Custom Fit: Pinnacle Peak Home Blends Into the Desert
A detailed design on a demanding lot is transformed into a cozy, unassuming abode.
By Katherine Adomaitis | Photography by Christiaan Blok
With family in the Valley, Oklahoma natives Roy and Toni Bliss have long considered Arizona their second home. So when they decided to build a vacation house in North Scottsdale, they wanted something that was cozy enough for two but spacious enough to accommodate visits from their four adult children and 11 grandkids.
A few years ago, they decided to break ground, opting for an adobe-style residence. “We like the traditional Arizona homes,” explains Toni. “We wanted something warm and rustic, as opposed to something that was more ornate and Spanish.”
After seeing several residences designed by architect Lee Hutchison, the couple knew that the Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner could deliver the style of home they desired. The size and shape—a 5,000-square-foot, four-bedroom abode that hugs the curves of the landscape—notes Hutchison, was dictated by not only Toni and Roy’s needs but as a response to the landscape as well. “The site falls deeply from front to back,” he explains, “and there’s a significant wash that runs through the lot.” Additionally, the property was dotted with boulders that needed to be preserved, according to city and community guidelines.
Because the buildable area was long and narrow, Hutchison designed a serpentine layout that placed the garage and attached guest casita on one side of the wash, connecting those spaces to the central living areas and the remaining bedrooms with a bridgelike glassed-in hallway. “The design of the bridge, wall curves and window placements, as well as the home’s length, allowed us to really capture the views,” Hutchison says.
Constructing Hutchison’s design was second nature to another Master of the Southwest, builder Randy Arnett-Romero, who launched his career building adobe homes in Tucson. “Working with a curved design is much more interesting than building a box,” he says.
As the home was going up, Arnett-Romero often spearheaded on-site decisions, with the architect’s blessing, adding touches such as tile trim around a fireplace, suggesting the custom steel window that he fabricated for the living room and creating the hand-plastered form of the kitchen’s custom hood. “I’ve worked with Lee for so long that I can interpret his designs. It’s not often that a builder and an architect have that kind of relationship,” he says. “Lee lets me take a little creative license.”
A good example of this can be seen in the master bedroom. Original plans for the multibarrel vaulted ceiling called for heavier joints between barrels. Arnett-Romero suggested using forged steel caps on the bottoms of the scallops, resulting in a precise and more contemporary look. He also hand-plastered the room’s fireplace, making sure its lines and form closely followed the spirit of the plans. “I do that with a lot of fireplaces, as they’re such a visual point for the room,” he says.
Throughout the home, Hutchison and Arnett-Romero worked together on other architecturally and visually significant ceiling treatments. Arnett-Romero engineered and constructed the architect’s illuminated, stacked ceiling plan in the kitchen, made of a cross-pattern of beams backed with Saltillo tile. In the living room, a spoked pattern of spruce beams leads the eye to such focal points as the fireplace and window, while the dining room’s coved, burlap-clad ceiling is accented by a curved spruce beam, held together with steel straps.
“It’s both challenging and exciting to work on these types of details,” says the builder, who also added other custom touches, such as the decorative steel grills for vents, air returns and skylights.
“Our experience with Randy was the best,” Roy says. “He worked closely with the architect and interior designer, and he has an artistic eye as well, which allowed him to improvise with many details as our home was being constructed.”
The home’s adobe feature walls also received special consideration thanks to mason Jim Nelson. Left exposed as architectural elements inside and out, the walls are built of stabilized, earth-colored adobe bricks, with a cement and decomposed granite mortar. “The mortar adds a gritty texture to the walls,” explains Nelson. “It gave us the rustic, weathered look we were going for.”
To get the wall’s swoops and curves, Nelson and Arnett-Romero carved and shaped blocks on site, using bent sprinkler pipes to outline desired forms. Once the walls were built, the pipes were removed and the walls were capped with Saltillo tile. “We made several samples with different grout and setting techniques we both have used or seen used on past projects,” Nelson notes. “I really enjoyed working with Randy to make the finished project look authentic. When you’re able to collaborate confidently on a difficult project, your artistic abilities truly shine.”
When it came to the furnishings and other touches, Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award-winning interior designer Billi Springer gave the setting a warm and inviting touch through furniture and accessories. “Toni and Roy brought furniture and art from their previous house,” explains interior designer Victoria King, who assisted Springer on the project. “We worked those in and designed many custom items to fit the new spaces.”
Using a palette of neutrals and dark woods, Springer and King let art and views add color to the rooms, each designed with comfort in mind. In the living room, a pale-hued custom sofa and two custom suede armchairs create a cozy grouping in front of the fireplace.
In a small space off the kitchen, two cushy armchairs were recovered in a checked fabric and coupled with footstools to provide a cozy place to watch television or enjoy the warmth from a raised fireplace. The master bedroom’s combination of light hues, botanical prints and rustic furnishings creates a peaceful retreat.
Outdoors, landscape designer Jeff Franklin carved out several outdoor living spaces for the home’s sloping site. “The idea was to emulate what was there, such as the boulders and native plants,” says Franklin “as well as to soften it with denser plantings and pots.”
In front, a handcrafted gate separates the driveway from an entry courtyard, where a beehive fireplace warms a seating area and a fountain made of boulders echoes the angles of a nearby mountain. Bursage, palo verdes, Salvia greggii and goldeneye add softness and color, while agaves and totem pole cacti add a sculptural element.
In back, a small, flagstone-rimmed pool curves along the edge of the lower patio, screened from the street below by a series of Cantera stone pots, one of Arnett-Romero’s design contributions. “When you make Cantera columns, you have to drill them out of blocks of stone,” he explains. “These are the throwaway pieces. I had seen them before and stored them in my memory, and this house just called for something unique.” Upper patios include an outdoor kitchen and dining space, and a sunny lounge area just off the living room.
The end result of this team project is a home that is honest and comfortably integrates into its surroundings.
“It’s all about how the different materials tie in with one another,” says Arnett-Romero. “When they come together—where adobe meets plaster, where wood beams meet adobe—it’s seamless. It’s not rough or contrived. That’s what makes it appear so effortless and so easy on the eyes.”
- Architect: Lee Hutchison, AIA; Urban Design Associates Ltd., Scottsdale, urbandesignassociatesltd.com.
- Builder: Randy Arnett-Romero, R-Net Custom Homes, Scottsdale, r-netcustomhomes.com.
- Interior designer: Billi Springer and Victoria King, Billi Springer & Associates, Scottsdale, billispringer.com.
- Landscape designer: Jeff Franklin, Jeff Franklin Design & Consulting, Cave Creek, jeff-franklin.com.
- Windows: sierrapacificwindows.com.
- Custom steel windows and doors: Janus Custom Building Products, Tempe, januscustomsteel.com.
- Interior doors: Sonoran Doors, Phoenix, sonorandoors.com.
- Wood flooring: Premiere Wood Floors, Scottsdale, premierewoodfloors.com.
- Tile flooring: Handcrafted Tile Inc., Phoenix, hctile.net.
- Interior wall plaster: americanclay.com.
- Cabinetry: Finely Designed Inc., Phoenix, finelydesignedinc.com.
- KITCHEN—Island and hood frame: Taber & Company, Tucson, taberandcompany.net.
- Freestanding cabinet: Indus Design, Tempe, indusdesign.com.
- Appliances: monarkhome.com.
- MASTER BEDROOM—Chest: Tierra Del Lagarto, Scottsdale, tierradellagarto.com.
- Bench and botanical prints: Bungalow, Scottsdale, bungalowfurniture.com.
- Bed fabric: fschumacher.com.
- Area rug: azadifinerugs.com.
- PATIO—Furniture: rh.com.
- Canterra stone pots: Handcrafted Tile, Inc., Phoenix, hctile.net.