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A Home in Harmony

As the sun sets in the desert sky, two grand saguaros are reflected in the home’s resort-style pool, making for a breathtaking scene.

With stunning mountain views, a North Scottsdale abode takes its cues from the surrounding Sonoran Desert.

By Michelle Jacoby | Photography by Dino Tonn

“A cactus bloom is beyond any bloom,” renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright once said about the natural wonders of the desert. “The desperate nature of the armed plant and the exquisite, beautiful efflorescence it produces.”

Wright’s insightful appreciation of the Southwest’s arid landscape and its boundless beauty is a resounding theme for a magnificent home nestled in the exclusive North Scottsdale enclave of Mirabel. With sweeping views of distant mountain ranges, the home melds harmoniously with its environment, seemingly at one with the nature that surrounds it.

One of the home’s distinguishing exterior features is its gray stacked-stone facade, which lends a more contemporary feel to the structure. A large organ pipe cactus stands sentry at the entrance, drawing the eye up toward the flagpole.

The homeowners, a couple from the East Coast who split their time between Connecticut and Arizona, have always had a connection with the desert. Before building their Valley abode and moving in last year, they had a home in La Quinta, California, near Palm Springs, where the wife’s family had regularly visited since the 1960s.

“While we loved our home there, I like to refer to that area as the ‘Hollywood’ desert and Arizona as the real desert,” the husband laughs.

Designed by architect Erik Peterson, a Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner and, fittingly, a former student of Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin Architects, the home was inspired in most part by the clubhouse at Mirabel Golf Club, where the couple and their two sons, all avid golfers, regularly play.

“Mirabel’s clubhouse is known as the ‘desert lodge,’” Peterson says. “The clients wanted a lot of that character and detail, but, of course, they didn’t want to copy it. Their house had to have its own look, feel and character customized to them.”

Joining Peterson in creating this desert dream was interior designer Beth McGehee and builder Dan Couturier. “My wife and I had big hopes and high expectations; the team blew those all away,” the husband says.

1. A spiky aloe ‘Hercules’ and and a multi-armed Euphorbia ingens are just two of the unique species Norris added to the property. 2. To establish the home’s contemporary desert feel immediately upon arrival, landscape designer Chad Norris created a dramatic vignette alongside the driveway featuring a distinctive Argentine toothpick cactus surrounded by a smattering of golden barrel cacti, agaves, boulders and a large mesquite tree.

The home, which sprawls over a generous lot on the edge of the golf course, welcomes with its unique gray stacked stone facade, at once rugged, yet unmistakably refined. “The gray stone is a break from the traditional brown tones and is not used that often,” notes Couturier. “The owners selected it, and we were all quite happy with the results. It works very well with the dark gray slate roof and the weathered wood on the exterior.”

1. A floor-to-ceiling fireplace constructed of limestone, wood and metal commands attention in the great room. Clerestory windows let in natural light. 2. Able to seat 12 comfortably, the dining room speaks to the couple’s contemporary side. A custom-made concrete dining table is surrounded by leather director-style chairs. A playful painting by artist America Martin brings a burst of color to the room’s neutral palette. 3. In the home’s entrance, a spherical, metal light fixture casts a glow on a baby grand piano, while underfoot, a line-patterned rug leads to a glass-enclosed wine room that is filled from top to bottom with the homeowners’ favorite vintages.

Lush gardens, created by Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award-winning landscape designer Chad Norris, celebrate the beauty of the natural terrain with grand cacti, succulent desert plants and native trees.

“This type of landscape accentuates the desert palette and lifestyle in a way that many part-time residents crave. They want to showcase their fantastic home with an equally impressive plantscape,” he says.

The home’s entryway opens to a voluminous sweep of a great room comprising the living space and adjoining gourmet kitchen. The room has a barnlike feel thanks to its high ceilings crowned with rustic wood beams; a floor-to-ceiling fireplace faced with limestone, wood and metal; and a span of clerestory windows that welcomes in the desert landscape and sky.

1. At the heart of the house is an open great room comprising the living room and adjoining kitchen. Rustic wood beams, stone floors, and wood and metal accents give the home a “desert lodge” feel. Furnishings in leather and cowhide add a classic Southwest touch. 2. The home’s mix of contemporary and rustic materials shines in the master bath, where concrete walls and metal accents blend harmoniously with wood-beam ceilings and textured wood cabinets. Also making a statement are a cast iron slipper tub with metal skirt and rivets and the indoor/outdoor shower encased in metal and glass.

In the powder room, a reclaimed natural-stone trough sink atop a custom-made metal base is an eye-catching feature. Reclaimed wood panels line the walls.

At the center of it all is a breathtaking, glass-enclosed wine room filled from top to bottom with much-loved vintages from the homeowners’ collection.

“They’re passionate about wine,” McGehee says. “While the wine room is the focal point, it also provides connectivity. It can be viewed from the living room, kitchen and dining room.”

The main living volume separates the master suite—complete with luxurious bedroom and bath, home gym and private garden—from the other wing of the house, which includes two bedrooms, a game room and a guest casita featuring a private outdoor space with fireplace and comfortable seating.

When designing the interior, McGehee wanted the home to truly reflect the homeowners’ vision of a desert lodge. “To accomplish that, we used a lot of textural materials. Large-format stone floors carry inside and out, accented by reclaimed wood beams, leathered quartz countertops and metal details. Even though there’s a varying mixture of materials, the home still feels cozy.”

McGehee also chose a neutral color palette of browns, grays and muted whites to allow furnishings and artwork to stand out. For instance, pops of rust and copper are found in the living room furniture, while industrial-style light fixtures in the kitchen hint at a vibrant mix of hues inspired by street graffiti.

“This type of landscape accentuates the desert palette and lifestyle in a way that many part-time residents crave.”

CHAD NORRIS, landscape designer

1. Located outside the casita, a private seating area with a plush bench swing treats guests to a serene space all their own. 2. Visitors and guests immediately feel welcome at this under-the-stars seating nook near the front entrance. Contemporary-style furnishings in a complementary mix of wood and stone make this the perfect place for an after-dinner cordial or cocktail by the fire. 3. An intimate “garden” brings a Zen-like feel to the north wing of the home. Large windows look out to a calming water feature surrounded by low ground cover and a mix of desert plants and cacti. “The water feature is such a focal point of this unique area that it provides true separation of the master suite to the rest of the home,” says McGehee.

1. A one-of-a-kind vintage gate makes the perfect door to enclose an exterior storage room. 2. Compact golden barrels, agaves, yuccas and flowering groundcover allow the tall organ pipe cactus to shine. 3. Designed to be a true hangout, the outdoor patio is comfortable and relaxing yet luxurious and grand. A grill and cooking area are conveniently an open window away from the kitchen.

The palette also provides a soothing backdrop for the couple’s inspiring and eclectic art collection. “We don’t just follow one style in art; we just go with our gut,” the wife says. “For this home, we have pieces by artist Ron Schwerin, who specializes in still lifes and portraits, and large-scale works by painter and sculptor America Martin that truly are spectacular.”

As welcoming as the interior of the home is, the backyard was designed to celebrate gatherings in true Southwest style. An outdoor kitchen, which connects with its indoor counterpart through a large picture window, features a full-size grill and cooking station. Copious seating is available for everything from intimate gatherings to large parties, from the covered patio with fireplace and big-screen TV; to a cozy conversation area complete with another fireplace at the front of the house; to the elevated fire pit area rivaled only by the stunning desert views; to the oversized, reclining chaise lounges flanking the crystal-blue rectangular pool.

“The design—from start to finish—was a team effort,” says Couturier. “The owners gave Peterson and McGehee the freedom to be creative and allowed all of us to offer ideas to make this a very special home.”

Thanks to ample seating, from the barstools at the kitchen counter and high-top dining table to the oversize sectional in front of the outdoor fireplace, there’s always a “best seat in the house.”

Lush, colorful plants blanket the grounds around the home. Golden barrels, crested myrtillocactus, gopher plants, artichoke agaves, hearts and flowers, and purple heart bring texture to the space.

“Even though there’s a varying mix of materials, the home still feels cozy.”

BETH McGEHEE, interior designer

But what truly makes the home unique are the thoughtful and personal details found throughout. For example, in the landscape, plant markers display the names of each specimen, a fun way to help guests, especially those from out of state, identify each plant. “Desert Botanical Garden is a must-see for people from out of town,” notes Norris. “After we began working on this project, with its wide variety of specimen cacti and unique features, that we decided that we should add descriptive plaques to create our own private botanical garden.” Along the rear perimeter wall, looking out toward the home’s spectacular vista, is a custom-made sign similar to those found at touristic scenic viewpoints that points out the many mountain ranges that surround the home.

“All these things tell a story,” the husband says. “Whether it’s the beauty of the desert, the history of Arizona, momentous times in our family’s life—whatever it is, we want people to embrace it so they’ll be that much more excited about visiting this wonderful place.”

For more information, see Sources.

A marker in the backyard orients guests to the surrounding landscape and mountain ranges. “It’s similar to what you’d find at an observation area or lookout point somewhere such as a national park,” the husband says. “I learned the names of the mountain ranges and I wanted to share that appreciation with our guests.”

1. The rectangular pool protrudes past the backyard’s walls, creating the sensation of swimming into the desert. The coping is a gray slate tile that carries throughout the entire patio. 2. With the gorgeous desert view as its backdrop, a raised patio beckons friends and family to settle in by a roaring fire. Custom-made wood chairs complement the contemporary stone floors, while the original lot marker built into the stacked stone accents provides added interest.


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