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A Modern Landscape for Recreation and Relaxation

With its low-clutter plant palette and zero-maintenance synthetic turf, this contemporary landscape is the perfect escape for a couple who savor their time outdoors. Pool and landscape designer Kirk Bianchi devised a cantilevered structure, which echoes the character of the home’s architecture, to shade a sitting area and the built-in barbecue.

In the shadows of the Superstition Mountains, a desert modern home and landscape embrace their rural setting.

By Nancy Erdmann | Photography by Michael Woodall

Located about 30 minutes east of Phoenix, Apache Junction is an ideal spot to enjoy wide-open spaces and connect with nature. When avid recreational vehicle enthusiasts Megan and Vance Abshire decided to sell their Ahwatukee residence, they saw the former mining town as a viable location for their next home, particularly because they would be able to park their RVs on their own property, something they couldn’t do at their suburban dwelling.

The couple purchased a 1.25-acre lot on the eastern edge of the city and contacted architect Andy Byrnes to design and build their house. “We are big fans of desert modern style, and that’s the look we were going for,” Vance notes.

Known for his innovative, minimalist aesthetic, Byrnes designed an organic abode constructed of masonry block, rammed earth, glass and steel that blends into its rugged setting while featuring unparalleled vistas of the nearby Superstition Mountains. He notes that, from the start, one of the Abshires’ main requirements was to have a place to station two full-size RVs, so he added a massive covered structure, similar to a carport, that spans the entire east side of the residence and shades the vehicles while also masking a nearby house. Thirty-eight solar panels installed on its metal roof generate enough electricity to power the home’s interiors. “Along with a solar water heater, we could pretty much live off the grid if we wanted to,” Megan explains.

When it came to their outdoor spaces, the low-key couple had two main requests: the addition of a hot tub and a simple, low-maintenance yard without a lot of trees. However, after meeting with pool and landscape designer Kirk Bianchi, a Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner, they decided to enhance the functionality of their property by incorporating a swimming pool with a built-in spa. A shade structure, two fire features, a barbecue island, sitting areas and outdoor storage also were added into the mix.

Because the ground is mostly flat, Bianchi added height and interest though his design elements. “The backyard faces the southwest and is heavily exposed to the sun, it was in dire need of shade,” he recalls. “So I echoed the character of the home’s steel construction with a gravity-defying structure that cantilevers over a portion of the patio adjacent to the pool.” The form’s support columns extend beyond the confines of the patio, allowing for a seamless view through the yard. A series of block walls with long horizontal slot openings provides privacy while still offering glimpses of sunsets and the city lights at night.

“There is a subliminal orderliness to the landscape, and every element of it aligns to some characteristic of the architecture.”

—Kirk Bianchi, pool and landscape designer

1. Senita cacti surrounded by rows of artichoke agaves are in full view from the home’s glassed-in foyer. 2. In the front yard, a concrete-and-steel wall portal frames the entryway.

“There is a subliminal orderliness to the landscape, and every element of it aligns to some characteristic of the architecture,” Bianchi points out. “Also, there are ratios of proportioning used. For instance, the yard is two times as long as it is wide. So is the pool. This follows a system used by the Japanese in their designs. Though the layout is simple, everything is carefully synchronized.”

Because Megan and Vance decided against a garage and instead opted for covered parking, Bianchi needed to a creative space to stow belongings and equipment. Vance explains, “I drive an electric car and storing it in a hot garage takes too long for it to cool down. It does much better under the open air of the carport.” The homeowner and designer came up with the idea of situating a portable mini mobile unit on the property. In addition to its main purpose, it also blocks the view of a neighboring pink adobe house and serves as a unique landscape element. Sandblasted and sprayed with a mix of hydrogen peroxide and water, the structure’s corrugated steel walls turned a brilliant shade of rusty orange. In front of it, Bianchi planted a distinctive ironwood tree that, when lit at night, casts shadows onto the wall.

“These days, we feel as though we’re living in a resort out in the country. What we got in the end is the perfect mix of modern style and great design.”

—Vance Abshire, homeowner

1. The home’s floor-to-ceiling glass walls look out to an open-concept backyard, which includes a fire pit clad in porcelain tile that resembles steel and strips of faux grass that visually separate the spaces. Horizontal peek-a-boo openings in the block patio wall add a layer of interest. 2. A mini mobile unit used to store items that would normally go into a garage serves as a dramatic focal point in the backyard. Made of corrugated rusted steel, the 40-foot-long structure is softened by an ironwood tree and sculptural desert flora. 3. Situated in the open desert on a raised pad behind the pool wall, this sitting area is outfitted with furniture that homeowners Megan and Vance Abshire designed and built using four-by-eights screwed together. A concrete block fire pit echoes the architectural style of the residence. 4. The shade structure’s eye-catching “spider leg” columns are constructed of hot-rolled steel, providing a defining element in the landscape.

Synthetic turf throughout much of the backyard keeps the space from looking too barren and visually cools the landscape. “Artificial grass has become so believable in its appearance that it’s now an integral part of most of my designs,” Bianchi remarks. “I only put down hard surfaces in spaces where a client might be moving furniture around.” Throughout the front and back yards, sculptural desert vegetation, such as Yucca rostradas, senitas and artichoke agaves, are placed in rows, while the pencil-like stems of lady’s-slippers and candelilla plants create a grassland effect. Megan and Vance chose to start with small specimens, allowing them to grow in at their own rate. The designer adds, “I used ocotillos as more airy but vertical forms to disguise lamp posts so that we could get discreet down lighting out in the garden without having to add path fixtures.”

Now that their property has had some time to mature, the Abshires couldn’t be happier that they took a chance on the rural location. “Our yard looked like the surface of Mars when we first moved in,” Vance remembers. “These days, we feel as though we’re living in a resort out in the country. What we got in the end is the perfect mix of modern style and great design.”

Architect and Builder: Andy Byrnes, The Construction Zone. Pool and landscape designer: Kirk Bianchi, Bianchi Design.

For more information, see Sources.

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