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A Custom Fit

Author: Katherine Adomaitis
Issue: March, 2018, Page 130
photography by Christiaan Blok

A handcrafted wood gate that opens to the front courtyard is set in a swooping adobe wall topped with tile. Builder Randy Arnett-Romero designed the tile pattern to graduate from small to large as it moves up the wall. “It’s an intricacy you feel without necessarily knowing why,” he says.
A Detailed Design on a Demanding Lot is Transformed Into a Cozy, Unassuming Abode

With family in the Valley, Oklahoma natives Roy and Toni Bliss have long considered Arizona their second home. So when they decided to build a vacation house in North Scottsdale, they wanted something that was cozy enough for two but spacious enough to accommodate visits from their four adult children and 11 grandkids.

A few years ago, they decided to break ground, opting for an adobe-style residence. “We like the traditional Arizona homes,” explains Toni. “We wanted something warm and rustic, as opposed to something that was more ornate
and Spanish.”

A curving adobe wall and a beehive fireplace add character to a sitting area in the front courtyard.
After seeing several residences designed by architect Lee Hutchison, the couple knew that the Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner could deliver the style of home they desired. The size and shape—a 5,000-square-foot, four-bedroom abode that hugs the curves of the landscape—notes Hutchison, was dictated by not only Toni and Roy’s needs but as a response to the landscape as well. “The site falls deeply from front to back,” he explains, “and there’s a significant wash that runs through the lot.” Additionally, the property was dotted with boulders that needed to be preserved, according to city and community guidelines.

Because the buildable area was long and narrow, Hutchison designed a serpentine layout that placed the garage and attached guest casita on one side of the wash, connecting those spaces to the central living areas and the remaining bedrooms with a bridgelike glassed-in hallway. “The design of the bridge, wall curves and window placements, as well as the home’s length, allowed us to capture the views,” Hutchison says.

Constructing Hutchison’s flowing design was second nature to builder Randy Arnett-Romero, who launched his career building adobe homes in Tucson and has collaborated with the architect on some 15 previous projects. “Working with a curved design is much more interesting than building a box,” says Arnett-Romero. “I look at curves as an opportunity.”

As the home was going up, Arnett-Romero often spearheaded on-site decisions, with the architect’s blessing, adding touches such as tile trim around a fireplace, suggesting the custom steel window that he fabricated for the living room and creating the hand-plastered form of the kitchen’s custom hood. “I’ve worked with Lee for so long that I can interpret his designs. It’s not often that a builder and an architect have that kind of relationship,” he says. “Lee lets me take a little creative license.”

The living room’s custom window, fabricated by Arnett-Romero frames a view of one of the property’s massive granite boulders, while the adobe fireplace anchors the space. The furnishings include pieces the couple brought from their previous residence as well as new custom designs.
A good example of this can be seen in the master bedroom. Original plans for the multibarrel vaulted ceiling called for heavier joints between barrels. Arnett-Romero suggested using forged steel caps on the bottoms of the scallops, resulting in a precise and more contemporary look. He also hand-plastered the room’s fireplace, making sure its lines and form closely followed the spirit of the plans. “I do that with a lot of fireplaces, as they’re such a visual point for the room,” he says.

Throughout the home, Hutchison and Arnett-Romero worked together on other architecturally and visually significant ceiling treatments. Arnett-Romero engineered and constructed the architect’s illuminated, stacked ceiling plan in the kitchen, made of a cross-pattern of beams backed with Saltillo tile. In the living room, a spoked pattern of spruce beams leads the eye to such focal points as the fireplace and window, while the dining room’s coved, burlap-clad ceiling is accented by a curved spruce beam, held together with steel straps.

Architect Lee Hutchison nestled the curving house into its sloping site near Pinnacle Peak. Desert-hued adobe and plaster walls blend the house into the surrounding landscape.
“It’s both challenging and exciting to work on these types of details,” says the builder, who also added other custom touches, such as the decorative steel grills for vents, air returns and skylights.

“We’ve built four homes, and our experience with Randy was the best,” says Roy. “He worked closely with the architect and interior designer, and he has an artistic eye as well, which allowed him to improvise with many details as our home was being constructed.”

The home’s adobe feature walls also received special consideration thanks to mason Jim Nelson. Left exposed as architectural elements inside and out, the walls are built of stabilized, earth-colored adobe bricks, with a cement and decomposed granite mortar. “The mortar adds a gritty texture to the walls,” explains Nelson. “It gave us the rustic, weathered look we wanted.”

To get the wall’s swoops and curves, Nelson and Arnett-Romero carved and shaped blocks on site, using bent sprinkler pipes to outline desired forms. Once the walls were built, the pipes were removed and the walls were capped with Saltillo tile. “We made several samples with different grout and setting techniques we both have used or seen used on past projects,” Nelson notes. “I really enjoyed working with Randy to make the finished project look authentic. When you’re able to collaborate confidently on a difficult project, your artistic abilities truly shine.”

A custom glass
and metal front door, fabricated by Arnett-Romero, includes symbols of the Southwest. A sculpture by Bill Worrell in an opening of the adobe wall greets visitors.

A curved wood beam, held together with metal straps, delineates the dining room, which features a coved, burlap-covered ceiling. The floor pattern comprises hand-cut Saltillo tiles, installed right-side up and upside down to add texture.
A cozy space off the kitchen is the perfect place to enjoy a fire and watch TV. The curved shelves hold some of the couple’s Native American baskets and Hopi katsinas. In the hallway is the “cowboy closet,” a signature touch by interior designer Billi Springer.

When it came to the furnishings and other touches, Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award-winning interior designer Billi Springer gave the setting a warm and inviting touch through furniture and accessories. “Toni and Roy brought furniture and art from their previous house,” explains interior designer Victoria King, who assisted Springer on the project. “We worked those in and designed many custom items to fit the new spaces.”

Toni Bliss preferred not to have upper cabinets in the kitchen; instead, she chose a glass-door cupboard for storage. Rather than opting for a traditional island, she asked craftsman and Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner John Taber to create a large table made of Arizona ash for the space.
Using a palette of neutrals and dark woods, Springer and King let art and views add color to the rooms, each designed with comfort in mind. In the living room, a pale-hued custom sofa and two custom suede armchairs create a cozy grouping in front of the fireplace. In a small space off the kitchen, two cushy armchairs were recovered in a checked fabric and coupled with footstools to provide a cozy place to watch television or enjoy the warmth from a raised fireplace. The master bedroom’s combination of light hues, botanical prints and rustic furnishings creates a peaceful retreat.

Outdoors, landscape designer Jeff Franklin carved out several outdoor living spaces for the home’s sloping site. “The idea was to emulate what was there, such as the boulders and native plants,” says Franklin “as well as to soften it with denser plantings and pots.”

One of Hutchison’s signature ceiling treatments is evident in the kitchen. It includes an array of uplit, layered wood beams and Saltillo tile. The hanging light fixture is a custom design by Springer.
In front, a handcrafted gate separates the driveway from an entry courtyard, where a beehive fireplace warms a seating area and a fountain made of boulders echoes the angles of a nearby mountain. Bursage, palo verdes, Salvia greggii and goldeneye add softness and color, while agaves and totem pole cacti add a sculptural element.

In back, a small, flagstone-rimmed pool curves along the edge of the lower patio, screened from the street below by a series of Cantera stone pots, one of Arnett-Romero’s design contributions. “When you make Cantera columns, you have to drill them out of blocks of stone,” he explains. “These are the throwaway pieces. I had seen them before and stored them in my memory, and this house just called for something unique.” Upper patios include an outdoor kitchen and dining space, and a sunny lounge area just off the living room.

The end result of this team project is a home that is honest and comfortably integrates into its surroundings. “It’s all about how the different materials tie in with one another,” says Arnett-Romero. “When they come together—where adobe meets plaster, where wood beams meet adobe—it’s seamless. It’s not rough or contrived. That’s what makes it appear so effortless and so easy on the eyes.”

Photos - Clock-wise from top left: A beehive fireplace, lined with reclaimed bricks, warms a corner of the master bedroom.

Roy and Toni Bliss relax in their home office.

Chevron-patterned flooring underscores the airy master bedroom, which has views of Pinnacle Peak. Arnett-Romero fabricated the curved window frames; he added forged steel caps to the joints on the barrel-vaulted ceiling for an eye-catching look that does not overpower the room. The bed is a custom design by Springer.

The master suite’s custom tufted headboard is detailed with authentic buffalo nickels.

The back of the home has several covered terraces that include an outdoor kitchen and lounge spaces. The outer edge of the pool is lined with Cantera stone pots filled with lady’s-slippers, which add privacy from the street below. Arnett-Romero suggested the Cantera pots, which are actually leftover material from the creation of stone columns.

Randy Arnett-Romero
2018 Masters of the Southwest Award Winner

Builder Randy Arnett-Romero is intimately familiar with Phoenix Home & Garden’s Masters of the Southwest awards. His work with winning architects and designers has graced the covers of our awards issues since 1992. In fact, just about every house he’s built has been featured on our pages. And for good reason: Not only are the homes well-constructed, they’re filled with intricate details that can only come from experienced and passionate hands.

Having started in the industry when he was only 14 years old, Randy went on to master a variety of trades, such as plastering, framing, millwork and tile installation. Now, he’s the owner of a high-end building company, R-Net Custom Homes, and a window and door manufacturer, Janus Custom Building Products, named after the Roman god of beginnings, passages and endings. 

Whether building traditional adobe structures or contemporary residences, Randy strives not only for perfection in construction but also for that special moment when owners realize they’re stepping into a home that is much about them personally as it is about the overall beauty. “I create for the client, within their palette, and then stand back and watch the reaction,” he says.

With hundreds of happy homeowners in his annals, we figured it was about time that Randy received the well-deserved credit for his work. That’s why we named him a 2018 Masters of the Southwest award winner. Congratulations, Randy!
-The Editors
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