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A 1990s Adobe Gets a Crisp, Contemporary Update

A Lash McDaniel-designed house from the early 1990s reveals its contemporary Southwest lines. The exterior was updated with a gray hue, new hardscape and plantings.

A 1990s adobe-style home gets a crisp update.

By Nora Burba Trulsson | Photography by Scott Sandler

In ancient times (the mid-1980s to 1990s), an architectural style swept the Valley. It was a modernized riff on classic Pueblo Revival architecture—a revival of a revival, if you will—marked by sculpted adobe walls, uneven parapets and rambling floor plans, detailed with vigas, latillas, niches, Saltillo tile floors, flagstone patios and multiple  fireplaces. Architectural designer and Phoenix Home & Garden Master of the Southwest Lash McDaniel was at the fore of the movement and known for his organic, tactile approach to the style, which he made at once traditional, yet new.

When a circa-1991 McDaniel-designed residence came on the market in a North Scottsdale golf community, a New Jersey couple looking to make Arizona their permanent home jumped at the chance to buy. “We loved the community, and we loved the house,” says the husband. “But the interior was very traditional, very Southwest and a little closed off. We knew we were going to renovate.”

Through their real estate agent, the couple—who have grown children and are retired—found builder Joe Mierau. “I saw immediately that this wasn’t just going to be about replacing the tile flooring and ripping out the old kitchen cabinetry,” says Mierau, recalling his assessment of the 4,600-square-foot, four-bedroom abode. “To make this contemporary, we were looking at all new surfaces, removing walls and opening things up. We needed an interior designer on the project.”

Mierau reached out to Tony Sutton—also a Master of the Southwest—whose talents included not only furnishings and finishes, but also interior architecture and the ability to meld traditional with modern. “We wanted to keep that regional Southwest style that Lash did so well,” said Sutton, explaining the approach, “but to keep it more subtle, blending in contemporary elements for a fresh look.” 

Likening the renovation to working within a puzzle, Mierau and Sutton gutted the house. The kitchen and dining room swapped places, allowing the cooking space to have a cockpit-like location overlooking the front entry for more natural light and views, while the dining room—now sans walls—found a new home in the space between the living and family rooms. A staircase leading from the living room up to the kitchen and dining room was reworked with glass railings, and a heavy plastered staircase from the family room to guest bedrooms was replaced with a show-stopping set of steps, made with glass, oak and steel. The family room’s new floor-to-ceiling windows helped expand desert and mountain views. Out went the rustic tile flooring and heavily carved fireplaces, in went porcelain tile floors and sleek hearths that add drama.

1. Interior designer Tony Sutton and builder Joe Mierau transformed the living room with a dramatic, open fireplace, new flooring and  lighting. The original beams were painted a subtle silver. The owners found the contemporary painting during a trip to Las Vegas. 2. Viewed from the entry, the home’s main spaces were opened up. The staircase, transformed with glass railings, leads up to the dining room and kitchen. 3. During the renovation, the kitchen and dining room traded places, allowing the kitchen to be located overlooking the front walkway. Sleek cabinetry and dramatically patterned granite countertops make the most of the efficient space. 4. In the living room, a game table offers an alternative dining spot and overlooks the pool patio. The glass sculpture was also a Las Vegas find.

Says the husband, “The project took on a life of its own once the walls started coming down. We started seeing all of the possibilities.”

“We left no stone unturned,” agreed Sutton. “The new look with fewer walls gets even more light into the interior, thanks to Lash McDaniel’s use of big windows and the new ones we added. The house really has good framework and great touches, like, for example, the entry, which does not reveal the entire floor plan at once.”

“It’s still a regional look, but more subtle. This design was all about the unexpected solution, the surprise.”

—TONY SUTTON, interior designer

Sutton and Mierau pointed out a few of the renovation’s special details, including the living room’s original wood beams updated with a patinated silver hue and the master bathroom’s vanities, clad in backlit quartzite, which adds a glamorous glow. The kitchen, Sutton noted, is compact but efficient, its scale heightened through the use of dramatically patterned granite countertops and backsplash.

When it came to furnishings, Sutton heeded the owners’ request for a contemporary, yet comfortable look with plenty of gathering places for entertaining. In the living room, two deep sofas anchor a conversation area in front of the leathered granite-clad fireplace, which is open on three sides. A game table nearby offers an alternative eating area to the more formal dining room, up a half flight of steps. The family room’s custom sectional is the centerpiece of another lounging and conversation area in front of a steel-clad fireplace. To one side of the fireplace, a high-top wood slab community table was positioned to take advantage of the nearby bar—tucked into what was once a hallway—and the floor-to-ceiling window views.

Sutton and Mierau also made the backyard more friendly for gatherings. The pool was expanded into an L shape, and patios were stretched out, creating more space for furnishings and a new fire pit. Patio overhangs were also raised to allow for bigger vistas from inside the house. Additional plantings gave both the front and back landscapes a lusher look.

1. The dining room is located where the original—and enclosed—kitchen once stood. With the walls removed, it now links visually to the living room, dining room and patio. 2-3. In the master bedroom, silvery walls and bedding create a sense of quiet luxury. 4. Textured tile adds interest to the fireplace.

After 16 months of dust, drilling and hammering, the owners were able to move in and enjoy the fruits of the renovation. While the original Pueblo Revival-revival elements are still apparent, the home now has a crisper appeal. “There are so many great features in the house,” says the husband. “We’ve been able to entertain a lot and have friends stay with us. Nobody wants to leave. It’s a happy house.”

1. New fountains, a fire feature and a wall add privacy to the house and pool from the desert wash beyond. 2. The original adobe-style staircase to guest bedrooms was replaced with a glass and wood version that seemingly floats up the wall. A new window wall brings light and views into the family room, which was updated with a contemporary fireplace, featuring a reclaimed wood hearth. 3. Clean lines and clear views mark the family room, where a high-top table and bar stools invite socializing. 4. Backlit quartzite walls and countertops on the symmetrical vanities frame the master bath’s freestanding tub, which has views of a private garden.

Original architectural designer: Lash McDaniel, Lash McDaniel Studio, Phoenix, (480) 297-7116. Renovation interior designer: Tony Sutton, Est Est, Inc., Scottsdale, Renovation builder: Joe Mierau, JCM Builders, Scottsdale,

LIVING ROOM—Sofas: Lounge chairs: Coffee table: Game table: Game chairs: Light fixtures: Hinkley’s Lighting, Scottsdale,

ENTRY—Mirror: Art Solutions & Installations, Scottsdale, Console:

KITCHEN—Cabinetry: F1 Cabinets & Furniture, Phoenix, Countertops: The Stone Collection, Phoenix, Appliances: Barstools:

PATIOS—Furniture:;; Plantings: Resortscapes, Inc., Carefree, (480) 250-7708.

DINING ROOM—Table: Chairs: Buffet: Buffet top: Fine Line Fabricating, Phoenix, Light fixture:

FAMILY ROOM—Sectional (custom): design by; fabricated by European Custom Upholstery, Phoenix, Coffee table and high-top table: (custom): design by; fabricated by Ironwood Mills, Phoenix, Swivel chairs: Alexander Sinclair, Scottsdale,

MASTER BEDROOM—Bed and bench: Console: Recliners: Nightstands: Light fixtures: Hinkley’s Lighting, Scottsdale,


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