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For The Home

Heart & Soul

Author: Linda J. Barkman
Issue: February, 2018, Page 62
photography by Steven Meckler

Situated on a 6.33-acre lot that celebrates nature’s bounty, this mud adobe home in Tucson’s Tortolito Mountains was conceived by homeowner and interior designer Linda Robinson to be organic, look old and “snug down into the mountains.”
A Designing Couple Transform an Abandoned Mud Adobe in the Tucson Hills Into a Dream Home With History

ome two decades ago, Tucson-based interior designer Linda Robinson and her artist/entrepreneur husband Phil Perry decided they wanted “a cool old weekend home” in the mountains outside Tucson. As they envisioned it, they would also have a residence in the city where they would stay during the week in order to be closer to their downtown workplace. But as they found, designed, remodeled and expanded their mountain abode, they loved it so much that their city house never materialized.

In the bedroom hallway leading to the newer part of the house, old wood doors that conceal the mechanical room still wear their original coat of blue paint.
Linda, a Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner, says she knew from the get-go that she wanted a mud adobe in the old Arizona tradition, “such as the wonderful homes built in Tucson by well-known Swiss architect Josias Joesler,” she points out. “His homes have a casualness and elegance that I love. I like his proportions, his use of natural materials, his handmade ironwork, his bespoke doors. Joesler very much informs anything I do.”

The search for that unique property that would satisfy the yearning for a mountain dwelling came to an end when Linda turned down a dirt road in the Tortolita Mountains one day and discovered a small one-room mud adobe with an unfinished addition that appeared to be abandoned. Never mind the fact that the structure was overgrown with weeds and had a goat living in it, its setting was spectacular beyond compare and Linda was totally smitten.

As luck would have it, the closest neighbor lived about a mile farther into the mountains and was a realtor who knew the owner of the house and the 6.33-acre piece of land on which it sat. Linda and Phil bought the property in 1991 and immediately poured their hearts into the task of remodeling the existing room and completing the partial addition. This gave them a small living room (now the dining room), one bedroom, a covered porch and a country kitchen they outfitted with a propane refrigerator and O’Keefe & Merritt range from the 1950s. “I’ve always had a yen for tumble-down houses that are in a state of disrepair but have great bones,” Linda confides. “I’m a sucker for those, and that’s really what this was.”

The final phase of changes to the home included the addition of this sun-filled Arizona room. For a warm and cozy touch, Linda paired kilim rugs on the floor with accent pillows made from old Navajo rugs on the sofa. Propped on the windowsill is a trio of vintage Mexican movie posters.
When she and Phil bought the dilapidated adobe, it lacked phone service as well as electric power. “It had one solar panel on the roof and one light bulb hanging down on a cord from the ceiling,” Linda recalls. “However, it did have a good well with a large, raised, gravity-fed water tank. Nearby was an old bathtub on legs and a fire ring where the previous owner heated water from the tank for his bath.”

In order to power the house up to meet their needs, the couple installed a 125-panel solar system, which provided all of their power for about six years, at which time they brought in an electric power line to the property.

As for the resident goat, they liked it and let it stay awhile, but soon realized that keeping it wasn’t practical. “We managed to get it into the front seat of Phil’s red Camaro and deliver it to a wonderful family involved in 4-H,” Linda says. “There was much interest from passersby on Interstate 10 when they noticed our black-and-white spotted goat riding in the passenger seat,” she adds with a grin.

Part of the original one-room house, the kitchen’s plank-and-beam ceiling and worn brick flooring survived two phases of remodeling. Improvements include new lighting, maple cabinetry painted ivory with an umber glaze, high-end appliances and an island with a concrete countertop and an attached table with a metal base and reclaimed red oak top. The wall behind the sink is clad in antique brick.
The home has continued to evolve over the years, with Linda and Phil serving as each other’s creative muses while collaborating on various design elements, and with the square footage and amenities expanding as funds were acquired to pay for them. “That’s the fun of doing it in stages,” Linda says. “It gives you a chance to grow with the house.”

Phase 2 involved enclosing the existing porch area, which became the new master bedroom, and designing and building an addition that included a living room, hall bath, two guest bedrooms and a couple of covered porches. The next stage was the addition of a large sun room where guests can easily gather, along with an attached garage, which was later converted to a studio where Linda could work, if desired, when not at her main office in town. Most recently, she designed a bathroom for the studio so the room can serve as a spillover space to accommodate guests and a new detached garage for the couple’s vehicles.

The kitchen island, complete with mesquite cutting boards, is spacious enough for Linda and Phil to work together to prepare meals.
Is it complete? “I don’t think I’ll ever have a complete house,” Linda replies. “I love taking an existing home and making it everything it can be.”

The tiny one-room abode she and Phil started with has grown to 5,300 square feet and features some walls of mud adobe and others of hand-applied plaster with an umber glaze. Corrugated tin panels are used as accents indoors and out, flooring ranges from old brick and Saltillo tile to poured concrete and cantera, and wood-framed glass doors as well as large windows let in natural light and perfectly frame examples of nature’s bounty.

The home also boasts eight indoor fireplaces, no two of which are alike. The smallest is a triangular opening in a wall between the kitchen and adjacent breakfast room, which was the original part of the house. The flooring here is worn brick laid in a spiral pattern. Discovered under a thick layer of dirt during the remodel, it is also original to the house.

One of eight fireplaces Linda designed for the house, this small triangular one is situated between the kitchen and adjacent breakfast area. The upholstered pantry doors are clad in old worn rugs.
Creating a unique design for each fireplace is just one of the opportunities afforded Linda by doing the remodel and additions in stages. It also allowed her to create rooms of different shapes and volumes, vary ceiling heights and the size of their beams, and use a variety of flooring materials. “I wanted to build a house that looked like it had been there for years and had been changed over time to suit whoever lived in it,” Linda states. “To me, that kind of house has soul.”

It can be said that Robinson’s designs are as much about the way they look as the way they make you feel, like a caress from the past. To that end, she furnished rooms throughout with a mix of antiques and new pieces accented with her trademark old wood doors, antique Navajo and Oriental rugs, and rustic accessories. The metal door hardware, beds, tables and light fixtures throughout are pieces Phil designed, and many walls are punctuated with his contemporary artwork.

Outdoor amenities include an entry courtyard and a sunset patio at the front of the house as well as both covered and uncovered patio areas at the back of the house. All offer expansive views of the desert and mountains beyond.

Part of an extensive addition to the home, this gracious living room offers sweeping mountain views. The glass door opens to a covered patio at the back of the house, while a pair of old wood doors conceal a TV. The steel coffee table is one of Phil’s designs, while the painting above the fireplace, “Parable XX,” is by Robert Kelly. An antique Persian rug anchors the sitting area.
Linda believes there’s something magical about the property. “There’s a peace of mind and a sense of relaxation that I derive from living here,” she comments. The house also provides ample opportunity to observe a wide variety of wildlife. After they first moved in, the couple would find cows and horses hanging out on the covered porches and peering in windows. One of their favorite visitors was a burro that made a point of coming to their door every morning at 10 a.m. “We would talk to him for a few minutes, rub his forelock, and then, satisfied, he would turn around and walk back down the driveway,” Linda relates.

“We still often find animal nose prints on the glass doors and windows of our home,” she adds. “They are quite interested in what is going on inside.” Other visitors have included families of bobcats, mule deer and javelinas as well as the occasional porcupine, kit fox, spotted skunk and red-tail hawk, notes Phil. “Everything that walks, flies or crawls in the Sonoran Desert has been around our house,” he says.

The window in this conversation area in a corner of the living room looks out to a covered porch at the front of the house. A contemporary painting by Phil provides contrast to the offset antique hand-carved wood panels on the wall.
Linda says she knew from the day she found her piece of desert paradise that the house she would design for it needed to be very unobtrusive. “I wanted the land to be the important thing,” she explains, “so I designed a house that snugs down into the mountains. It’s a humble house, really, but there’s an authenticity to it that’s important to me.

 “The house is easy,” she adds. “It’s the place you have to find. This one clears our minds and is very healing from the stress of our everyday lives.”

The dining room’s stone fireplace and ceiling accented with unique beam work are original to the house. “This was basically an unfinished addition with a roof,” Linda explains. The space functioned as the home’s main living area until a new larger living room became part of an extensive addition. The antique sabino wood table is surrounded by Portuguese wood chairs, the chandelier is an antique, and the painting above the fireplace is by Phil. “I like to mix contemporary, Mexican and European country styles in the projects I do,” Linda notes.

Linda turned an existing screened porch into a beautiful master bedroom anchored by a canopy bed designed by Phil. Its twisted posts were fashioned from metal U-channels. Linda added the stone corner fireplace; balancing it in the opposing corner is an antique English pine armoire. Windows on three sides flood the room with natural light and frame majestic views. An antique Persian rug softens the flooring comprised of concrete squares anchored with mortar grout.
A circular granite vessel sink sits atop a custom wood credenza in the hall bath, which was added during phase 2 of the remodel.

Linda designed a kiva-style plaster fireplace accented with stone for the master bathroom. She also incorporated materials found onsite: The vanity mirror on the right was fashioned from wood that came from the original home’s outhouse, while the old wood doors were found in an existing building on the property. The open door even features a bullet hole, evidence that an intruder—man or beast—was confronted in years past.
Complete with a sleeping area, closet and attached bathroom at one end, Linda’s home design studio can accommodate spillover guests when needed. Formerly an attached garage, the space comes in handy for small projects and on weekends and evenings when the designer is not in her main studio downtown. The sabino wood table doubles as a convenient place to review blueprints, and when no guests are visiting, the bed can provide a flat surface to lay fabrics out on, she says.

A guest bedroom welcomes visitors with its red glazed walls and low fireplace. A framed antique Tibetan religious painting on a silk scroll hangs above the cantera-and-wood surround. The bed’s woven-metal headboard was designed by Phil.
This enclosed patio is a private sanctuary punctuated with such desert beauties as blue agave, bougainvillea and spineless prickly pear. Roof overhangs made of bundled branches and corrugated tin add to the home’s piecemeal feel.

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