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At this North Scottsdale Home, the Sonoran Desert is the Real Star

“The goal was to bring this fantastic desert view inside,” says landscape designer Bennett McGregor. He obscured the line between desert and property by repeating the existing boulder outcroppings, the ironwood trees and white thorn cereus cactus that were already there.

At this contemporary residence, natural desert vistas are the stars of the show.

Photography by Kevin Brost

Thanks to the breathtaking views of the Sonoran Desert out every window, there’s no need for flashy distractions in this home in Scottsdale’s Whisper Rock neighborhood.

The great room boasts views of Pinnacle Peak, framed by a sliding glass wall that the owners usually leave open. Just beyond on the outdoor patio, wicker chairs face an infinity pool and an iron perch where bay-winged hawks have been observed pausing for a rest.

Throughout the house, architect and Phoenix Home and Garden Master of the Southwest Craig Wickersham maximized desert views with as much glass and as many apertures as he could. Black metal-framed transoms add depth to the building’s tall interior walls and pull blue skies into every room.

“Featuring as many beautiful shout-outs to the desert as we could was a priority of this design,” Wickersham says, “because those desert views are why you’re out here, right?”

Another priority was more mundane, he admits. “I needed to block the view of the neighbor’s home by placing the garage in just the right place,” he says with a laugh.

Wickersham’s U-shaped design features an unusual choice: He’s placed the great room between the kitchen and dining room to allow a wider space for entertaining guests.

The interiors speak of carefully curated comfort and include items gathered by the owners through world travel, augmented by pieces from Africa, China, Morocco and Mexico found by interior designer John Martin.

“They wanted a sculptural look to the landscape design, one that emulated the shapes and colors of the desert.”

—Bennett McGregor, landscape designer

1. Moroccan mound (Euphorbia resinifera) surround a fire pit just outside the front door. They’re a full-sun cacti, but McGregor liked how in the indoor filtered light, the plant “had an ethereal movement that resembles fire.” 2. Leather-trimmed easy chairs by interior designer John Martin are mounted on swivel bases. 3. The owners asked architect Craig Wickersham to expand his open-room concept by placing the dining room far from the kitchen. 4-5. The homeowners have combined artifacts from their world travels with newer reproductions, all of them framed by rectilinear forms of wood and steel. “The husband is an engineer,” Wickersham points out, “and he wanted that grid pattern repeated in the doors, doorways and windows. Together, we found the beauty in repeating reinforced alignment throughout the house.” 6. Wickersham designed a louvered wall for additional privacy.

Martin’s touch is everywhere; his neutral palette of tans and blacks makes the desert and his clients’ collections shine. In the guest villa, which has its own entrance and private patio, he’s repurposed one weathered wood door as a tabletop and another as a bench at the foot of a bed. He’s filled the primary bedroom with Indonesian relics.

In the kitchen, an ancient steel-rimmed wagon wheel is featured; a section of burnished cypress, stands nearby. The collection spills over into the long, narrow mudroom: a trio of African warrior shields adorns one wall; a fragile papier mâché bowl rests on a countertop near the butler’s pantry.

1. “I qualified and selected the large sculptural ironwoods and specimen salvaged trees on this property, focusing on installation and orientation to fit the exact space they are intended to be in,” says McGregor. “We consider the element from all possible views, inside and outside the home so that we can set these o1. “I qualified and selected the large sculptural ironwoods and specimen salvaged trees on this property, focusing on installation and orientation to fit the exact space they are intended to be in,” says McGregor. “We consider the element from all possible views, inside and outside the home, so that we can set these organic sculptural elements in their environment for the most dramatic effect.” 2. The homeowners wanted something large and dynamic in the shallow planter at the end of their driveway. McGregor chose Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia), which will hold their form as they grow in this small, shaded area. “These trees had a tough time this summer, but we’re all glad they made it through and are thriving,” the landscape designer says. 3-4. The homeowners have combined artifacts from their world travels with newer reproductions, all of them framed by rectilinear forms of wood and steel. “The husband is an engineer,” Wickersham points out, “and he wanted that grid pattern repeated in the doors, doorways and windows. Together, we found the beauty in repeating reinforced alignment throughout the house.” 5-6. Vegetation that blocks the view of a neighbor’s property was planted for privacy. Designed by McGregor, the fence, made from one-inch square metal tubes, is raised to accommodate the wash that runs beneath it. top right Wickersham designed a louvered wall for additional privacy. 7. The home’s infinity pool vanishes into a view of Pinnacle Peak and is surrounded by natural desert flora. rganic sculptural elements in their environment for the most dramatic effect.” 2. The homeowners wanted something large and dynamic in the shallow planter at the end of their driveway. McGregor chose Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia), which will hold their form as they grow in this small, shaded area. “These trees had a tough time this summer, but we’re all glad they made it through and are thriving,” the landscape designer says. 3-4. The homeowners have combined artifacts from their world travels with newer reproductions, all of them framed by rectilinear forms of wood and steel. “The husband is an engineer,” Wickersham points out, “and he wanted that grid pattern repeated in the doors, doorways and windows. Together, we found the beauty in repeating reinforced alignment throughout the house.” 5-6. Vegetation that blocks the view of a neighbor’s property was planted for privacy. Designed by McGregor, the fence, made from one-inch square metal tubes, is raised to accommodate the wash that runs beneath it. top right Wickersham designed a louvered wall for additional privacy. 7. The home’s infinity pool vanishes into a view of Pinnacle Peak and is surrounded by natural desert flora. 

Personal effects warm up spaces in the back of the house as well. Shelves in the office anteroom display a row of vintage cowboy boots; a large painting by local artist David Dauncey takes up a wall in one of the powder rooms.

The media room features a gallery wall of Native American baskets and pottery collected while the couple lived in Santa Fe. The walls are warm with a one-of-a-kind assembled wood paneling of Indonesian teak.

An Indonesian warrior breastplate rests on the desktop. But neither art nor artifact can compete with the desert views that beckon from every wall and window of this home, which blends in with the desert.

“The cacti and succulents are all very sculptural in appearance,” Masters of the Southwest award-winning landscape designer Bennett McGregor says, “so I composed them throughout the property’s private spaces like sculpture, with attention to and hierarchy of size, mass, shape and color variation. In transitional landscape spaces, we utilized sculptural native plants in a manner consistent with their natural planting patterns to make the transition seamless from private to natural desert.”

He knew that bright, showy flora would spoil the muted palette of the desert, but McGregor wanted to add pops of color for contrast. “So, I used the yellow flowers on a silver gopher plant,” he says, “and silvery organ pipes and blue agaves with their red outer fins and thorns.”

Overall, the home is a testament to open communication between the owners and design principals. “We all understood each other,” McGregor says. “It was a great team.”

Sources

Architect: Craig Wickersham, Craig Wickersham Inc. Builder: Tom Archer, Tom Archer Custom Homes & Design LLC, Scottsdale, (480) 205-4813. Interior designer: John Martin, Turner Martin Interior Design, Scottsdale, turnermartindesign.com. Landscape architect: Bennett McGregor, Bennett McGregor Landscapes Inc., Phoenix, bennett@bennettmcgregor.com.

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