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A Couple Embraces Sonoran Style in their North Scottsdale Vacation Retreat

The homeowners love to entertain, so having a multifunctional great room was important to them. The large sunken space features multiple seating configurations for conversations and games, as well as a bar with plenty of stools for guests.

A couple embraces Sonoran style in their North Scottsdale vacation retreat.

By Rebecca L. Rhoades | Photography by Mark Lipczynski

When it comes to architecture and interior design, the Sonoran Desert could not be further from Wisconsin. Dotting the Valley’s landscape are adobes; flat-roofed, ranch-style dwellings; and modernist rammed earth-and-glass structures that can withstand the hot, arid environment. By contrast, the Badger State is home to a large number of Craftsman bungalows, colonials and Cape Cod-style houses. Even Frank Lloyd Wright, who had residences in both states, altered his designs to harmonize with each locale’s topography—from his desert masonry abodes in Arizona to his brick-and-wood Prairie houses on the shores of Lake Michigan.

That’s why, when a Wisconsin couple decided to purchase a vacation home in North Scottsdale’s Desert Mountain, they were in search of something that spoke of its unique surroundings.

What they found was a sprawling compound comprising a large main house and three outbuildings designed by late architect Shelby Wilson. Although the home was 30 years old, its clean lines, large expanses of windows, and meticulous use of organic materials—including ledgestone inside and out, copper fascia and detailing, and warm wood floors and ceilings—gave it timeless allure. And, in an unusual twist, the home came partially furnished.

“The architectural design of the house is a bit of a nod to the Frank Lloyd Wright-ish look that we were attracted to, and it was furnished in a way that was appealing to us,” the husband explains. “We didn’t have to rush. We were able to live in it for a while and get a feel for what we really wanted.”

When they were ready to complete the decor of their new home, the couple brought in Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award-winning interior designer Mary Meinz—who also happens to be a former Wisconsinite. “It’s always charming to work with clientele from the Midwest because I know what they’re used to,” Meinz notes. “I moved to Phoenix from Milwaukee 16 years ago, so I understand the learning curve when you get out here. You can’t transplant a Midwest aesthetic to the Southwest, and vice versa.”

Meinz worked with the existing furniture, replacing items that didn’t suit the homeowners, adding new ones that complement the architecture and filling in empty spaces. The goal was to create living areas that are elegant, comfortable and, most of all, able to accommodate the couple’s large family. “It helped that we were able to keep some of the furnishings, but now they’re in different presentations and different arrangements,” the husband remarks. His wife agrees. “Mary was really good at using some of the pieces, rearranging things and adding new items,” she adds. “She made this our special place.”

1. Low-profile wood-framed chairs, a petrified wood table and a hand-woven wool rug add texture and visual interest to one of the home’s many soaring stone fireplaces. The wall art is an original work by Alexander Calder. 2. Meinz juxtaposed an oversized contemporary floor lamp with a pair of low-slung woven nest chairs and a petite S-shaped accent table to create a cozy seating nook near the wine cellar. 3. The custom dining table was handcrafted by Phoenix artisan Peter Thomas. A pair of 13-foot-long slabs of American black walnut were inverted so their live edges faced inwards and connected with a “river” of glass. “You can’t put ordinary furnishings in a space like this. It wouldn’t be fitting,” Meinz says. “This table has a sense of nature that works really well with the stone.” 4. A sleek wood console table, a pair of leather-cushioned X-based ottomans and a coral-hued painting add interest to a transition space between the kitchen and dining room. Meinz upholstered the contemporary dining chairs in a fun, patterned fabric that echoes the stacked stone walls. “It’s a beautiful setting,” she says of the sun-filled room. “We didn’t even use an area rug because the table is on the original stone floor.” 5. A granite standalone tub is the centerpiece of the master bathroom. Meinz left the large windows unadorned in order to maximize the private views.

The interior designer brought in custom oversized sofas, expansive area rugs and a one-of-kind dining table. Statement upholstered elements in animal prints and bold pumpkin orange pop against the home’s neutral color palette. “We don’t want run-of-the-mill pieces that you can see in every magazine,” the wife explains. “They need to be comfortable but to also have that ‘wow’ factor.” The husband elaborates, “Take a Wendell Castle chair, for example. I can respect that as an art form, but it’s not always inviting. There’s a fine line between art and function.”

The versatile great room features two plush seating areas: one focused on the towering stone fireplace; the other on the TV. “The room is huge, but I wanted the couple to be able to use all of it,” Meinz says. 

To fill in the void created by a pair of cream sofas and two gray wingback chairs, the interior designer added a trio of coffee tables, each 60 inches long by 30 inches wide, that together form one large surface. Across the room, a 14-foot-long sofa is the perfect spot for enjoying a movie or sporting event. “It’s fun to have 15 people on the couch playing charades, or something like that,” the husband notes.

1. Deep oversized armchairs in a rich pumpkin orange complement the warm wood shelving in the library and provide the perfect spot to curl up with a good book. For a touch of whimsy, interior designer Mary Meinz added bird-leg accent table. 2. A custom sectional faces the TV in the living room and provides copious seating for parties and family gatherings. It measures 14 feet on its longest side. A tufted zebra-print ottoman is a perfect companion to the neutral hues and orange accents. 3. A plant-filled atrium leads to the master bedroom wing. The doors at the far end access the backyard and the husband’s office. The French doors on the right open to lush garden.

Just steps from the great room is the dining room, which is framed by floor-to-ceiling glass doors that look out to a covered patio. A true showcase piece, the custom table was crafted locally from a slab of live-edge American black walnut, glass and hot rolled steel. It measures 13 feet long and seats 12. “You can’t put ordinary things in a space like this because they wouldn’t be fitting,” Meinz points out. “This table works perfectly because it has an organic feel to it. Its sense of nature complements the stone seen throughout the house.”

Around the corner from the kitchen and past the dining room is another large area for entertaining and family gatherings. Meinz segmented the room into four gathering spots: a built-in bar, a game table that seats four, an intimate conversation area with four cozy leather chairs, and a stylish fireplace nook. A pair of graceful contemporary chairs with geometric open framework and orange cushions provide visual interest without taking away from the stone mantle and bold adjacent artwork. “The multiple fireplaces in the house are important,” Meinz says. “The couple comes here mainly in the winter, so they are going to have fires, and they want a comfy and inviting enclave.” A coffee table made of petrified wood adds to the setting’s drama. “The petrified wood pairs nicely with the exotic wood chairs, and it all lives upon this rather neutral but interesting handmade wool rug in front of all this stone,” Meinz continues. “There’s a lot of texture going on, but it all works together.”

1. Texture and color reign in this minimalist guest bedroom. The upholstered ottoman at the end of the bed echoes the room’s orange color palette. The leather-wrapped wire-framed chairs “are as tall as they are wide. They’re like boxes,” Meinz notes. The painting is another original piece by Calder. 2. Meinz used large furnishings to give the massive living spaces a more approachable scale. For example, the coffee table comprises three 60-inch-long by 30-inch-wide tables, which the designer topped with a 5-foot-long wood chain artifact. Orange accents tie in with the organic color palette used throughout the home. In the kitchen, the homeowners’ white dishware, displayed on open shelves, lightens the enclosed room.

While most of the fixtures, cabinetry and finishes in the main house remained untouched, two of the outbuildings underwent major renovations. An art studio was converted to an office, with large picture windows that overlook the nearby golf course, while another structure—a former workshop—became a casita. Meinz added windows and glass panels around the front door, closets, new flooring and casual furnishings for sleeping and unwinding, and remodeled the bathroom, creating a comfortable space for guests.

“This house is what I call very collected and layered,” Meinz says. “It’s a big piece of property with all these different entities and places of respite. Even if it were empty, the architecture would be equally as beautiful as it is now. It had personality on day one before we even did anything to it.”

With an artistic look and feel that is befitting of its desert environment—and enough space to host children, grandchildren and friends—the home is now the relaxing family-friendly retreat that the couple were seeking. As such, they find themselves spending more and more time in Arizona. “The house is large, but it’s actually comfortable,” the husband says. “Any kind of anxiety that might have existed just drops down when you walk in the front door. And our kids feel the same way. It’s always a pleasure to see my wife walk into this house after we’ve been gone for a while and just take a deep breath and say, ‘Oh, I love this place.’”

Architect: Shelby Wilson. Shelby Wilson Architect. Interior designer: Mary Meinz, Mary Meinz Design.
For more information, see Sources.


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