain native and informal, allowing the architecture to pop,” he says. “My intention was to not overplant and to let the desert fill in over time.”

The landscape designer took a cue from the plantings on the site, adding creosote, prickly pear cactus, desert willow and ironwood closer to the house, framing the patios and hardscape. Some patios are simply decomposed granite, keeping the use of concrete outdoors to a minimum. Minimal and subtle LED lighting provides just enough illumination and allows the stars and city lights to be visible from the outdoor spaces by night.

Now that they have settled into their new house, the couple has enjoyed its easy, serene pleasures, both when family and friends come to visit and stay, and when it’s just the two of them. The old plastic patio chairs have been replaced with lemon-yellow butterfly chairs, from which the homeowners enjoy the desert vistas.

Says Dick of the project, “We didn’t create a style of architecture. We created a custom opportunity for the homeowners that didn’t exist when we started.”

A custom oak table is the centerpiece of the dining room, set between the kitchen and living room. The niche was created to fit the antique dry sink, topped by a ceramic pineapple from Mexico.  The bottle caps watercolor is by Robert Townsend.

Artisan-made tile forms an exuberant backdrop for the powder room, where an antique mirror and a custom vanity base made of brass piping also vie for center stage. The pendant light came from the owners’ previous home.
The dining room’s antique pine hutch is another family treasure.  The architect designed a custom niche to accommodate it.

A deep farmhouse-style sink and a generously proportioned island help make food prep easy in the home’s airy kitchen. Instead of a breakfast nook, the owners opted for a small sitting area in one corner of the kitchen, made comfortable with an inviting sofa.
The kitchen’s simple, custom cabinetry and neutral colors were chosen to keep the focus on views out the windows.
Photos - Clock-wise from top left: A hallway from the attached garage is brightened with a saguaro painting by Phoenix artist Sherri Belassen.

Custom Roman shades ensure darkness and privacy in the master bedroom, which opens onto the back terrace. In the corner of the room, a potted totem pole cactus blurs the line between indoors and out.

Handcrated tile adds pattern underfoot in the light-filled master bathroom. A custom door adds interest to the shower. The lantern light fixture above the tub was salvaged from the property’s original house.

Neutral colors provide a backdrop for more art and antiques in the master bedroom. The wood artwork above the bed was a custom commission. At right, a console table that belonged to the wife’s grandparents underscores Southwestern landscapes by Jim Boyer, G. Peine To’omalatai and Peggy Wusich.
A collection of wooden figures, toys and masks from North and South America, as well as Africa, are displayed in the husband’s office.

A streetlight, hung from the ceiling, illuminates the husband’s office, made comfortable with art and mementoes collected over the decades.  The lithograph at left is by Fritz Scholder; the flowers are an Andy Warhol design, silkscreened by Sunday B. Morning.
The husband’s musical instrument collection, which includes guitars by Gretsch, Gibson and Martin, among others, as well as a KoAloha ukulele, is displayed in his office.
The back terrace is raised above the property’s gentle slope, allowing distant views. A fire pit set on the garden wall warms the setting. The furniture grouping on the right is the continuation of another part of the terrace that includes an outdoor kitchen and dining area.

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