A newly built residence, designed for a professional baseball player and his growing family, hits it out of the park.
By Katherine Adomaitis | Photography by Scott Sandler
At first glance, the modern, hacienda ranch-style home is visually stunning, built into a steep hillside with a series of outdoor terraces and patios that capture views of mountains and city lights. But the beauty of this 10,000-square-foot, five-bedroom house is not just skin deep—it’s filled with telling details specific to its occupants. There’s a custom wine cabinet in the dining room, designed to accommodate a special double magnum of champagne. The upstairs game room has a display case for sports memorabilia. A storage area under the staircase offers quick access to a cluster of suitcases for frequent trips. And taking up a lower level is a full-blown batting cage.
The homeowners? Jacoby Ellsbury, center fielder for the New York Yankees and a two-time World Series champion during his time with the Boston Red Sox, and his wife, Kelsey. Though the couple also has residences in Florida and New York, they chose Scottsdale as their home base. “We love the weather here,” says Kelsey, who is a full-time mother to the couple’s two young daughters (and a third due this month), “and we have relatives in Arizona and the West. We wanted a house where our family could come and stay, and a place where we could entertain.”
For the Ellsburys, the path to building their home on the 2-acre site was a series of fortunate events. Several years back, architect Dale Gardon and landscape architect Donna Winters, both Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winners, had designed the house and its garden spaces for a previous owner, who ended up not going forward with the project. A second owner brought builder Michael Graham into the loop, but also decided not to build and put the property back on the market. When the Ellsburys bought the lot, it came with the set of pre-approved plans. The couple opted to work with the existing proposal and the design/build team, and they added interior designer Trish Bowman, who had worked on their New York apartment and a previous Scottsdale home.
“We liked the way the existing house plans worked,” says Jacoby, “and the way the design captured the views. But since the house wasn’t built yet, we were able to tweak the layout to make it work better for our family.”
One of the ways the couple changed the house was making it a bit more contemporary, without losing the design theme of the surrounding community. “The style was originally envisioned as more rustic and territorial,” explains Gardon. “We were easily able to modify its exterior elevations by using limestone cladding instead of stone on accent walls, covering the roof in cement tiles instead of two layers of clay tiles, simplifying the railing elements and installing simpler windows.
“Jacoby and Kelsey are very practical and were hands-on in the details of how they wanted to live in the house,” the architect continues. “They really thought things through.” Modifications to the floor plan included creating a single, large kitchen island instead of two, adding a big bank of windows and a Juliette balcony to capture the views from the upstairs game room, and installing a turntable outside of the garages to make backing out easier. To accommodate Jacoby’s MLB career, a second-story guest room was transformed into a training space—complete with a sauna and steam room—and, of course, the downstairs batting cage was added.
It was up to Graham to execute the plans. “It’s a challenging site,” admits the builder, who has a background in engineering and hillside construction. “We basically built the house into the hillside on what was the building envelope and put the backyard—which is a series of terraces and the pool—at the front of the house, where the views are.”
“The house may seem big on paper, but we use every room. The spaces are cozy.”
––Kelsey Ellsbury, homeowner
The batting cage, an idea that was pitched once construction had commenced, was an additional challenge. “The only place for it was underground,” Graham explains. “We excavated under the guest casita and the yard, toward the bottom of the hill, and used cast-in-place concrete for the walls.”
The builder also constructed the home’s cabinetry and millwork, and designed the wine cabinet, specifically sized to spotlight Jacoby’s World Series double magnum of champagne.
Bowman, who, along with Graham, served as the Ellsburys’ on-site construction liaison while they traveled for baseball, was charged with fulfilling the couple’s desire to have a livable, family-friendly house. She specified finishes and furnishings that were elegant but also comfortable. “Kelsey and Jacoby are not fussy people,” says the designer. “They wanted the interior to be clean, simple and beautiful.”
Working with a soothing palette of silver, gray, taupe and white, Bowman installed lounge-worthy seating, as well as case goods in clean lines to match the scale of the house. She added numerous custom touches throughout the home; for example, in the entry, she designed a circular borne settee and clad the ceiling in mercury glass tiles for a bit of sparkle. Personalized details abound. The kitchen backsplash incorporates handmade tile from Oregon—the couple’s home state. In the master suite hallway, a chandelier accented with turquoise stones is an homage to Jacoby’s Navajo heritage. Upstairs, a custom display cabinet, crafted by Bowman and Graham, showcases Jacoby’s baseball memorabilia, which includes balls, bats and his two World Series trophies.
Outdoor living is also important to the Ellsburys. Window walls glide open to connect the indoors to the travertine-paved terraces, the negative-edge pool, the sheltered spa and the outdoor grilling area.
“Because of the hillside slope, the home has limited garden space,” explains Winters. “Much of it is framed and contained within the architecture and the hardscape. We tucked in plantings with patterns and rhythms to make the most of the space, and used layering for depth.”
Winters chose native species that were compatible with the property’s desert setting. Close to the house, she used lady’s-slipper, Texas ebony, agaves, ruellia and yuccas, contrasting structure with softness. Stretches of artificial turf provide a practical solution for children’s play areas. The addition of native plants, such as bursage, brittlebush, creosote and palo verde trees, helped facilitate the property’s post-construction renovation and allow the gardens to seamlessly blend with their natural surroundings.
Now that the Ellsburys have settled into their new digs, they enjoy hosting friends and family for overnight visits and parties. When it’s just them, they relax on the patios, in the family room or upstairs in the game room. “This house may seem big on paper, but we use every room,” says Kelsey. “The spaces are cozy.”
Perhaps Gardon summarizes the project best: “The Ellsburys didn’t want a house,” he says. “They wanted a home.”
“The Ellsburys didn’t want a house. They wanted a home.”
––Dale Gardon, architect