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For The Home

Redefining a Southwest Classic

Author: Nancy Erdmann
Issue: April, 2018, Page 98
photography by Steven Meckler

To the left of the front entry, which appears to be enveloped in blooming bougainvillea, is a private courtyard enclosed by walls constructed of 16-inch-thick adobe. Latticed iron grillwork, or “jalis,” from India serve as decorative screens for windows and allows for cool air flow.
A Tucson Adobe Gets a Face-Lift With Lighter Fabrics, Tailored Furnishings and Feminine Touches

When a timeless, well-built home with great bones and endless character begins to feel dark and dated, simply freshening up the interiors can change the ambience from night to day. Such was the case for actress Brooke Davis, an Arizona native and long-time Tucson resident. “Building the house was a true labor of love, but it was time for a change. Our home holds endless treasured memories of family and friends, and I wanted to preserve that but lighten the feel,” she explains.

When it came time to update the desert abode she shared with her husband, she immediately turned to interior designer Linda Robinson, a Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner. “We met Linda when she renovated our previous house in Tucson more than 20 years ago. We had been living east of the city in the Tanque Verde Valley with acreage and beauty as far as the eye could see,” Brooke says about her family’s former residence. “It was the perfect place to raise our kids. After 19 years, we decided to start looking for a home closer to town. The kids were grown and moving on with their own lives, and it seemed like a good time to do it.”

Architect James Gray built the home with a zaguan, a wide hall that leads from the front door through the center of the house. Playing off the strong architecture and the teak-and-glass doors and viga ceiling, interior designer Linda Robinson added an old Persian rug and contemporary paintings from the homeowner’s collection.
While looking at open houses, the couple came upon a custom neighborhood in the Catalina Foothills with adobe houses built by architect James Leon Gray, who is known for blending Spanish colonial with European style. Brooke recalls, “We fell in love with the homes instantly,” and they decided to build one of their own. “The architectural style is definitely a fusion of the Mexican adobes experienced by the 1880s immigrants from Europe who arrived in Tucson,” Gray says of the 3,234 square-foot residence.

Brooke’s husband was heavily involved in the original design of the interiors. Mostly Spanish colonial with a strong Victorian influence, the home was masculine with few feminine touches,
Robinson recalls. Adds Gray, “The house was meant to have a ‘men’s club’ look, with dark woods, leather, velvet drapes and Victorian lamps. It was all leather and bourbon.”

The challenge in updating the look, says Robinson, was that the house had brown exposed mud adobe walls and the windows weren’t large enough to allow sufficient light in. While the thick, earthy walls juxtaposed with the Davises’ original masculine furnishings and accessories to create a rustic elegance that was beautiful, Brooke notes that it felt dated after living with it for so many years.

In the dining room, a heavy oak table and chairs were replaced with a custom rusted-iron table base with curved legs and a glass top that allows the lightly patterned oriental rug to be seen along with the new contemporary upholstered chairs done in a soft linen. “This opened up and lightened the dining area significantly,” notes the designer. An antique teak and glass cabinet houses homeowner Brooke Davis’ crystal and china. Glass doors to the left lead to the enclosed courtyard.
To remedy this, Robinson, who collaborated on the project with her associate Amanda Wood, first removed the heavy velvet draperies and bedding and brought in lighter-color linens. Playing off the existing cocoa-hued walls, she lightened spaces by adding shades of faded blues, sea-foam green and light gold. “The color scheme was inspired by an Oriental rug, the result of a long search to find just the right focal piece that now anchors the living room seating area,” the designer points out.

Throughout, European country-style antiques were mixed with soft, inviting contemporary pieces. In the living room, Robinson added a sleek steel coffee table with an antique copper finish. Comfortable upholstered seating in shades of cream and soft gold frame the piece, creating an ideal spot for gathering in front of the large fireplace. The master bedroom was redesigned with a fanciful twisted iron four-poster bed with ivory linens and a pair of French club chairs with ivory-and-green striped pillows. These harmonize with the bold green Mexican tile work in the master bath, which can be seen through a set of rustic green saloon doors. And in the guest bedroom, a bold red antique Oriental rug adds a dramatic pop of color against the room’s adobe brick walls, wood ceiling and terra-cotta-colored concrete floor. Robinson brightened the overall effect with linens in faded blue, red and ivory prints, which also tie into the en suite’s blue-and-white tiled walls and shower. “It’s a clean, eclectic look that brings in the feminine without being fussy, and the play of soft hues with the organic chocolate-hued walls is comfortably casual and elegant,” she says.

Paintings and other works of art were moved around to better suit the updated spaces. This acrylic of a historical woman by Rimi Yang is a piece much treasured by the homeowner and hangs in the living room above an antique French iron and marble console table. “It brings lightness and femininity to the room,” says Robinson.
One of the major changes the designer made was removing the kitchen’s overly colorful and busy backsplash tile and installing hand-painted clay tile in the hues and patterns similar to those in the living room’s Oriental rug. “I wanted to simplify the look so that the eye was not visually fighting with the adobe block wall,” she explains. Robinson also replaced the busy and dated Mexican tile that covered the island’s top and sides with a light maple-color butcher-block top. The unusual poured-concrete side counter, which appears to have been colored a warm brown and then painted over with a gold tone, remained. “This counter was very unique in the way that the gold hue had worn off and exposed part of the original brown concrete,” she says. “These tones worked beautifully with the new backsplash tile.”

Many of the design elements in the territorial-style house are from around the world. The Talavera clay tile in the bathrooms, for instance, is from Guanajuato, Mexico; and antique doors and Corinthian-style teak columns, as well as iron grille work fashioned from pieces originally used for decorative security windows, come from India. In addition, the plaster featured on some of the interior walls was ordered from France where the color was custom-mixed.

Exposed mud adobe walls, old-growth-teak columns, wood-and-viga ceilings and colored concrete flooring are on display in the living room. “The play of soft hues with the organic chocolate-colored walls is elegantly casual,” notes Robinson of the muted furnishings. Sheer linen draperies on rusted iron rods let in much-needed light.
One of the home’s most unique features—the “zaguan”—has regional relevance. Traditionally seen in Mexican and Southwest homes, this entry passageway leads from the front door and flows through the house to a rear patio. “The open-air corridor would often be used for moving livestock to a central courtyard, or just passing through from the entry to a hidden courtyard,” Gray explains. “This one is covered and used as a hallway/gallery, but it is wide and cuts straight through the house.” Robinson filled the corridor with boldly colored artworks.

When Robinson first started the project, her goal was to remove the dark, heavy elements that no longer worked and bring in ones that brightened and opened the interior. The end result is an eclectic mix of Mexican colonial, European and organic contemporary design.

Now, when Brooke needs a break from her hectic schedule, she rests easy knowing that she’s returning home to a light and welcoming space filled with rich architectural details, authentic flavor and earthy charm—and plenty of memories of a home well-loved.

Originally an office, this room was redesigned into a den that features a wall hung with old family photographs. Plaid-upholstered chairs capture the colors in the floral rug. “They make a dark womb of a room feel very cozy and safe,” Robinson says.


Robinson complemented the updated kitchen island with a rusted-iron double-drop pendant and swivel bar chairs she covered in faded teal-blue linen. Flooring is 5-inch-thick scored and grouted integral-colored concrete.

To lighten up the space, she added an antique red oriental rug and designed bedding with a mixture of several light, faded linen prints in blue, red and ivory. This, she says, pulled the bathroom and bedroom together and brightened the feeling of the rooms.
A guest bedroom with an en suite bathroom tiled in a striking blue-and- white pattern on the majority of walls was initially very dark, says Robinson, as it only had one small window and adobe walls.


A four-poster iron bed is the centerpiece of the master bedroom. Topped with bedding in an ivory linen, it is accessorized with pillows in a matching silk faille. An embroidered floral throw finishes the casual elegance of the ensemble while a traditional oriental rug provides color. Linen draperies complete the feeling of comfort and casual elegance. A glimpse of the tiled bathroom can be seen through a set of swinging saloon doors.
An inside look at the master bath reveals bold green Mexican tile work accenting the tub and sink counter. “The bathroom can afford such strong color because it is a secondary room where less time is spent,” explains Robinson.


Robinson furnished the back patio with outdoor wicker sofas and weather-hardy fabrics.  Landscape architect Penny Batelli cozied up the setting and “created a lush appearance by using a wide variety of tropical, Mediterranean and desert trees and shrubs,” as well as citrus plants, she remarks.

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