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Defying Definition - Tor Barstad

Author: Rebecca L. Rhoades
Issue: March, 2016, Page 114
Dramatic framework forms a matrix focal point over this North Scottsdale home’s back patio and negative-edge pool, underlining architect Tor Barstad’s trademark use of symmetry to draw the eye through the house and out to the stunning views of the Valley beyond.

From the entry courtyard, visitors have an uninterrupted view through the house to the mountains beyond. Interior stone flooring extends outside past a seamless threshold. A large ironwood tree anchors the open space.
An Architect’s Ability to Step Outside the Design Box Results in a One-of-a-Kind Home that Realizes his Client’s Desires

Building a brand-new house is one way to ensure that you get everything you want, down to the tiniest detail. That’s why most homeowners who chose to build instead of buy an existing residence seek out an architect whose design sensibility best matches their own aesthetic. For example, an architect might specialize in contemporary-style structures, cozy bungalows or reinterpretations of historic designs. Others, such as Phoenix-based Tor Barstad, forgo a signature style and instead tailor each project to satisfy the client’s wishes while meeting the demands of the site. The result is a personalized abode unlike any other.

A perfect expression of this is the home of John McLaughlin in the North Scottsdale enclave of Desert Mountain.

“John came to me and said, ‘Let’s do something really special,’” says Barstad. “I listened very carefully, and I just put into plans what he had in his head. I call myself a creative conduit for other people’s ideas, translated into architecture.”

From the outside in, Barstad ensured that no detail was overlooked. Some of his many creative touches include a tiered archway that welcomes guests to a private courtyard. A cutaway window in the pediment above reflects the shape of the arch. To the left, a small window with an inset grill detail adds visual interest to a large stone wall.

John’s vision for his almost 9,000-square-foot hillside hideaway was a blend of contemporary and Old World, with large open spaces that look out to the views beyond yet enough privacy to make you feel as though you are the only one around.

From the moment guests step through the courtyard ’s massive arched wooden double doors, their eyes are drawn by an invisible line through the yard, past the entry door and out to the patio beyond, where breathtaking vistas of Weavers Needle, Pinnacle Peak and the entire Valley await.

A linear fireplace with a box-shaped opening frames a view of the city and mountain peaks on the horizon. A sunken seating area separates the fireplace and pool.
“The house is symmetrical at its center, or what we call its symmetry line,” explains Barstad. “The idea was to come through the courtyard and through the front door, and then have it open up to a great panorama of beautiful scenery. Pretty much every room has a view of the Valley.”

At the rear of the great room, expansive floor-to-ceiling windows—a trademark element in Barstad’s designs—retract into the walls, fashioning a hybrid indoor/outdoor space ideal for entertaining or simply relaxing and enjoying the warm summer breezes. On the right side of the spacious room is an elegant yet comfortable seating area. Walls of light-colored Canyon Castle stone, wood ceiling beams and vintage barnwood shelves offer a rustic mountain feel, while a 6-foot-tall by 5-foot-wide fireplace with a chevron-patterned firebox—“John calls it his sheepherder’s fireplace,” says Barstad—brings a touch of the French countryside indoors.

Opposite the seating area is a sizable kitchen. A vast curved breakfast counter, flanked by matching wooden appliance towers, delineates the space while keeping it open to the views.

Large glass walls, topped by clerestory windows retract into the walls, opening the main living space to the outdoors. “When they’re open, it’s really spectacular,” says Barstad. “You can’t tell where the inside ends and the outside begins.” Organic colors and rustic finishes connect the space with its desert surroundings.

Los Angeles-based interior designer Douglas Marsceill worked with Barstad on the home. “Tor approaches a project differently than any other architect I’ve ever worked with,” he says. “Usually you see drawings on paper, but Tor hired a CAD (computer-aided design) artist to create a 3-D model that allowed us to visually bring the client in through the roof and see all of the rooms. He even incorporated the surface materials. In the kitchen, we could get a sense of what the counter tops were going to look like. I could zoom around the cabinets and get all of the details. You never see that with pen and ink. It was pretty amazing.”

The dramatic focal point of the kitchen is the copper-clad breakfast counter. Its massive granite top features a thick seamless-appearing edge comprised of numerous slivers of stone. “The rest of the materials [used in the kitchen] had to be more subdued to frame it,” notes Marsceill. An immense wedge-shaped island with a matching curved edge fills the space, while a copper range hood, more stone and distressed walnut cabinets with zinc inlays connect it to the rest of the great room.

A highlight of the main living space is the large kitchen with its curved breakfast bar. A palette of natural materials, including Canyon Castle stone, walnut cabinetry with zinc inlays, and copper, seen on the range hood and breakfast bar, imparts an earthy, casual feel to the large area. Upstairs to the right is an open yoga loft. Barstad’s creative hand is seen in the room’s arches, nooks and subtle details, such as the art-glass window to the left of the stone wall.
Echoing the curvature of the breakfast counter and island is a wet bar that sits between the kitchen and seating area, to the left of the entrance door. A large copper-clad circular soffit hangs above, creating an eye-catching contemporary focal point. “I didn’t want the home’s interiors to get too serious,” says Marsceill. “I wanted to use a lot of natural materials to give it an organic feel and tie it to nature.”

An archway near the kitchen leads to what John calls “his wing,” which includes his office, master suite and a yoga loft that overlooks the great room, while stairs to the right of the entry door lead to the guest wing with its pair of matching suites.

The wet bar mimics the curve of the nearby breakfast bar. Above it, a large, copper-clad circular soffit is the focal point of the space. Its contemporary design contrasts beautifully with the room’s more rustic styling.

In the serene, minimally decorated master bedroom, the large bed is balanced visually by the fireplace. Windows on either side of the room offer views of the morning sun to the left and the evening sun to the right. “We wanted every room to have special vistas,” Barstad notes.

Even the contemporary-style master bath, with its vaulted ceiling, white marble surfaces and eye-catching circular glass steam shower, was designed with the outside in mind. Oversized glass doors open to an enclosed courtyard, creating the feeling of showering alfresco and providing glimpses of the surrounding mountains, while maintaining complete privacy.

“It was such a complicated bathroom to understand on paper,” Marsceill recalls. “When Tor drew that shower, I said, ‘Really, Tor? Right in the middle of the room?’ But once we got it in 3-D, it became spectacular because you can see right through to the private garden.”

As beautiful and welcoming as its interiors are, the home’s pièce de résistance—and John’s favorite space—is its back patio, complete with a kitchen, fire pit with sunken seating, negative-edge swimming pool with beach entry, and small artificial-turf lawn for John’s Yorkie, Harley.

The stunning master bathroom with its vaulted ceiling is a feast of white marble and sunlight. Focusing on symmetry, Barstad placed the tub and circular glass shower in the center of the room, flanked on each side by his-and-hers vanities. Trios of clerestory windows on each wall help balance the space. Large glass doors open to a private courtyard that creates a sense of showering outdoors while remaining hidden away from neighbors’ prying eyes.
“The backyard is pretty much all hardscape,” says landscape designer Morgan Holt, who collaborated with Barstad on this and many other projects. “Tor designed all of the exterior structures and pieces to fit with his architecture. He really thinks things through and understands how landscape designs will look with the home.” 
Despite its large windows, the master bedroom offers complete privacy from nearby neighbors. The bed is situated to take advantage of the views. In the morning, the homeowner can watch the sun rise to the left of the fireplace; in the evenings, he can watch it set over his back patio to the right. Beyond the window, an ironwood tree is installed in the steel framework of the house, softening the hardscape.
Triangular-shaped steel-beam framework extends over the space, forming a matrix focal point with the symmetry of the house and creating a multidimensional effect of shadows and light, according to Barstad, while the stone fireplace surround frames views of Valley, directing the eye right to the city lights. “Whenever you frame views, it’s a special treat. And at night, the whole place lights up like a palace,” he points out. Large concrete pots with sago palms soften the hardscape and connect to interior greenery, directing guests’ attention through the house to the patio.

“There are just so many things to see here,” says John. “The stone, the soffits, the copper, the railings—all around the house, inside and out, it all flows together. Marsceill agrees: “You can tell that Tor is a detail-oriented guy. He includes so many angles and different levels. There are so many great spots and views in this house, and everything is tied together by a ribbon of thought.”

No matter what you call it—contemporary, mountain, Tuscan, Santa Barbara, worldly, eclectic—one thing is for certain, the residence is not just a reflection of the homeowner, as Barstad so notes. It’s a manifestation of the vast skills and creative vision of its architect. And that adds up to a place that’s enjoyable to come home to every night. Perhaps John sums it up best: “It’s like living in a resort.”
Tor Barstad
Masters of the Southwest 2016 Award Winner

With more than 20 years’ experience designing luxury houses in the Valley and beyond, architect Tor Barstad is known for his uncanny ability to take even the most challenging lot and create on it a home that feels effortless.

His intuitive approach takes into account every slope, angle and sight line of a property. The placement of living areas above secondary spaces, and his manipulation of size and materials optimize views and lighting while ensuring privacy from nearby neighbors—even when outside.

Tor’s designs also take advantange of Arizona’s love affair with outdoor living with glass walls that seemingly disappear into the surrounding structure and frame panoramic vistas.

The interiors are pretty special, too, thanks to Tor’s firm belief in the concept of serial vision. “As you go through a series of spaces, you’re constantly drawn through them to another place,” he says. “There are no bad angles or boring corners.”

From contemporary to traditional, Tuscan to Pueblo, Tor has done it all. And he’s continuing to move forward, with plans to incorporate more sustainble features, such as net-zero energy consumption and living roofs.

For his unparalleled vision and the talent to bring homeowners’ dreams to life, we at Phoenix Home & Garden are proud to name him a Masters of the Southwest award winner.

Congratulations, Tor!
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