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A Contemporary Phoenix Home is Designed to Imbibe Views of Camelback Mountain

A linear fire pit warms the backyard of a Phoenix home, where patios and lawn serve as extensions of the living space. Set on a tight lot, the home’s design, with crisp angles softened by circles and curves, captures views of garden and mountain from almost every room.

A new home makes the most of its spot-on views of Camelback Mountain.

By Nora Burba Trulsson | Photography by Kevin Brost

From early-morning coffee in the breakfast alcove to evening drinks on the patio— and all the hours in between—a Phoenix couple can bask in up-close views of Camelback Mountain’s rust-hued cliffs and the picture-postcard vista of the Praying Monk, a landmark rock formation. “This is our little Sedona,” the wife says. “We never get tired of looking at the mountain.”

Before they could soak up the sandstone and granite views, the husband and wife embarked on a rebuilding adventure that began several years ago. The pair (she’s a community activist, he’s a retired physician) decided to downsize and sell their previous residence, where they had raised four children, which was also at the base of Camelback. “We love this neighborhood so much that we only looked a few blocks from our old house,” says the wife of their search for a new empty-nester abode. “We were lucky to find this place.”

Located in a community that was developed in the 1970s, the one-third-acre property they found featured a house of the same vintage. Debating whether to renovate or build new, the couple put together a talented team of seasoned professionals, including architect Brent Kendle, builder Greg Hunt, interior designer Paul Buys and landscape architect Steve Martino—the latter two of whom had worked on the pair’s previous dwelling.

“Once we walked through the house and the yard, we knew it was too much to just remodel,” explains Kendle. “The property was at the bottom of a slope, next to a guest parking area, so there was no privacy between people walking their dogs and parking cars,” the Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award-winning architect explains. “The house itself had several levels and a tortured floor plan that barely addressed the mountain.”

Kendle spent time on the site, pondering how to make the most of it. He also gave the homeowners a 22-page questionnaire about their likes, dislikes and lifestyle. “Brent really drilled down on what we needed,” the wife recalls. “We told him we wanted to be able to live outside as well as in, that we wanted a transparent house, all on one level, and that when we make a family dinner, it means there are 15 of us, plus seven dogs.”

Kendle created a 3,900-square-foot, three-bedroom floor plan in which nearly every space, including the master bathroom’s shower, has mountain views, with garden walls and an entry courtyard providing privacy from the street and neighbors. “This house is a study in opacity and transparency,” Kendle explains. “The door facing the street is sandblasted glass, so you don’t really know that it’s a courtyard behind it. Once you’re inside and you make a few turns, you see the mountain, thanks to the great room’s 14-foot-high glass walls.”

1. A low green wall and an exposed aggregate walkway, flanked by prickly pear cactus and ocotillo, lead to the sandblasted front door, which opens up to the courtyard. 2. Chevron-patterned wallpaper frames the entry hall, where the neutral tones of the area rug help set the interior’s color palette. 3. A patio off the dining room overlooks the entry courtyard and is warmed by a fire element that seemingly comes out of the rocks. 4. In the backyard, an oculus in the overhang offers a glimpse of the sky without blocking the home’s spot-on view of the Praying Monk rock formation on Camelback Mountain. The red wall serves as a focal point and offers privacy from the street at the upper end of the garden, while rebar posts provide glimpses of the neighborhood’s desert trees.

Builder Hunt was tasked with bringing Kendle’s designs to life, constructing the home with split-face block walls, vast expanses of windows and metal fascia on the deep overhangs that shelter the glass. “Because this was a pie-shaped, sloping lot with access only from the street, we had to build things in the right order, starting with the back,” Hunt remembers. “There wasn’t much room to bring in a backhoe. And with the modern design, there’s no room for error. You can’t cover things up with stucco.”

Kendle and Hunt worked together to instill the home with many design details, such as a narrow skylight that grazes the great room’s wall with shadow and light, the Douglas fir-clad ceilings that add warmth to the interior and subtle reveals in the ceiling that house recessed light fixtures. Kendle also worked in one of his signature touches—a back kitchen, hidden from view of the main cooking area, containing a coffee bar, pantry, storage and laundry at the far end.

“With the furniture and art we’ve had for years, it seems familiar, yet it’s new and refreshing.”

—The Homeowner

For interior designer Buys, no time was necessary to drill down on what the clients wanted. He’s known the wife since before her marriage, and many of the furnishings and artwork came from their previous home—for which he did the interior. “They’re almost like family,” Buys says of the couple. “I know that they like a comfortable, functional house that’s easy for family gatherings. They prefer a contemporary style, but with a sense of softness.”

Suggesting a backdrop that includes cement-hued porcelain tile flooring and deep-toned contemporary cabinetry, Buys pulled the neutral color palette from the entry’s custom area rug, warmed with gold and moss green. For the great room, he added a sofa with a curved back that echoes the curvature of the roof overhang, visible through the window wall.  To one side of the great room, a circular breakfast table reflects the overhang’s oculus—another Kendle touch.

Other pieces from the owner’s previous abode were reused, reupholstered or repurposed. “The family room’s ottomans are 9,000 years old,” quips Buys, who started his Phoenix career at Warner’s and recently moved to Palm Springs. “The dining table and chairs are about 40 years old, and the stone table on the patio was once a game table inside their old house. When you buy good, classic furniture, it lasts forever.”

Masters of the Southwest award-winning landscape architect Martino also knew the couple, having done their previous garden. For this home, they asked for easy maintenance, meaning no pool or water features.

1. A narrow skylight illuminates the living room wall with ever-changing shadow and light patterns. 2. A circular breakfast table and light fixture play off the home’s rectangular geometry. 3. A wallcovering featuring pale green lily pads adds a touch of nature to the powder room, where a floating vanity and a backlit mirror create drama. 4. In the master bedroom, the owners’ existing headboard was reupholstered to reflect the new home. Wool carpeting softens the space. 5. Three-dimensional tile provides a backdrop for the master bathroom’s soaking tub.

Before he could think about hardscape and plants, Martino had a few challenges to consider. “The site is basically a hole looking back up at the mountain,” says Martino, who recently moved his Phoenix studio to Tucson. “There were some drainage issues, and the backyard lacked privacy. People would walk on the street above and peer down the hill into the yard.”

Martino solved the issues and created a subtle, Zen-like setting that complements the architecture and the mountain. In front, a long walkway and low, green garden wall lead to the entry courtyard, around which the home’s wings wrap. Prickly pear, ocotillo and agaves sprout amidst the courtyard’s rough desert rocks, while a subtle gravel path—which does double duty to channel rainwater downhill—winds along the side of the house.

In back, Martino created a three-level setting to compensate for the yard’s slope: a patio close to the house, a lawn area for grandchildren and dogs and, at the top, a natural desert setting backed by a deep red wall. “The wall helps with privacy,” Martino explains, “as did adding more desert trees at the top of the lot. But we used rebar fencing on either side of the wall to keep things from seeming too closed off.”

The home was completed in 2019, in time for the couple to host a holiday party for their neighbors, with dozens of guests flowing indoors to out, as well as numerous family gatherings before masks and social distancing became the norms.

“We love this house and we love the mountain views,” the wife says. “With the furniture and art we’ve had for years, it seems familiar, yet it’s new and refreshing.”

Architect: Brent Kendle, Kendle Design Collaborative. Builder: Greg Hunt, GM Hunt Builders & Remodelers Inc. Interior designer: Paul Buys, Paul L. Buys & Assoc. Landscape architect: Steve Martino, Steve Martino Landscape Architect.

1. Working with a one-third-acre lot, the architect managed to angle in a three-car garage and provide privacy from the street without overwhelming curbside views of Camelback Mountain. 2. The entry courtyard, made private from the street by a curving block wall interspersed with sandblasted glass panels, is anchored by a marble sculpture, yuccas, agaves and an ironwood tree. Decomposed granite channels between the exposed aggregate pads are in keeping with the desert motif. b The sloping yard provided an opportunity to create three garden levels, including a strip of grass where grandchildren and dogs can romp. Vintage outdoor chairs offer a place for mountainside contemplation. 4. Copper-colored tile inset with stainless steel strips add gravitas to the living room’s fireplace. Furnishings—made up of new and vintage pieces—were grouped indoors and out to accommodate large gatherings of friends and family. 5. The spacious kitchen was designed for serious cooking and overflow seating during the homeowners’ frequent family dinners. The floating wood ceiling defines and adds intimacy to the space. To the right, a short hallway leads to a back kitchen, perfect for keeping the mess of a large party out of sight. 6. A cube of marble in the master bathroom vanity is a design feature that subtly addresses the homeowners’ height differences.
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