An Old, Spanish-Style Ranch Home Gets a Contemporary Revamp
A well-situated but outdated ranch home gets a modern makeover.
By Ben Ikenson | Photography by Scott Sandler
After training in the Boston area for respective careers in medical fields in the 2000s, Anna and Tom Burke moved to Phoenix, renting for a year while searching for a more permanent home.
“I’d lived in Scottsdale during my high school years and always wanted to return to the region to settle down,” Anna says. While visiting Arizona after their engagement, Tom also became smitten with the Sonoran landscape. “He is originally from Poland,” she continues. “He loved the unique and exotic desert environment when compared to the typical forest landscape of northern Europe.”
The Burkes pegged Paradise Valley as their ideal location because of its proximity to cultural and entertainment amenities and abundance of outdoor recreational activities.
In 2009, the couple purchased a 3,350-square-foot Spanish-style ranch home built in 1971. “It did not reflect our modern aesthetic and lacked some of the features we felt were important for our family,” Anna explains. After 10 years, the couple finally agreed to a renovation. “We’d heard nightmare stories from friends and family who did gut remodels,” Tom recalls of their decadelong hesitation to pull the trigger. “And with two young daughters, it never seemed like the right time.”
The Burkes wanted to convert the old house into a contemporary home that felt more connected to the natural surroundings. “The ‘a-ha’ moment was realizing that this nondescript ranch home had exactly the right volume and bones for a midcentury modern profile,” says architect Gary Sumberg, who was recruited for the project.
Sumberg, general contractor Jason Easterly and the couple worked together to develop design ideas, ultimately coming up with a plan to vault the ceilings and remove walls and use the existing infrastructure to expand the interior space.
“The main challenge was creating a contemporary abode that looked unique and achieved its inherent potential without making it seem like a Band-Aid solution,” Sumberg says.
The project required the removal of all drop ceilings, allowing the ceiling height and volume to reveal themselves and naturally accommodate a modernized interior makeover.
The team also cleared out roof overhangs outside and extended a parapet on top of existing walls. Varying the heights of the parapets echoed the profile of the encircling desert mountain scenery. The house was then wrapped in a stucco finish to create a more monolithic facade and produce an organic juxtaposition with the landscape.
“We wanted to take advantage of the natural colors, textures and materials of the surrounding desert,” Anna recalls.
The remodel blended weathered steel and concrete with an abundance of glass walls to provide commanding views of Camelback Mountain and its saguaro-studded foothills. Other transformations included the removal of an existing office to enhance the master bedroom en suite and a complete upgrade of all existing plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems. “We pretty much had to tear the existing structure down to the studs,” says Easterly. “One of the challenges was when we opened the walls, we discovered some pretty major termite damage to the framing, much of which needed to be replaced.”
Another unexpected obstacle occurred while tearing down a wall to expand the kitchen. “We came across a load-bearing point, so we had to use a fabricated steel I-beam for roof support,” Easterly recalls. The new open-concept kitchen helped introduce a modern interior language. The I-beam mimicked existing wood beams in the living room, inspiring interior designer Jessica Blake’s concept for a fireplace surround. Blake recognized an opportunity to complement the metal beams by cladding the fireplace in cold-rolled steel and using the same countertop for the hearth. “I wanted to meet the clients’ desire for a modern, streamlined home that didn’t feel cold or uninviting,” she says.
Blake combined the use of minimal materials with plenty of textures. “We decided on dual veneers for the cabinetry,” she recalls. “The wood grain warmed up the palette, and the faux leather look gave us some nice texture.”
The Burkes were understandably pleased. “Jessica brought the modern aesthetic we desired while incorporating our love of midcentury design,” Anna says. “She also elegantly blended contemporary grays against natural wood accents, natural stones, metal and the brilliant burnt oranges and reds of the Arizona sunsets.”
Blake also selected some lighting to play off the clients’ existing sculptural art and helped them decide on quartzite as a warm, attractive and low-maintenance counter material that would create continuity between the indoor and outdoor living spaces.
The front landscaping incorporated poured-in-place concrete garden walls for texture and color. A sitting area in the entrance is ideal for taking in views of the mountain beneath the shade of a mature acacia tree.
“Despite the obvious trepidation that most homeowners feel when undertaking a major renovation, it can be done with the right design team and a trusted contractor,” Anna concludes. “A comfortable old home can truly become the house of your dreams.”
Architect: Gary Sumberg, GS Design Architecture. Interior designer: Jessica Blake, Studio Dwell.
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