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Master of the Southwest Architect Dale Gardon

Author: Roberta Landman
Issue: March, 2012, Page 96
Photos by Christiaan Blok

Dale Gardon

Architect Dale Gardon Brings the West Back to Arizona Homes


When he was a child in snow-pummeled Buffalo, N.Y., Dale Gardon spent a lot of time in the basement of his parents’ home, where his dad, a mechanical engineer, kept a drafting table and other tools of his trade. The boy, amazed by houses he had seen during winter vacations in Florida, would sit at the table and put the stirrings of his imagination on paper.

“I would draw my dream house”—at times massive settings with indoor pools—recalls the award-winning Arizona architect. Gardon later would learn that houses that had impressed him in Palm Beach were created in the early 20th century by famed architect Addison Mizner. Classic elements of those historic Spanish Colonial Revival and formal Mediterranean gems—including decorative ironwork—flavor many of Gardon’s homes to this day.

Whichever style or size of home a client chooses, a house has to have “a comfortable, warm environment,” the Phoenix Home & Garden Master of the Southwest believes. He also kept this concept at the forefront when planning the overall design of north Scottsdale’s DC Ranch and Silverleaf residential communities.

Dotted with paths and trails, these neighborhoods of custom and semi-custom homes were not only designed to be compatible with their Sonoran Desert surroundings, but to promote human interaction, he indicates. “We are social-engineering in a way,” says Gardon. At Silverleaf, for example, several homes front on parklike areas, encouraging people to socialize. The garages of these residences were purposely put in the backs of the homes, “like in old Phoenix,” he adds.

The look of old-time Phoenix and nearby towns such as Cave Creek and New River appealed to the transplanted Easterner, and, in the 1990s, he translated that quality into homes he designed in DC Ranch—including the residence he shares with his wife. What had become the norm for building in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area was architecture with a “sameness” about it—houses colored in muted tones of beige, notes Gardon. “The Western heritage got lost.”

At DC Ranch, he promoted the concept of front porches, used native rock found on the grounds for walls, and introduced a “palette of the desert,” featuring warm hues of golds and sage green.

Architect Clint Miller, himself a Phoenix Home & Garden Master of the Southwest, speaks of his association with Gardon. “I was fortunate enough to work with Dale on DC Ranch, where he directed the efforts of many architects to complete this very large project. He refined the vision for DC Ranch and Silverleaf, and inspired the entire team by implementing the highest-quality detailing based on an accurate historical past.” Of Gardon’s work throughout the Phoenix area, he adds: “The projects embrace the individual spirit of each location and, importantly, combine live, work and play.”

Designed by architect Dale Gardon, AIA, and built by John Schultz, the Spanish Mission-style home on these pages steps up a mountainside in Scottsdale’s Silverleaf community. Comments Schultz: “Dale includes a lot more detail in his drawings than a lot of architects do; so we had a pretty good vision of where we were headed from the beginning. The house is very detailed but very casual.”
Gardon has completed projects big and small, commercial and residential, in Arizona and other states. There never was any doubt that he would become an architect, he states. He even looks at the automobile pin-striping business he started at age 16 as preparation for his future. When hand-painting stripes and such on cars, he recalls thinking, “‘I am affecting people’s pride and joy.’ I was practicing design.” Today, as an architect, he reflects, “What I do for others is an honor.”

After graduating from the State University of New York in Buffalo, Gardon headed West, “looking for the sunshine.” Awarded “full-ride” scholarships, he entered Arizona State University’s two-year architecture program. Working for an architectural firm while he attended school, he earned a master’s degree in architecture in 1986, graduating at the top of his class.

That same year he joined Vernon Swaback Associates (now Swaback Partners) and worked with well-known architect and land-planner Swaback, also a Phoenix Home & Garden Master of the Southwest. Gardon notes that in 1994 he became the firm’s principal in charge of the DC Ranch residential project. Says Swaback of Gardon: “He’s an exceptional performer and was a significant member of our firm.”

Gardon continued his involvement with DC Ranch when he formed his own north Scottsdale studio, Dale Gardon Design, in 1999, and says he began developing design guidelines for Silverleaf three years later.

Set in a business complex of his own design, Gardon’s office is his “cocoon.” Here, the architect points out the pencil sharpener on his desk. It, along with the pencils it keeps sharp, “is my high-powered computer,” he chuckles. As when he was a boy, he prefers doing his architectural drawings freehand. Surrounded by these renderings and detailed scale models of large luxury homes—which even include tiny figures of people and pots of flowers—he takes time to remember the house he grew up in: a modest two-bedroom, one-bath home, where his parents are still living happily after 50 years.

The entry courtyard is defined by such Spanish Mission elements as stone-clad arched loggias and a high “stair tower” with interior staircase, says architect Dale Gardon.

Off the kitchen, this patio and others at the home provide “indoor/outdoor connectivity,” Gardon notes.
A dining patio looks out to the pool area and a mountain vista. Flooring is composed of Spanish Cotto tiles set in a basket-weave pattern interspersed with Mexican tiles.

Clockwise from top left: Lending an exotic air of welcome in the foyer are the front door—set within a Moorish arch—a series of arched portals, and a lofty domed ceiling with a raked finish. Looking out from the dome, a home-office window is ensconced in an iron balcony grate. Another window—in a deep arched surround—brings in natural daylight. The portal in the foreground is framed in carved limestone. The painting is by Byron Burford. • A sense of the romantic pervades the stair tower, with its curvy ornamental-iron railing and soaring space. Dale Gardon describes the tower’s architecture as “a custom barrel vault that terminates as a domelike form with intersecting arched clerestories.” Those small, deep-set clerestory windows, along with others of different sizes, bathe the area in light. “We always like daylight to graze the interiors,” explains Gardon. • The homeowners wanted a house with the look of a castle—but “something more rustic than fancy”—and definitely comfortable. A room’s scale affects comfort, says the architect. To keep the high-ceilinged family gathering room from feeling cavernous and to provide warmth, he added trusses and timbers and clad the walls in stone. The fireplace’s wood overmantel conceals a TV. • Cherry millwork, in combination with a fabric wall panel just below the ceiling, “helps visually reduce the scale of the room,” the architect points out. Interior designer Nancy Hepburn, who put her stamp on these areas and spaces throughout the property, says of Dale Gardon: “He really gave me a beautiful sculpture to work with.”
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