An Accident Survivor Transforms her Sedona Home into a Healing Oasis
Recovering from an injury, a homeowner is transformed by the healing energy of northern Arizona—and a complete house renovation.
By Ben Ikenson | Photography by Scott Sandler
In the early 2000s, Charlene Caswell and her then-husband were part owners of an environmental cleanup company in Oak Ridge, Tenn. To escape their busy lives, they found respite in the canyonlands of Sedona, where they had vacationed several times. In 2009, they purchased a second home among the red rocks. Part of the allure of Sedona for Charlene were the ample outdoor recreational opportunities that would help inspire her physical recovery from a car accident three years prior that left her partially paralyzed. Within a few years of purchasing, however, the couple decided to part ways. The split left Charlene at an existential crossroads: “Should I stay in my comfort zone in Tennessee, or should I be adventurous and start a new life in Sedona?”
Charlene chose Sedona—and much of that fateful decision revolved around the property she owns there. “I knew from the moment I walked into this house it was a special place,” she says. “Not necessarily due to the structure itself—but how it felt when you walked in. Maybe the amazing views had something to do with it. Or the house itself just has good energy.”
Constructed in 1993, the modest 1,600-square-foot Santa Fe-style home is perched on a hillside overlooking vermilion canyons. Charlene initially endeavored to update the kitchen and bathrooms in order to make the home more livable without having to pursue a major makeover. But by mid-2017, it was clear an intervention was necessary. “Significant maintenance needed to be completed on the exterior stucco and roofing, which is when I got serious about doing a remodel that would include a master suite addition and deck expansion,” she explains. “I really had no idea of how huge this undertaking would be.”
Ultimately, the somewhat dated but perfectly situated property was converted into a contemporary, resortlike masterpiece. The project added more than 500 square feet of livable space, expanding the master suite with additions including an indoor/outdoor fireplace, wet bar, large bathroom with steam shower, custom walk-in closet and built-in vanity. The outdoor living space was also supplemented during the remodel with an expansion of the back deck, enabling the addition of a large therapeutic swim spa, plenty of entertainment space and room to enjoy the views.
“It wasn’t so much about adding space as it was about making the most of the home’s natural sense of place, which necessitated a pragmatic design approach to make each space purposeful,” says Paolo Scardina, the local residential architectural designer who oversaw the home makeover. “A guiding principle of the design was to capture the beautiful red rock mountains of Sedona and bring these inspiring views to the client as she wakes up and throughout the day.”
But in order to update the home and achieve a more modern-looking aesthetic, Scardina knew there was a lot of work to be done. The interior architecture and hard finishes required an update—everything from wall textures and paint colors, to door styles and hardware, window trims and cabinet styles, lighting and more. Windows, archways and corners that were rounded had to be squared. Thick, textured walls were smoothed over and, in some cases, moved. Air, water, and heating systems were upgraded. A beautiful pergola was added to the back deck for shade and character. Stone, metal, and glass features were added throughout. And with a focus on sustainable design, Scardina also incorporated new wall insulation, efficient windows, and passive solar considerations.
“The orientation of the new master bedroom wing allowed for an excellent opportunity to orient the new window to take advantage of the rising and setting sun throughout the year to mitigate heat gain and loss,” he says.
The remodel took roughly nine months to complete and was divided into two phases, according to local builder and general contractor Jason Smithson. “Charlene was a dear and wonderful lady to work with, always very enthusiastic about the process and excited about the next step,” he recalls. “She was definitely going for a more modern, sleek look with clean lines, which I believe was achieved through the finished design.”
Indeed, the project would not be complete without the expertise of Stephanie Larsen, an interior designer originally from Orange County, Calif., who opened shop in Sedona in 2001. “I was hired to create a warm environment using fabrics, accessories and furnishings, to create good flow between indoor and outdoor living spaces and to make the home more livable,” she says. “Charlene was wonderful to work with and she gave me plenty of creative freedom.”
Larsen treated each space as components of the larger, organic whole to enhance functionality. Against a mostly neutral color palette, Larsen added pops of color to soften the space. She also incorporated design strategies that created repeating motifs to connect inside with outside. Altogether, her vision helped create the finishing touches on a functional, inviting and informal contemporary home.
When Charlene walked through the doors of her finished dwelling, she was in awe. “I felt like, yes, finally you are the house you were always meant to be,” she raves. “It was modern and spalike but with a warm, cozy feel. Everything flowed perfectly from the courtyard entryway through the house and out to the back deck. I had my dream home.”
The entire home renovation process, in fact, was a profoundly personal and revelatory experience for Charlene: “I moved into the little, dated Santa Fe-style house feeling a lot like it looked,” she reflects. “The process of going through this enormous project gave me confidence and introduced me to some wonderful new friends. It also gave me an opportunity to get in touch with my creative side.” In many ways, it was a cleansing experience for the former Southern native, who credits the magic of her new home and its location with aiding in her recovery. “At the risk of sounding corny, I think both the house and I were transformed.”
Remodel architect: Paolo Scardina, Sustainable Sedona. Interior designer: Stephanie Larsen, Stephanie Larsen Interior Design.
For more information, see Sources.