A contemporary ranch makes itself at home among midcentury neighbors in Arcadia.
By Alison King | Photography by Mark LipCzynski
Why don’t we just start over? It was a question that John and Hillary Gurley initially hadn’t permitted themselves to ask as they wrapped their heads around remodeling an early 1960s-era Arcadia ranch-style house to suit their family of four. There wasn’t enough closet space or storage, and the sightlines were gridlocked around a central hearth that got in the way of any attempt to shape the space into a great room. The original plan was to keep the same footprint, then add 1,000 square feet for home offices and improve the aging roof. Once the question was asked, the answer was obvious: rebuild.
The Gurleys first settled in the Valley as collegiates in the late 1980s and found themselves drawn to Phoenix’s more mature enclaves. They were one of the youngest families on the block to invest in Lower Arcadia when the area’s aging generation moved on in the late 1990s. As their boys grew, they set their sights on Arcadia proper. They lived in their current home for four years before embarking on the total renovation that took just under a year to complete.
“In any remodel, we run through the gamut of what the client likes and doesn’t like,” architect Jon Poetzl says about his design process. “We started trying to salvage everything we could, but as the plan developed and the great room got bigger, we had to raise the ceilings to support the mechanical systems,” he says. “We saw this as an opportunity—we’d expand the footprint a bit more but maintain a human scale for the rest of the home.”
“We always wanted to make this house feel like it belonged here.”
—John Gurley, homeowner
Poetzl developed a professional shorthand with the homeowners—John is a second-generation custom homebuilder— that resulted in some creative give-and-take as they dialed in the details. No one took the decision to start over lightly, but it seemed more sensible than the alternative. “To go through this whole process without addressing the smaller things would be like wearing a tuxedo with tennis shoes,” says Poetzl.
Once they decided to remove the core and capture the original garage as a wing for the boys, the plan fell neatly into place. They combined the kitchen, living and dining spaces with an open niche that serves as Hillary’s real estate office. “I can make dinner, help with homework and work at the same time,” she relates. “It’s all connected.”
The couple valued the low-lying character of their neighborhood and especially its sweeping view of Camelback Mountain. They also did not want to block their neighbors’ viewshed. “We always wanted this house to feel like it belonged here, because that’s what brought us to Arcadia in the first place,” says John. “We kept the massing consistent. We didn’t feel like we needed a second story—I actually wanted the roof to be even flatter.”
“We probably ended up making this home even more midcentury modern than it originally was,” adds Hillary, pointing to houses across the street to illustrate key features. “These were basically just semicustom tract homes that shared the same general floor plan.” Poetzl describes the new build as ranch modern.
Acquired from the estate of an original owner, the house came loaded with a bonus: original midcentury furnishings. A sprawling vintage hi-fi console that now anchors the living room wall, a groovy wooden lamp fixture that hangs near Hillary’s office and the master bedroom set were included in the sale.
A generous eave shelters the southern elevation from the desert’s scorching sun, and its pitch subtly echoes the peak of Camelback Mountain to the north. The flat cut white oak ceiling extends from indoors to out. It’s been clear coated for a natural finish that takes the edge off the clean and modern vibe. Sunlight dances off the pool’s surfaces and often bounces patterns back up onto the ceiling.
Landscape designer Benjy Levinson took care to leverage the existing citrus and cacti but filled in the lot with a regionally appropriate look that echoed the surrounding character of the neighborhood. “We blended Arcadia estate-style formal hedge work with pockets of desert accents featuring multitrunk indigenous trees,” he says.
In the front yard, Levinson lined the lawn with a low block wall—a nod to irrigation berms found throughout the neighborhood. In the early 1900s, Arcadia was home to hundreds of citrus groves that flourished on an efficient irrigation system still used in many homes today. Staggered saw-cut concrete step pads leading to the front door keep guests’ feet high and dry during the twice-monthly deep floodings. The same exposed aggregate concrete and beach pebble treatment used in the backyard is also found in the front.
With its still-modest footprint of 3,200 square feet, the rebuilt ranch now has no shortage of space for the Gurleys to comfortably live and enjoy. And when the window walls are opened, friends and family can circulate as freely as the breezes that dance through the central core.