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Setting the Stage

Author: Ben Ikenson
Issue: March, 2018, Page 96
Photo by Scott Sandler

Indoors, the entry is just as jaw-dropping as it is outside. A lofted sitting and piano room creates a compressed arrival that opens to a large, two-story great room.
Bold Architectural Designs Become One With the Landscape and Their Surrounding Communities

Born on the Greek island of Crete, Nick Tsontakis emigrated to Montreal with his parents and two brothers when he was just three-and-a-half years old. A few years later, an uncle visited from the old country, bearing a gift of wooden toy building blocks, and, like some oracle out of Greek mythology, issued a succinct directive: “When you grow up, become an architect.”

The entry to the Scottsdale home of Lawdan and Hamid Shojaee is a bold and dramatic statement, with a 6-foot-wide red door and an arching, cantilevered canopy that extends above the circular auto court.
The bright and impressionable young Tsontakis was hardly one to deny the Fates: “It stayed with me, and I saw myself as a future architect from that day on,” he says.

After establishing himself professionally in Canada, he decided to move south—and the Crete-like geography and climate of Arizona convinced him to set up shop in Scottsdale.

“I immediately felt at home here,” says Tsontakis. “But I also noticed there was not much variety in the built environment, and I really wanted to contribute in a way that I felt the desert seemed
to invite.”

Fortunately for his clients, Tsontakis’ approach has never been one-size-fits-all. He does, however, adhere to a few guidelines: the incorporation of common materials in simple yet innovative ways, flexibility to work around unforeseen obstacles during the construction process, and an abiding sense of respect for a project site’s existing surroundings.

The positioning of the home at the end of a cul-de-sac conceals the entryway from the street to provide a strong sense of privacy.
“The architecture should fit into the context of the site,” says Tsontakis. “The right design is not necessarily something that fits into a ‘style’ but responds well to the topography, capturing views and providing privacy where needed.”

And, more often than not, such design also should make a bold artistic statement.

This common-sense yet out-of-the-box perspective certainly served Tsontakis well when designing an 8,500-square foot home in Scottsdale for Hamid and Lawdan Shojaee. The couple had purchased two adjoining lots, one of which was at the end of a cul-de-sac, which Tsontakis used as a conceptual starting point.

“We told him about the architecture we fell in love with during our world travels and asked him to incorporate all of it into a circular home with a resort feel,” recalls Lawdan. “Before seeing the plans, I had my doubts as to if he could actually get everything we asked for into the home. He came back a few days later with a design that absolutely blew our minds.”

Curves and angles combine on the back side of the house, where an upper-level balcony looks out over the yard and pool. On the lower level to the right is the master suite.
If the blueprints were impressive, the actual build-out of the home is a spectacular celebration of contemporary—almost futuristic—design, with clean, arching lines and a dramatic cantilevered front overhang reminiscent of a ship’s prow pointing skyward.

 “This home was particularly challenging to build, but it was exciting to work on something that doesn’t have an everyday format,” says builder Dennes Mikalacki, who has collaborated with Tsontakis on numerous projects. “There’s nothing straight in this house. It has a mystique—kind of a ‘how did he do that?’

“The overhang looks really light now, but a lot of concrete had to be poured to carry it,” he adds. “And the metal roof basically curves along two radii; it’s like a skateboard park.”

A two-story atrium brings natural light into the center of the home, lending an airy feel to the dining room. The chunky wood stairs extend through the glass wall and into the  open space, creating the illusion that they’re floating.
The two-story home wraps around a circular auto court and radiates outward; it is positioned strategically at a 45-degree angle to the center of the cul-de-sac to deliver privacy and to allow more depth in the back yard. A front entry gate stops unauthorized access to the auto court.

The heart of the home is a large great room that is overlooked by an upper-level sitting room. Extending from the great room are two “wings” that, by virtue of the circular geometry, create a desirable proximity between the master bedroom and the Shojaee’s two children’s suites, which connect via a “secret” play area. Additionally, one of the home’s focal points—a two-story indoor atrium—brings natural light into the center of the house.

The ultramodern residence is a showcase of spatial efficiency and seemingly boundless imagination. And two years after moving in, Lawdan reports that “every time we drive up to the home, the excitement is reignited. The architecture is both timeless and very exciting.”

Contrasting the master bath is a minimalist powder room. A custom perforated metal screen hides the toilet from view. Its circular cutouts are echoed in a row of round tiles that runs along the floor and up the wall. A white freestanding sink completes the sleek look.
Another project—this one all straight lines and right angles—demonstrates Tsontakis’ mastery of pushing the design envelope to meet exacting demands—even beyond those of clients Nancy and Daniel Grob. Their hearts were set on a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired home for their property in North Scottsdale, but their hopes were not especially high given the development’s heretofore established set of housing styles.

“Nancy and I were faced with an overpriced lot following the real estate meltdown [of 2008], and we were torn between building out the home with the HOA’s rules, or else sitting on or selling the property,” says Daniel. “Others told us to look elsewhere, but Nick, with his experience, credibility and knowledge of Frank Lloyd Wright design, offered to help convince the HOA to allow for a new standard.”

When he consulted with the association’s architectural review committee, Tsontakis was told that a “variance” would be required contingent upon an exceptional design, as the house would be highly visible upon entry to the community.

With ultrasleek walnut paneling, the master bath is a study in curves, from the matching his-and-hers vanities that ring a round settee in the center of the room to the circular tray ceiling above. The freestanding tub is flanked by twin commode closets.
“The variance was granted after we demonstrated that the low and deep overhangs, high horizontal windows, intricate masonry with integrated indirect lighting and metal work would complement some of the community’s existing allowable styles,” says Tsontakis.

Among the 5,000-plus square-foot home’s many other notable features is an exterior cladding of long, narrow strips of Canterra stone that resemble the Roman brick that characterized much of Wright’s early Prairie School period, as well as a dramatic front entry that is deeply recessed in the center of the main facade and that opens up to a soaring great room. Rows of clerestory windows hint at the amenities to be found inside.

“Frank Lloyd Wright was known for tying his fascias right into the window. It’s part of the Prairie style,” Mikalacki explains. “So we made sure that we implemented that on every window. It’s an element that maybe you don’t notice but you feel.”

The completed residence is stately yet unpretentious, simple yet complex. “It’s truly one of a kind, from top to bottom,” adds Mikalacki.

“That’s the thing about Nick,” he continues. “He’s fluent in contemporary styles, but he studies all types of architecture. And he is always aware of the trust the homeowners place in him.”

While Tsontakis has found his niche designing high-end homes that speak to the site as much as to their owners, he is increasingly focused on offering up his remarkable design chops for a broader clientele, because “good design should be available for every budget,” he says. 

Suffice it to say, Tsontakis’ prescient uncle, like so many of his clients, can hardly be more pleased.

Proving that good architecture enhances its surroundings, architect Nick Tsontakis created this Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired home in a gated community known for its classical-style villas. The recessed entryway separates the master wing from the bedroom wing.

Understated on the outside, the home offers all the top-notch amenities of its surrounding neighbors. The elegant kitchen sparkles with high-end appliances; sleek, modern cabinets; and luxurious finishes.
Set deep into the home, the showstopping glass-and-steel front entry door is centered between masonry columns with recessed lighting and metal plate motifs. A clerestory window above the door brings natural light into an elevated great room.

2018 Masters of the Southwest Award Winner

One of the words that frequently comes to mind when we see homes designed by Nick Tsontakis is “heroic.” The soaring lines, undulating curves, daring angles and gravity-defying features that distinguish his work often conquer site, architectural and engineering adversities with genius and bravery of vision. But the visual drama is never just for show. Running the gamut from traditional to Modern, a Tsontakis-designed structure is a celebration of site fueled by a singular creative force.

“Most of the homes that you look at and say, ‘That’s a Nick Tsontakis house’ are very open, very view-oriented,” says fellow architect and Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the
Southwest award winner Brent Kendle. “Not just open from space to space internally, but to the outdoors, which is something that really celebrates the lifestyle that we are blessed to have here in the Southwest.”

We love to see Nick in his element, confident and relaxed as his visions take shape around him. With his genuine smile and easy laugh, it’s obvious that he loves what he does, and that joy is contagious. “If I was to attribute anything to Nick’s success it’s probably his charisma and his ability to connect with people,” says Kendle.

Nick embodies the passion for his profession and enjoyment of life in the Sonoran Desert. We can’t wait to see what he creates next. It is our honor to call him a 2018 Master of the Southwest award winner. Congratulations, Nick!
-The Editors

Nestled against the side of the home is an outdoor patio with a fireplace and water feature. Exterior planters in the same masonry treatment extend beyond the house perimeter at descending levels to tie the home to its site.

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