A Phoenix Resident Embraces the Creative Makeover of Her Lakefront Biltmore-Area Town Home
Interior designer James McIntyre nudged a client beyond her decorating ennui to achieve stylish serenity.
By Nora Burba Trulsson | Photography by Austin Baker
Gail Bradley purchased her two-bedroom Biltmore-area town house in 2017, wanting to downsize and live in one of her favorite Phoenix neighborhoods. “I love being able to walk around the resort and stroll to all these great restaurants,” she explains. “I also like that this property overlooks a small lake.”
Bradley’s previous house had a lot of built-ins, so she moved to her new quarters with a sofa, a bed and an assortment of boxes, without an exact plan of how she wanted to live in the spaces. Soon thereafter, the Arizona native started the process of retiring from her long-term career in finance, when pressing family matters cropped up. The boxes languished, and the rooms were, in essence, bare. “After a while, you stop seeing those boxes and empty walls,” Bradley says. “I learned to live in the space the way it was.”
Bradley’s pal, art curator John Reyes, decided that the lone sofa and packed items were beyond even her self-proclaimed minimalist taste. He also knew that the boxes contained art and treasures that Bradley had accumulated over the years from local artists and through her travels. He decided to introduce her to his friend, interior designer James McIntyre, who happened to live just a few doors down in her same town house community.
The two clicked instantly, and McIntyre began exploring Bradley’s look. “Her house was a blank canvas with a lonely sectional,” McIntyre recalls. “It was a stalled move-in and design process. My job was to interpret her design aesthetic and get things moving.” McIntyre banished the sectional, began unpacking the boxes and crates, and filling in the blanks.
Bradley’s blank canvas, to be sure, was handsome. A previous owner had renovated the circa-early-80s residence by updating and opening up the kitchen to the dining room, installing espresso-colored flooring and freshening walls and ceilings with a coat of white paint. Bradley herself had a dark middle bedroom expanded to create a TV room.
Initially, McIntyre put together a “more decorative” look for Bradley’s interior, but wound up going back to the drawing board for a sleek, spare look. “Clearly, we had to get to know one another,” recalls Bradley with a laugh. “I’ve always had a very busy life, and I like coming home to a quiet space. After a while, James started calling me his ‘Bauhaus babe’ because that’s the style I like.” McIntyre went with Bradley’s preferred black, white and gray palette and kept in mind her love of art and entertaining as he suggested new pieces and placed her art.
Just off the foyer, the dining room features a glass table set on a custom black granite base, surrounded by white leather chairs. McIntyre selected the Italian blown-glass chandelier to make a statement above the table. “It’s a showstopper,” he says. “You can see it the minute you walk in the door and from all of the public rooms.” In the living room, a custom-scaled sofa was paired with two rectilinear le Corbusier-style armchairs and a couple of sculptural lounge chairs. “I think of these as two boy chairs and two girl chairs,” quips McIntyre. For the TV room, the designer created floor-to-ceiling shelving that showcases and illuminates Bradley’s art and collectibles.
Knowing that each piece of art and every objet had a story, McIntyre was careful with placement, framing and lighting. A prized piece by Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner Mayme Kratz in a dusky red has a place of honor over the living room fireplace, while a multimedia work by Bradley’s friend, Beth Ames Swartz, is prominently displayed between the dining and living rooms. The TV room’s shelves are filled with not only art, but also artifacts Bradley collected during numerous trips to Africa, including Watusi cattle horns, a handcrafted stool from Mali and carved antelope sculptures from Rwanda. “I can talk about these treasures all day long,” Bradley says, “and James found the right spots for everything. He even had fabrics I’d brought back from Africa made into decorative pillows.”
McIntyre employed a few other tricks of the trade in the project, such as underscoring furniture groupings in the living room, master bedroom and TV room with black sisal area rugs for a low-key sense of consistency and by adding large framed mirrors to the walls of the living and dining rooms. “Using a big mirror in a small space is a decorating trick that’s as old as time,” McIntyre points out. “It makes the rooms seem larger. In this case, we framed the mirrors in black to match the existing window frames. The living room mirror reflects the landscape and the Kratz piece, while the one in the dining room reflects the garden and lake, and bounces light into the center of the house.”
Now complete, Bradley’s home is elegant, airy and personal. “James got me out of my ‘stuck’ place and moved me along. He helped to show me who I am. I’m ready to start having people over and entertaining,” she says. McIntyre agrees. “Gail was living very tentatively in the house at first,” he says. “She gave into the design process, and we were able to breathe life into an empty shell.”
Interior designer James McIntyre, James McIntyre Interior Design.
For more information, see Sources.