A Casita Embraces Guests with Thoughtful Design
A 900-square-foot casita is a lesson in small-space design.
By Rebecca L. Rhoades | Photography by Scott Sandler
When most folks have guests come and stay, they direct them to a spare bedroom.
Not so for Iowa natives Lisa and D. Jay Ellis. In fact, the couple’s Rio Verde vacation home didn’t even have enough bedrooms for them and their three college-age sons, let alone visitors. “When we were looking for a new home, I said I wanted four bedrooms and a pool,” Lisa recalls. “We love the views from this house—that was the selling point for us—but it only has two bedrooms and no pool.” Looking out toward Mazatzal Peak, the house also backs up to the 15th hole of the Tonto Verde golf course, a feature that D. Jay, an avid golfer, appreciated.
Initially, the couple considered doing an interior remodel of the home to create additional sleeping and bathing areas, but after realizing that even that would not get them what they needed, they decided to make the most of their large backyard and add a casita. “I thought, let’s just do it the way we want. It will give us more room for when the kids are here, and we’ll have extra space and privacy,” Lisa explains.
After seeing work done on their neighbor’s home and other properties in the community, the Ellises decided to hire the design/build team of Kevin and Deborah Malone, both Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winners, and their daughter, Connor. “Their house just wasn’t working for them,” says Deborah. “But it was in a great location, and they knew it had potential.”
To make room for the 908-square-foot structure, the Malones expanded the Ellises’ backyard, taking advantage of a section of their property that was overgrown and unused and sat just outside of the perimeter wall. They reframed the yard and raised the height of the wall to obscure views from passing golf carts and a neighbor to the west.
When it came to the design of the casita, Lisa admits that she didn’t have many requirements. “I didn’t need anything over-the-top fancy,” she says. “I wanted some living areas and a little kitchen. We like to entertain and be around family, so having extra space was a big thing.”
What the couple got was a cozy retreat that sleeps up to seven—with a small living room, a kitchen, a bedroom and a bunk room inside and a substantial covered patio with outdoor dining and living zones—that’s not only stylish but that also meets the day-to-day needs of an active family. In addition, the Malones added a large barbecue area as well as a play pool and spa to the yard.
“The casita functions as a pool house and as a game house, and it can accommodate everybody who comes and visits,” says Deborah. “One of most important things Lisa and D. Jay needed was extra storage. Because they live so far away from grocery or big box stores, they required a place to put things when they do make a shopping run.” The kitchen features a walk-in pantry that offers plenty of additional room to store food and beverage items, toiletries and even plastic dishware and small appliances, freeing up valuable cabinet space in the main house and hiding clutter in the guest areas. Drawer space beneath the beds and a walk-in closet add to the casita’s overall roomy feel.
The decor is an eclectic mix of chic yet casual, with touches of farmhouse and industrial style. The soft linen-hued walls, accented with crisp white shiplap, serve as the perfect backdrop for vintage doors, custom fixtures and natural and faux woods. Instead of a tile backsplash in the kitchen, Connor recommended using shiplap to create subtle texture and add visual interest. “You can see shiplap everywhere, but when you leave it on its own to take up space on one wall or to underline cabinetry, it really makes an impact,” she explains. The minimalist material also allows a pair of antique turquoise doors from India to become a focal point of the living area.
Iron pendants above the bar complement a similar piece that hangs over the outdoor dining table. Finished to resemble wood, the fixtures are sturdy enough to withstand Arizona’s extreme temperatures. In the bathroom, Deborah created a custom 7-foot-long vanity light out of a wood beam, industrial pipe and exposed bulbs draped at varying heights.
“One of our biggest concerns with this project was the fact that people would be coming in and out of the casita, and being around water, you’re not sure if they really going to dry off before going inside,” Connor remarks. Porcelain tiles that mimic wood flooring run throughout structure. The indestructible surface material can hold up to large gatherings, desert sand and water from the pool with little to no maintenance. “Lisa really wanted wood floors and, while they’re beautiful, how long are they going to look that way? With this tile, she’ll never have to do anything to it—ever,” Deborah adds.
For Lisa, the entire design process couldn’t have been easier. “Deb and Connor made picking things out so simple,” she says. “They would lay out options, including flooring, countertops and cabinetry, and we would choose them together. I didn’t have to do much of anything.
“When you buy a new house, you just don’t know how you’re going to use it,” she continues. “Being in the home for a couple years gave us time to decide on what we really wanted to do to make it our own.”
Home and landscape designers/builders: Kevin and Deborah Malone, JP Malone Custom Homes. Interior Designers: Deborah and Connor Malone, JP Malone Custom Homes.
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