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A Palm Springs-Inspired Home in Carefree Has Nods to Retro-Chic Style

A palo verde tree shades various aloe species and a Perry’s agave (Agave paryii) in this serene hillside home.

A home redo pays homage to its town’s modernist past.

By Lauren Tyda | Photography by Kevin Kaminski

One day, we’re going to live in Carefree.”

To anyone outside of Arizona, that statement might sound like a daydream. But it was exactly what a couple of Nashville transplants uttered when they saw a magazine article about the town just north of Scottsdale. “I remember looking at all the naturalistic settings and thinking, ‘Wow, this is so cool,’” says the husband. “I knew I wanted to buy a house there someday.”

Forty years after setting their intention to retire in the laid-back locale, they discovered the perfect property, an adobe-style home at the base of Black Mountain with panoramic views of the Valley. “It was one of the first houses in Carefree—a former mayor owned it,” says the husband. “It was a Sasabe-style adobe made from burnt adobe bricks handcrafted just across the border of Mexico in Sasabe, Arizona.”

The couple tapped Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award-winning architect Clint Miller to remodel the dwelling in the image of the city’s modernist glory days. “Clint’s love of and passion for midcentury modern design was a huge seller for us,” says the husband, “and we needed to do what felt right with this house.”

Miller reconfigured and opened up the interiors and expanded the windows to take advantage of the natural light and views. The low-pitch, gravel roof was replaced with clay tile; the adobe block was overlayed with a traditional mortar wash with white glass block mortar; and a porte-cochère, detached garage and flagstone chimney flue were added for more curb appeal.

“We wanted to retain its original ranch character and bones, but the all-exposed adobe was almost too much,” Miller says, “so we decided to give it more of an early 1900s Spanish look.”

Inside, the couple kept the home’s original beamed, tongue-and-groove ceilings and flagstone floors and sourced their own furnishings. “We were inspired by the Hotel Valley Ho,” says the wife, citing the iconic mid-mod Scottsdale landmark, which has a similar palette of oranges, teals and blues. “We love it—it’s one of our favorite places.”

1. The owner welded a bridge that leads over the desert wash from his wife’s yoga studio to a guest casita. 2. Surrounded by lady slipper (Euphorbia macrocarpus), the spa was designed to disappear into the infinity-edge pool. “At night, we love to get in the hot tub and gaze up at Black Mountain,” says the wife. “The night sky is so dark, we can see all sorts of different planets and stars.” 3. Landscape architect Clayton Miller added boulders and steps flanked by ocotillo and desert spoon to the backyard poolscape. 4. The kitchen features walnut veneer cabinetry and a backlit onyx backsplash above the stove. “If you get close, it kind of looks like bubbling lava,” says the husband. 5. Architect Clint Miller reconfigured the kitchen and expanded the windows to wrap around and bathe the space in natural light.

Miller’s son, landscape architect Clayton Miller, re-imagined the outdoor spaces, removing the old perimeter wall; adding boulder outcroppings; and replacing the kidney-shaped pool with an infinity-edge version that appears to expand into the vistas beyond. “Before, it was cut off,” he explains. “Now the yard feels like it rolls out and keeps going, and you can really feel it and experience the views.”

“We wanted to civilize the desert a bit,” says the owner. “It was all about recognizing what works in the environment and being sensitive to that but also keeping it clean and manicured.”

1. The pool has a widening effect that draws the out toward the views. The pool finish was chosen to resemble the sparkling oases found in retro Palm Springs photographs. Several saguaros, a palo verde tree and a planter filled with monstrose cactus (Cereus peruvianus ‘Monstrose’) and elephant’s food help frame the scene. 2. barstools, most of the home—including the dining area—contains hues of teal, blue and orange, which together convey a midcentury modern look reminiscent of Scottsdale’s Hotel Valley Ho. 3. The architect added a porte cochère and detached garage to the front of the home. For the landscape, Clayton Miller blended ‘Desert Museum’ palo verde with golden barrel cactus, damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana ‘Damianita’) and blue hibiscus (Alyogyne huegelii). 

A blend of native and ornamental plantings provides the perfect canvas for the husband to indulge in do-it-yourself projects—including welding, which he picked up after only one lesson. “I was up near Deer Valley Airport, and down the street was a place that offered classes for about $100 for one hour. I had always wanted to do that, and now I love it!”

The former healthcare professional has crafted everything from the rebar fence and firepit to a geometric side gate and bridge that leads over the desert wash to his wife’s yoga studio. “All I need is a couple of YouTube videos, and I can do heart surgery,” he jokes. The gardening enthusiast also enjoys collecting new cacti and succulents to add to the outdoor spaces: “We originally had about 30 saguaros on the property, and I’ve probably added 20 or 25 more.”

The younger Miller adds, “He caught the bug and can’t stop. But he enjoys it, so that’s great. I laid all the groundwork, and he has been slowly adding to it.”
The couple can now enjoy the Carefree aesthetic they once envisioned decades ago in their newly finished modernist haven while paying homage to the old Palm Springs-style appeal.
“This is probably one of the very few ranch designs in the area that is still intact and repurposed for today’s lifestyle,” says Clint Miller. “Many of them unfortunately have been removed to build much bigger structures that don’t have that Palm Springs or Carefree early-years vibe.”

Continues the husband: “It would have been tragic if we had allowed this place to be demolished. We are so lucky to have it. It’s the most livable home we have ever had.”

1. The home’s entryway includes midcentury modern touches, including a Sputnik light fixture and stained glass by artist Steeva Syawish that reflects the home’s color palette. “It’s my favorite thing in the whole house,” says the wife. 2. The home’s original flagstone floors continue outside to create a seamless transition. The coffee table is made of a single continuous piece of stainless steel wire. 3. The architect extended the master bedroom by 2 feet and added windows to frame the views. 4. Miller removed a second bedroom from the old layout to create a large master bathroom suite with floating cabinetry and a standing tub. 

Architect: Clint Miller, AIA, Clint Miller Architects, Carefree, Landscape architect: Clayton Miller, Greey|Pickett, Scottsdale, Pool contractor: Mossman Brothers Pools, Scottsdale, Exotic cactus and succulent specimens: Ocotillo Joe LLC, Phoenix, KITCHEN—Onyx kitchen backsplash and office nook countertop: Cactus Stone & Tile, Phoenix, Barstools: Painting in dining/kitchen area: Stuart Yankell, Scottsdale,

DINING ROOM—Table and chairs: Vases: Rugs (from the Guggenheim Art Collection):
LIVING ROOM—Couches and coffee table:
ENTRY—Stained glass on the front door: Steeva Syawish, Art & Glass Design, Scottsdale, Chairs in foyer: Modern Manor, Phoenix,


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