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Deep Roots

A midcentury Scottsdale home grows from past to present.

By Nora Burba Trulsson | Photography by David B. Moore

In the back yard, a rustic bench and hanging lantern create an inviting resting spot beneath the gnarled limbs of an old mesquite tree.

After months of looking for new digs, Christine and Stefan Fortman found a possibility—and within minutes of their initial walk-through, they were smitten. Nestled in an established Scottsdale neighborhood, the ranch-style residence had views of Camelback Mountain and the Papago Buttes. Stefan was drawn to the three-bedroom home’s updated midcentury style. Both he and his wife loved the way the architecture could accommodate their eclectic mix of contemporary and traditional furnishings. And for Christine, the garden had great bones, mature trees and enough space so she could add her own special touches.

The 3,100-square-foot house, which the Fortmans purchased in 2017, has deep Valley roots, with three previous owners and the influence of three architects. Sited on a half-acre lot, the abode was built in 1964 for Dr. J. Gordon Shackelford, a dentist, and his wife, Helen. The pair had experience with great architecture—their previous home was what’s now known as the historic Ellis-Shackelford House on Central Avenue in Phoenix. Today, the Mediterranean-meets-Prairie mansion built in 1917 by Helen’s father, physician William C. Ellis, is the office of the Arizona Humanities organization.

Tucked away next to a large steel planter on the front patio, this whimsical rabbit sculpture adds a vibrant pop of Southwest color to the verdant setting.

For their Scottsdale abode, the Shackelfords hired Swiss-born architect E. H. Herrscher, known for his design of the Henry and Clare Boothe Luce home in the Arizona Biltmore Estates, among other buildings. Herrscher’s touches included a vaulted, beamed ceiling; exposed block walls; and large picture windows that perfectly framed mountain and butte views.

In 1992, Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award-winning architect Brent Kendle and his wife, Jeri, bought the property. “We were only the second owners,” recalls Kendle. “We loved the architecture and the big yard, which was perfect for our two young sons.” The interior? Not so much, Kendle says, explaining that nothing had been touched in nearly three decades. Rolling up their sleeves, the couple gutted the home, sandblasting block walls, replacing carpet and vinyl with wood flooring, updating the kitchen and bathrooms, and taking out a few walls to create a more open floor plan. They also replaced windows with French doors, linking the interior to the gardens. To help with the garden, Kendle asked landscape architect Kris Floor to draw up a basic plan that included front and back patios, curved garden walls that defined spaces and the addition of ironwood and mesquite trees for shade and structure.

The look and feel of the 1964 ranch-style house has been influenced by its former residents, who stripped it down to its midcentury roots. Architect and previous owner Brent Kendle sandblasted the block walls. The next owners hired architect Hayes McNeil to design the custom wood-and-glass pivot door.

Block pony walls and industrial steel plant beds define the front patio. French doors connect the welcoming space to the home’s living room.

Ten years later, the Kendles sold the home, and the new owners added their personal touch, hiring architect Hayes McNeil to redo the kitchen into a state-of-the-art cooking space, update the bathrooms with a Zen-like sensibility and design a custom pivoting front door. McNeil also expanded the master suite, adding a walk-in closet and enlarging the bathroom.

The decades of stellar design input resulted in ideal living quarters for the Fortmans. “By the time we bought the place, the house was picture-perfect,” recalls Christine. “We literally painted some walls white, moved in, unpacked and had a party that first night.”

“By the time we bought the place, the house was picture-perfect.”

—Christine Fortman, homeowner

1. Dark wood flooring and a beamed ceiling complement the sandblasted block of the home’s original fireplace. A matching pair of plush linen swivel chairs offer the perfect spot to cozy up to a fire on a cool Sonoran evening. 2. Homeowner Christine Fortman went for a more traditional look in the living room, where an antique cabinet that once belonged to her mother sits just inside the front entry. The French-style armchairs’ soft green fabric brings the soothings hues of the garden indoors. 3. In the dining room, a contemporary glass-and-acrylic dining table is paired with lacquered faux bamboo chairs. The minimalist pieces keep the focus on the home’s architecture as well as a bold African artwork, which is a family heirloom.

The couple appointed the airy interior with furniture and art from their previous residence and mixed in a few new pieces in pale tones to contrast with the dark Brazilian cherry floors and deeply hued cabinetry found throughout. In the dining room, a new glass-and-acrylic table and a geometric-patterned area rug are fresh and light, keeping the focus on garden views and the dramatic vaulted ceiling. More traditional pieces, including an heirloom cabinet from Christine’s mother, are perfectly at home in the living room’s warm, modern setting.

Outdoors, Christine—a third-generation nursery owner—had a sure hand in updating the landscape. Her grandfather, Jim Berridge Jr., founded the iconic Arcadia green spot, Berridge Nursery, in 1938. While Christine knows her plant material, she asked landscape designer Charlie Ray for his expertise in adding to the garden’s aesthetic.

McNeil transformed the kitchen into a state-of-the-art space fit for a gourmet chef. Marked by stainless steel counters and lots of cabinetry space, the room takes in calming views of the back garden.

“We played off the home’s midcentury modern design and off the existing plant materials, which include huge, mature mesquites,” says Ray of his approach to the landscape plan. “Christine loves pops of color and an eclectic mix of plants, so we incorporated that into the design.”

In the front yard, Ray pruned back a tangle of chuparosa, feathery cassia and creosotes that were overwhelming the walkway and patio and wove in aloes, agaves and cactus for structure. He also designed several raised steel planters, filled with more desert-friendly greenery, to further define the patio and add height to the setting.

1. A photograph taken by homeowner Stefan Fortman is a focal point in the airy master bedroom. Boldly patterned pillows create a dramatic effect. 2. Dual sinks, a deep soaking tub and plenty of storage add to the master bathroom’s Zen-like appeal.

Landscape designer Charlie Ray envisioned the arc-shaped pool to reflect the home’s architecture and garden plantings.  Underwater stools invite guests to swim up to the tiled decking and enjoy a refreshing drink.

Inspired by the backyard’s serpentine walls, Ray designed an arc-shaped pool, set in the lawn and surrounded by a narrow block coping. Circular concrete pads lead from the rear patio to the pool, while a larger concrete pad accommodates lounge chairs. “The round shapes give the landscape a sense of movement and don’t eat up the lawn with a lot of solid decking,” he explains.

“The round shapes give the landscape a sense of movement.”

—Charlie Ray, landscape designer

Circular concrete pads lead from the house to the pool, passing a bed filled with agaves and aloes.

Existing beds and new steel planters are filled with grasses and ferns that add softness and motion as well as such specimens as Hercules aloes, elephant ear kalanchoes and Madagascar ocotillos that lend sculptural drama. For color, Ray added desert blooms, such as verbena and angelita daisy, and dotted beds with roses—a Berridge Nursery signature plant. Several strategically placed pots in front and back are filled with brilliantly hued seasonal annuals.

Now that they have settled in, Stefan and Christine have found that the house works perfectly when it’s just the two of them, relaxing in front of the dining room’s fireplace with their dogs, Bogie and Banks, or when there’s a houseful of family and friends, mingling inside or spilling out onto the patios.

1. A circular pad, which also serves as a swim-up bar counter, is just large enough for two lounge chairs. Billowing grasses and native bushes that line the back wall foster a sense of swimming alongside a natural riverbank. 2. Curved planter beds are filled with a mix of grasses and desert plantings for softness and motion. Totem pole cacti add structure to the composition.

A generous patio leads from the back of the house to the lawn, where towering mesquites filter the light.

And while previous owners put their own stamps on the home’s look and feel, the Fortmans continue to have a sense of respect for its history and gratitude for finding it. Says Stefan, “This house is everything we ever wanted. It’s just perfect for us.”


Landscape Designer: Charlie Ray, The Green Room Collaborative.

An owl statue watches over the yard from its perch on the garden wall.

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