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A Couple Transforms Their Dark, Dated Home into a Bright, Modern Retreat

The extensive remodel of a Paradise Valley estate brightens a once-dark home and creates an inviting haven for its new owners.

By Linda J. Barkman | Photography by Roehner + Ryan

Captivated by the privacy a secluded 1980s estate in Paradise Valley offered, a couple relocating from Dallas purchased the 1.1-acre property in spite of the dark, dated and dreary house that occupied it and sought the expertise of The Construction Zone to turn it into their dream home. “We debated about doing a tear-down versus an intense remodel,” notes architect Matt Muller, who was the partner in charge of the project, from design and concept development to general contracting and building. “When you do a renovation it has to feel like it was worth it.”

Once it was decided to proceed with the redux option, Muller set to work developing a design concept and applying for permits. The next order of business was to take the existing 3,760-square-foot dwelling down to the studs on the interior and put in all new plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems. Then the fun of creating began. “One of the key goals was to connect the previously dark interior to natural light and the existing mature native landscape,” Muller notes. This was achieved in part by replacing bulky, low-slung overhangs with airy shade structures and introducing floor-to-ceiling expanses of glass in the kitchen, living room and master bedroom. To connect the main living spaces, interior walls separating the kitchen, living and dining areas were removed, and the orientation of the kitchen was flopped, creating a great room.

“We also removed some of the skin of the house to allow more light to come in and to connect various spaces with the outdoors,” he adds. This included installing a large piece of glass in the wall over the front door and putting in a huge window overlooking the backyard in the angled hallway linking the living area to the bedroom and office wing.

In addition, Muller worked with Flo Design + Construction to refresh existing patios, augment and enhance the native plants on the property and insert a 75-foot-long lap pool into the landscape. “The homeowners’ first inclination was to put the pool at the front of the property, but I convinced them to put it in the backyard, where it could be enjoyed from inside the residence and from the patios as a visual element,” Muller says.

1. A large piece of glass was added above the front door to let light into the once-dark interior space. Floors here and throughout are terracotta tiles from Granada, Spain. The lower wall portions are clad in granite from South America, which begins outdoors and continues inside. Ceilings are clad in wood planks laid in a herringbone pattern that salutes the 45-degree angles that are inherent to the structure. 2. The main living space combines sitting and dining areas. A vertical granite fireplace topped with hot rolled steel is flanked by large sections of glass looking out to the backyard.

Noting that 45-degree angles existed in the floor plan and general footprint of the abode, which the homeowners were locked into keeping, Muller points out, they opted to play off these angles rather than fight them. Paying tribute to those geometries, the front door, as well as ceilings in several rooms, are clad in wood planks laid in a herringbone pattern. In the bedroom wing, an irregular triangular-shaped space that remained after enlarging one bedroom and eliminating another became an office, where furniture placement wasn’t a problem. And throughout, “unique volumes of the house call out its 45-degree nature, so it becomes very compositional,” he describes. 

“There are single and double-height spaces. There are also some sloped roofs that are visible, and we clad those with a light-gauge metal to break of some of the white volumes. That was found stuff. We were just trying to clean it up and make it better.”

1. The orientation of the previously closed-in kitchen was flipped to face the living/dining space. “Now it’s a great room,” architect Matt Muller remarks. The 20-foot-long island has an overhang on its left end to accommodate seating. The L-shaped bank of white oak cabinetry to the right boasts a corner china cabinet with built in LED lighting. Window recesses are wrapped in steel. 2. The refreshed back patio, once covered with a bulky overhang, now boasts an airy beam and slotted-steel trellis overhang that doesn’t block the natural light and creates a sense of compression without confinement. 3. A lap pool added to the backyard was situated so it could be viewed from inside the house as well as from patios. Adjacent to it is a large square hot tub. “You can see the angular geometry of the house from here,” points out Muller. “Unique volumes call out its 45-degree nature, so it becomes very compositional.” 4. A pathway of concrete with exposed aggregate leads from the back patio to a secondary sitting area with a fire pit. “As a landscape matures, it creates separation between areas with different functions. In this case that’s the trellised patio, the hot tub area and the sitting area with the fire pit,” explains Muller.

Further enhancing the appearance of the dwelling, the once dark-camel exterior and dingy interior are now painted white, and the dominant materials flow from indoors to out. These include: granite from South America used for select wall portions; 15.5-inch square terra cotta tiles made in Granada, Spain, used for flooring throughout; along with glass, metal, wood and drywall.

The house also showcases hand-painted ceramic tiles in a mix of solid colors and patterns that the homeowners had custom-made by artisans in Granada for the bathrooms of the home. “My partner says if you’re going to do something unique, do it 100% in order to create impact,” Muller comments. “So we used it in the bathrooms, doing it like a quilt in the master bath—wall to wall, floor to ceiling, and wrapping around the corner onto the walls of the shower. It’s totally ‘them,’ and they love it.”

When asked about surprising discoveries, which are not foreign to remodels, Muller says he realized after starting the project that there was a water collection problem in the backyard. “After it rained a few times we could see evidence of that against the house,” he recalls. “There was nowhere for the water to go when it came off the roof.” His solution was to create a collection point to capture the rainwater by digging a large hole in the yard and strategically placing huge boulders around its perimeter accented with plants pocketed in around them. A hidden pipe in the bottom of the hole directs the water away from the house. “It creates a very neat landscape feature that resembles a cenote in Mexico when it rains,’’ Muller points out.

As for the decision to remodel, Muller says, “When it was done, we felt like we did just the right amount to make it look and feel like a new house. That was the mission, and the homeowners still text me pictures of things they love.”

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