An architect designs an adobe home next door to the house that inspired his career.
By Katherine Adomaitis | Photography by Steve Thompson
For homeowners Tania and Darren Paylor, the cozy, exposed-adobe house in the North Scottsdale development of Sincuidados speaks of relaxation and recreation, serving as a place to escape the cold winters of their native Canada as well as a launchpad for their favorite desert activities, hiking and golf. For architect Clint Miller, however, the intimate dwelling not only showcases the hallmark of his design aesthetic, it represents a return to his beginnings in the industry.
“The house next door to the Paylor’s property literally launched my career as a residential designer who specializes in adobe homes,” says the Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner.
The neighboring domicile was created in 1986 by the late artist and designer Bill Tull and served that year as the Phoenix Home & Garden Designers’ Showhouse, featuring the work of 16 artistic teams and benefiting the Heard Museum. “I was building my own home at the time,” recalls Miller, who was then involved in commercial architecture. “I saw that October 1986 issue of Phoenix Home & Garden with Bill’s design on the cover and knew instantly that I wanted to make my own place out of adobe. Within minutes, I was on the freeway going down to a Tucson brickyard to learn about the material.”
Fast-forward more than three decades, and the Paylors became the beneficiaries of Miller’s lengthy experience with the earthen-based medium when they started thinking about constructing a vacation retreat in the Valley. “We liked the way the natural desert was preserved in Sincuidados,” explains Darren, who notes that he and Tania toured several adobe properties that were on the market but couldn’t find one that met their needs. “We both felt as though we connected with the material and decided we wanted to build something that was authentically Arizona.” After meeting Miller, the Paylors bought a 1-acre lot with views of a boulder-rimmed wash, distant mountains and the Tull-designed touchstone.
Tania and Darren insisted on keeping their new residence small and manageable. “We saw a lot of homes in North Scottsdale that were monstrous,” says Darren. “They seemed to be too much to manage. We have a big house in Canada where we entertain large groups. Here, it’s just the two of us, with maybe another couple visiting. We don’t need oversized rooms or patios for parties.” Miller got the picture, even jokingly noting that the Paylors “were the only clients who kept asking me to shrink the master closet.” The finished main residence comes in at 2,500 square feet, while the one-bedroom casita measures a tad more than 400 square feet.
But the home’s modest size doesn’t distract from its subtle sense of grandeur and elegance. The well-proportioned floor plan has a feeling of volume and space, with an airy central core that includes the entry, living and dining areas. The master suite and a secondary bedroom are angled to one side, while the kitchen and a small sitting room are just next to the dining area.
While the Tull house boasts an organic, sculptural style with Moorish influences, Darren and Tania wanted something more traditional. “We went with a territorial style that was popular in the Southwest in the late 1800s and early 20th century,” says Miller. The exposed adobe walls are capped with crisp coping that delineates the flat roofline. Concrete lintels and windowsills underscore the crank casement windows. In the living and dining area, tall, narrow French doors open on to the front and back patios—with their height accentuating the proportions of the interior space. “The French doors are in keeping with the home’s historic feel,” Miller notes. “Sliding glass doors would seem too modern.” Additionally, the structure lacks deep overhangs—a deliberate omission meant to bring in winter light when the Paylors are most likely to be in residence.
“We wanted to build something that was authentically Arizona.”
—Darren Paylor, homeowner
Integrally colored concrete flooring, custom alder cabinetry and fireplaces with flagstone surrounds complete the architectural details. “I like to work with the simplest palette of materials,” says Miller, “particularly in a smaller home. Too much looks fussy.”
When it came to furnishing the interiors, Tania and Darren opted to do it themselves, bouncing ideas off Miller. “We’ve decorated other houses, and it’s become a kind of hobby for us,” Darren says. “We enjoy shopping for the perfect pieces.”
Working in a few items from a Scottsdale condo where they had previously spent several winters, the couple scoured local furniture stores, antiques malls and vintage shops, as well as the showrooms at the Las Vegas Design Center, to find pieces that were appropriate for the scale and style of their new dwelling. “We didn’t want the big, heavy leather furniture that most people think of when it comes to adobe design,” says Darren. “This home is more pared-down and delicate.”
In the living room, the couple chose a pair of tufted pale gray sofas to angle around the fireplace, while an oriental rug adds a touch of vintage charm. The kitchen’s island is encircled by a quartet of comfortable leather barstools; an adjacent sitting area is simply furnished with a settee, a deep armchair and an ottoman. In the master bedroom, an upholstered bed and two slipper chairs bring just the right touch of nostalgia, as does a small desk, which now has a second life as a vanity table in the master bathroom. Crystal chandeliers add sparkle throughout the home’s interior, and artwork, collected by the Paylors at galleries and antiques stores, tells the story of the Southwest.
Outdoors, the vegetation is an homage to the Sonoran Desert. Miller collaborated with landscape architect Donna Winters, also a Masters of the Southwest award winner, to create a garden that requires minimal water and care. “Given the adobe architecture and the beautiful natural setting, we wanted the grounds to be authentic,” says Winters. “Even the private areas are all about native plants, so there’s no pruning or mowing required.”
“There’s something about walking into this adobe home that grounds you. It’s like walking into an old church.”
—Clint Miller, architect
In the front yard, a decomposed granite and flagstone walkway curves through plantings of palo verdes, ocotillo, creosote and cholla to reach the entry and patio. In back, a flagstone patio encircles the curving pool, which is set at the edge of the wash. Next to the pool, a board-formed cast concrete planter is filled with agaves, while small beds are home to lady’s-slippers, golden barrels and hesperaloe, shaded by Texas ebony. “In this landscape,” says Winters, “you just let the plants do their thing.”
The Paylors are now enjoying their second season in their new home, learning its many pleasures, from morning coffee on the fireplace-warmed front patio and catching up on the news in the kitchen’s sitting area, to enjoying a drink by the pool as the sun slips behind the mountains.
For Miller, the entire residence is a feel-good project. “There’s something about walking into this adobe home that grounds you,” he says. “It’s like walking into an old church. The thick walls make the space seem still, which slows you down. And, 30-some years later, I think it’s a good companion to Bill Tull’s house.”
Architect: Clint Miller, Clint Miller Architect. Builder: Tom Fisher, Fisher Custom Homes. Landscape Architect: Donna Winters, Enchanted Garden Landscape Inc.
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