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A Newly Retired Couple Finds Their Perfect Indoor/Outdoor Haven in North Scottsdale

Carefully orchestrated landscaping enhances the home’s striking front entrance, drawing attention to the eye-catching architecture. The sloping driveway, fashioned from multihued pavers, adds another layer of visual interest to the entryway.

Landscape vignettes deliver a picture-perfect backdrop for desert living.

By Marilyn Hawkes | Photography by Michael Woodall

At the end of a meandering road in north Scottsdale’s Desert Mountain community, Scott and Lisa Grimmett’s stately home provides a secluded and peaceful desert sanctuary for the newly retired couple. 

After moving around the country for 40 years during his career, the former grocery industry executive and his wife chose to call Arizona home. “We looked at all the states across the bottom half of the United States, from Florida to California,” Scott explains. Ultimately, they decided on Arizona for the sunshine and proximity to mountains and national parks.

The Grimmetts bought the 20-year-old Desert Mountain home at the end of 2017, while living in upstate New York. They remodeled the inside of the house while living out of state, and then turned their focus to the exteriors, which had been somewhat neglected for several years while the house was on the market.

When reimagining the landscape, Scott wanted a modern look to draw attention to the home’s contemporary architecture, which features a dramatic entrance with four square columns supporting two rainbow-shaped arches. “I wanted the gardens to be abundant, yet have a modern feel, with some uniformity,” he says. 

On the advice of a friend, the Grimmetts chose Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award-winning landscape designer Chad Norris to carry out the project. “I gave Chad a couple of simple ideas, and he did everything else,” Scott says. 

While creating a design plan, Norris takes in the big picture, and then creates a combination of vignettes. “Each focal point or vignette should stand on its own, but when you step back and see multiple vignettes at once, they all have to tie into each other and create some continuity,” he says.

Walking the property, Norris noted that the home was much more elevated than the street with a sloping driveway of multihued pavers, with additional steps to the main entry. “The front elevation had a big presence about it, but there was no other verticality or complementary landscape features to accentuate it,” Norris says. “I wanted to put something at the front entry that made a statement.”

1. A yucca rostrada, fencepost cacti, agave and purple lantana take root in soil covered with polished black beach pebbles, adding to the contemporary look. A mirror image sits on the left side of the walkway, providing symmetry. 2. Clusters of saguaro cacti stand tall on both sides of the retaining wall offering a vertical counterpoint to the home’s curved bronze arches. Before the renovation, the home’s white columns were covered with faux stacked stone, which was replaced with porcelain tile.

To remedy, Norris planted a grouping of sentrylike Mexican fencepost cacti (Pachycereus marginatus) on the left side of the front door and a mirror image opposite to create an appealing vertical viewpoint and symmetry. Continuing the theme, he installed blue yucca rostrada in planters on either side of the walkway fronted by Murphy agaves (Agave murpheyi), their tips reaching upward. Next to the steps, he also placed a mature organ pipe cactus surrounded by other cacti and plant materials.

1. A grouping of golden barrel cacti, Moroccan mounds and agaves bump up to a multi-armed organ pipe cactus at the home’s entryway, creating what Norris describes as living artwork. 2. Steps leading to the front entrance are flanked by groupings of cactus, with an occasional accent of purple lantana to add color. 3. Norris installed mesquite trees to soften the left side of the home, which had little foliage. Boulders are positioned next to the sloping driveway to keep the soil, cacti and other plants in place. 4. Elevated pads guide the eye to the backyard pool’s negative edge. The natural desert beyond provides a dramatic backdrop.

The entryway’s floor-to-ceiling glass front door is flanked by two windows of the same height. With specially placed lighting, the homeowners can view the front landscaping vignettes at night, which helps the interior feel cozy, Norris says.

Norris kept the perimeter of the home as natural as possible, per Desert Mountain HOA guidelines. “They don’t want the landscaping to look too contrived,” he says. “We did some selective removal, but the grounds transition from natural, undisturbed desert to enhanced desert, which is cleaned up and trimmed a bit.”

Nearly all the landscaping is low maintenance, a feature the homeowners appreciate. “Most of the plant material is slow-growing or doesn’t require any pruning,” Norris notes. “The irrigation system is specific to the cactus, trees, plants and native desert, and we can regulate each of those requirements differently.”

For continuity, the large square tiles that start at the front entry are carried through the house and then continue into the backyard. “My landscape design, in many ways, does the same thing,” Norris observes. “There are elements in the front of the home that are repeated in the back, such as the use of fence post cacti, golden barrels and yucca.”

Similar to the front entryway, a lofty arch is supported by monolithic columns overhead, providing shade and serving as a transition to the open backyard. A sparkling, zero-edge infinity pool gives the illusion of spilling into the natural foliage below. Neighboring houses are set back just far enough to give the homeowners endless desert and mountain views in three directions. “We really enjoy the privacy,” Scott notes.

Before implementing his design, Norris described the backyard as “gray and flat.” He created more interest by adding varying textures and contrasting colors, including golden barrel cacti and red lady slipper blooms that pop against the gray.

Unlike some Arizonans, the Grimmetts are looking forward to warmer temperatures so they can fully enjoy the pool, spa and outdoor kitchen, which features a barbecue, pizza oven and informal dining area. “In the summer, we can open the doors and have an indoor-outdoor living area,” Scott says. “We can’t wait.”

Landscape architect: Chad Norris, High Desert Designs.
For more information, see Sources.

1. During the renovation, the original spa was torn out and replaced. The new spa, lined with mosaic tile, has unparalleled desert views. 2. A grouping of totem pole cacti breaks up the backyard’s sleek and symmetrical lines. “They provide a cool, abstract look,” Norris says. 3. The firepit adjacent to the pool offers warmth for gatherings on cool desert nights. 4. A patio planter holds a row of cacti with red lady slippers to brighten the design and a custom-made cannonball fire feature. 5. The newly designed zero-edge pool overlooking native desert has three inviting Baja steps where the homeowners can lounge and cool off during blazing hot summer days. The original oval-shaped pool was squared off to complement the home’s linear design.

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