C.P. Drewett’s White-Box Style of Architecture Transforms a Blighted Ranch into a Contemporary Masterpiece
The plus side of subtraction is evident in C.P. Drewett’s stunning white-box architecture.
By Linda J. Barkman | Photography by Jeff Zaruba
“Many portions of this home literally float above the desert floor, creating unique shadow lines and compelling architecture,” says builder Rich Brock of the Paradise Valley residence he collaborated on with architect C.P. Drewett. Completed in March 2020, the new, custom 5,458-square-foot structure was built on a lackluster lot formerly occupied by a blighted ranch home that had been a rental property. The owners’ intent was to tear it down and build a spec home. But once they saw Drewett’s renderings, they couldn’t wait to move in.
To begin the process, Drewett conducted a programming session held to determine his clients’ needs, then followed with a live drawing. “It’s really engaging,” he says. “We were able to unpack the site together and understand the logic of space planning in order to determine the location of each primary piece on the lot.”
First and foremost, the owners wanted to maximize their views, which Drewett was able to accomplish by situating the home diagonally on the lot. In addition to successfully creating expansive view corridors—toward Phoenix Mountains Preserve from the front of the house and Camelback Mountain from the back—the architect was also able to capture stunning views of Mummy Mountain and city lights from the upstairs loft and patio.
To fulfill his clients’ desire for a house that was modern, light, crisp and clean-lined, Drewett followed a design premise he describes as part of a study in “white-box architecture.” The main components are simplistic box forms and a very conservative materials palette. “Select areas of the boxes were then subtracted, which created recesses and overhangs while allowing for uplifting views and a great deal of solar protection,” he explains. Adding strategically placed glass doors and windows created the indoor/outdoor sensibility his clients desired and allows them to enjoy the abundant views offered by the properly positioned structure. “The owners were not predisposed to what the house should look like,” he adds. “I had a blank canvas; they just wanted me to create.”
Arguably, the most significant aspect of Drewett’s design is the bevel that appears on the edges of the white plaster panels that form the walls and roofs. “I wanted to blur the distinction between the roof and the walls by having a carved element,” he notes. “Because of the beveled edges, the walls appear to melt into the roof.”
Drewett paired the white plaster portions with simple, travertine massing components that provide contrast and anchor the structure to the site. “The structural engineering was incredibly complex,” remarks Brock. “Supporting the large overhangs while ensuring the home functioned at the highest level was our top priority.”
When faced with challenges presented by the lot itself, with its undulating topography and active washes, Drewett again rose to the occasion. “We enhanced some of the washes and made them part of the landscape—really celebrated them,” he reports. The south wing of the house, for example, hovers above ground, allowing rainwater to pass through one natural wash.
The architect also points out that the topography of the lot necessitated cutting about 70% of the house into the grade on the main level, which enabled them to raise a portion of the roof on the upper level without exceeding the area’s height restriction. The living room, dining room, kitchen, master suite, powder room and garage are all on the ground level, adding greatly to the livability of the home.
Interiors by Holly Wright are completely in concert with Drewett’s design. “My mission for this home was to follow the architectural lines and massing represented on the exterior, and maintain that same balance of proportion and scale on the interior,” she says.
When asked what stands out most to him about this remarkable residence, which was distinguished with an Award of Merit at the 2021 Gold Nugget Awards for Best Custom Home 4,000-6,000 square feet, Drewett replies: “The materials palette and the massing have a timeless elegance. The house embraces you. It has an amazing sense of place when you’re in it. From a human standpoint, it’s very communal. It doesn’t feel like it’s trying to rival its occupants.”
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