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Explore Lush Gardens and Spanish-Inspired Interiors at This Storied Estate

Landscape designer and homeowner Brian Kissinger completely reimagined the 1-acre property, bringing in 110 canopy trees, including nine varieties of oak and 15 species of palms. The gardens employ gravity-fed watering through a network of underground pipes that carry rainwater from the front of the property to the back. Earlier this year, the landscape was documented by the Smithsonian’s Archive of American Gardens as a resource for landscape architects and horticulturists.

A horticulturist lovingly restores a home and its gardens to honor their historic Arizona legacy.

By John Roark | Photography by Mark Lipczynski

When asked to articulate his feelings about the landscape he created and has meticulously maintained at his Phoenix home, horticulturist and landscape designer Brian Kissinger paraphrases the words of the late poet W.S. Merwin: “It has a life of its own, an intricate, willful, secret life. A garden is a relationship, which is one of the countless reasons why it is never finished.” For a project that began more than a decade ago and is continually evolving, the words are apropos.

Brian and his partner, Todd McCandless, happened upon the residence located in the Phoenix Country Club in 2010. Designed in 1926 by architect H. H. Green and named Casa Encantada, the Spanish hacienda-style estate’s storied past includes purchase by Sen. Carl Hayden in 1929, who bought it using proceeds from U.S. savings bonds that would have become worthless in the stock market crash later that year. The Hayden family occupied the main house and a detached guest casita until the late 1960s.

After passing through the hands of multiple residents and sitting vacant at times, the 1-acre property had fallen into disrepair. The dwelling had suffered illogical additions and haphazard modifications, and the gardens were reduced to red lava rock, unruly oleanders, Bermuda grass and chain-link fencing overgrown with mulberries. Renovation would require a significant investment of time, money and effort, but it was a task the couple were willing to take on. “I could tell that the house had been much more than what it had become,” Brian recalls. “It had the strength, the structure and the bones. We bought it because it had enormous potential.”

An extensive overhaul began with the aim of significantly repairing and improving both the house and the grounds that surround it. “Our objective was to build on the inherent charm of the property, but we needed to ensure that whatever we did was respectful to the soul of the estate,” Brian says.

He enlisted the help of Luis Peris, an architect with a forte in historic preservation and renovation. “Casa Encantada was in a sad state of affairs, but it was a gem in the rough,” Peris remembers. The existing construction was sound. This presented a perfect opportunity to undo all of the wrongs and make improvements that would achieve the outcome that Brian and Todd wanted.”

1. Designed by architect H.H. Green in 1926, Casa Encantada personifies what Brian calls ‘Old Arizona.’ “The property has the same historical charm you find at El Chorro in Paradise Valley or Tucson’s Arizona Inn,” he says. “I saw so much potential. We needed to make sure that honored the soul of the house.” 2. Rising from a bed of cycads (Zamia furfuracae), an antique garden sprite keeps watch over the landscape.

The architect’s plan connected the house to the adjacent casita by means of an entrance loggia and added street-facing garages and nearly 2,000 square feet of additional living space, including a new master bedroom and bath, guest room, laundry and den.

It was essential that the new architecture work seamlessly with the old while incorporating contemporary sustainability features. Peris used insulating concrete forms to integrate construction with the original 15-inch-thick adobe walls. “Adobe has very good thermal mass,” he notes. “Matching the thickness of the adobe with ICF enabled us to design deeply recessed windows, as opposed to large expanses of glass, to help limit the amount of sun coming in. And because the walls are so well-insulated, we were able to reduce the size of the air conditioning unit.” Exterior loggias provide additional shade, curbing the amount of heat entering the house.

1. The front loggia was part of the new construction added by architect Luis Peris, whose background includes historical renovation and preservation. “This is our hello to the neighborhood,” says Brian of the xeriscaped entry garden. Pillowy mounds of trailing rosemary flank the walk, accented by the bold silhouettes of whales’ tongue agave (Agave ovatifolia). 2. A pair of antique Moroccan doors provides a hint of the treasures to be found within. 3. Shady and inviting, the pool loggia has been the site for countless gatherings, large and small. “I call this our outdoor living room,” says Brian. “It’s completely protected from the elements. In the winter, we sit by the fireplace. We’ve even had our Christmas tree out here.” The mesquite chairs were designed and upholstered for outdoor use. 4. This historic photo of the guest casita shows the property’s original tiled fountain. 5. The pool was designed to be a throwback to 1930s-era Hollywood. When Brian and his partner purchased the property in 2010, the golf course view was completely obscured by mulberry trees and chain-link fence.

“Sustainable architecture is not that much more expensive than the usual alternatives, which are not very efficient,” says Peris. “If you plan it right, you can get a good value for your buck that will bring dividends in the future.”

Brian wasn’t going to let the chaos of construction keep him from embarking on his true passion: the gardens. “I was planting trees immediately,” he laughs. “I put up plastic fencing and threatened the contractors with bodily harm if they let anything compromise the soil.”

“I wanted to create a timeless space that would catapult my guests into another time and place. That’s what this house was saying to me from the start. ”

—Brian Kissinger, homeowner

1. One of the home’s early owners was Sen. Carl Hayden, who salvaged the Minton tiles surrounding the fireplace from the U.S. Capitol in 1923. The painting above the fireplace is by Bisbee artist Paul Bovée. 2. The homeowners were originally unsure how to furnish the large living room. Their friend (and guest casita tenant) Scott Burdick, a partner in a Scottsdale interior design firm, suggested dividing the space with a 19th-century Mexican library table, thus creating two separate seating areas. “It was a solution that I never would have thought of,” says Brian. “It made us love the room even more.” 3.  “What I love most about this house are the details,” says Brian. Here, a collection of 19th- century Spanish colonial artifacts rests beneath one of the home’s original scallop-motif niches. 4. Named after Casa Encantada’s early resident, the homeowners’ scrappy pooch Hayden “showed up and claimed us during construction,” Brian recalls. “He only weighed about 4 pounds. We nursed him back to health and now he rules us.”

Brian’s mental image for the landscape was inspired by the seven years he served as director of horticulture at Desert Botanical Garden. When he was hired in 2010, the Garden’s aesthetic was predominantly Sonoran. He expanded its reach to encompass a more global view. “It was my job to introduce plants from other areas, for example, the Canary Islands, South Africa and South America,” he relates. “I believe in celebrating flora that will survive and flourish in this climate. I wanted Casa Encantada to be my world garden, using a
drought-tolerant plant palette that can survive in extreme heat.”

Placement of 110 trees—including nine varieties of oak and 15 species of palms, as well as 15 subtropical specimens—established a shade canopy and created a microclimate hospitable to more fragile flora beneath, including 30 species of cycads, a favorite plant of Brian’s. “It’s not just what’s on the ground and what’s above that make a garden,” he observes. “It’s also everything in between. When you create layers, plants interplay and nestle up against each other just as they do in nature.”

The lush landscape comprises a series of destinations, or outdoor “rooms.” Visitors are welcomed with the front xeriscape entry and pass through a loggia via a pair of old Moroccan doors to an interior courtyard with a large circular fountain. “The curbside landscape is our way of saying hello,” says Brian, “and the interior garden is like a hug.” Ambling stone pathways encourage leisurely exploration through vignettes fragrant with rosemary, crinum lilies, Acanthocereus, Arabian jasmine, Magnolia grandiflora, Texas mountain laurel and plumeria. A daily serenade is provided by songbirds drawn to the dense canopy of shade and a splashing water feature. At the rear of the property, just past a rectangular swimming pool that evokes Hollywood’s golden era, decorative iron fencing presents an unimpeded golf course view, creating the illusion that the yard extends indefinitely.

With the inclusion of a 5,000-square-foot open-air pavilion, new construction added 10,000 square feet of roof space to the property, which gave Brian the opportunity to design a gravity-fed rainwater retention system. Precipitation is directed into a network of gutters and subterranean pipes that channel it between garden beds. Mounding of individual beds also directs water to the areas most in need. “The water has to go somewhere,” Brian reasons. “Why not keep it?”

Luck was with the homeowners when it came time to turn their attention to the casa’s interiors. Scott Burdick, co-owner of a Scottsdale interior design firm, moved into the guest house just as the main residence was nearing completion. The couple looked to him for guidance on integrating personal items they had and fine-tuning the decor. “Brian was the true designer of this house. He has a great eye, and he and Todd have some fantastic furniture and artworks that have been with them for years,” Burdick notes. “The idea of starting over when moving into a new residence is a little unrealistic. A home feels best and warmest when its composition is a mix that includes expensive and inexpensive, different eras and countries. In the same way that Brian layers his landscapes, he composed the interiors.”

Almost a century after it was built, Casa Encantada has hit its stride. In addition to winning a 2019 residential award from the Arizona chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Smithsonian’s Archive of American Gardens recently documented the property as a resource for landscape architects and horticulturists worldwide. While Brian is happy to receive the kudos, he remains modest. “I just wanted to bring everything back to life,” he says. “My vision was to create a space that would catapult guests into another time and place. That’s what this house was suggesting to me from the start.”

Landscape designer: Brian Kissinger, The Green Room Collaborative. Remodel Architect: Luis Peris, LuPe Design.

For more information, see Sources.

1. “I immediately fell in love with the exterior staircase,” Brian recalls. The canopy of a live oak (Quercus agrifolia) provides shade to the courtyard loggia and allows the fragrant Asian jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum) groundcover below to thrive. 2. By the 1970s, when this photo was taken, the original open-air sleeping porch had been altered. 3.  An image taken in the 1920s shows Casa Encantada’s original front entry.
1. “The den is probably our favorite interior space and the heart of the home,” says Brian. “It’s where we flop down to read, nap or watch a movie.” The room is part of the new construction added in 2010. 2. “We wanted the house to be connected to its era,” Brian asserts. In remodeling the kitchen, a bank of windows above the counter replaced anachronistic white cabinetry. Subway tiles were custom made. “I wanted them to be a little bit beat up, not perfect,” he says. The breakfast nook’s focal point is “Dead Sea Scrolls” by Kansas City, Missouri artist Shea Gordon Festuff.  3.  Part of the addition designed by Peris, the spacious Moroccan-themed bedroom has views of the central garden beyond. The trio of framed charcoal sketches are by homeowner Brian Kissinger. 4. The master bath features a deep tub perfect for long soaks after a day of tending the gardens. 5. Adjacent to the kitchen, the courtyard loggia is an idyllic spot for the homeowners to enjoy leisurely breakfasts serenaded by the variety of songbirds that frequent the garden. 6. When Brian purchased the home, the upstairs sleeping porch was completely enclosed and included a small bathroom and stairs leading to the hallway below. “I did my research, and that enclosure was not part of the original house,” says Peris. “You could feel it wasn’t right. The stairway didn’t make sense. It really chopped up the space.” 

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