Home On The Range
A dramatic desert landscape rustles up qualities of the Old West.
By Shannon Severson | Photography by Michael Woodall
In the exclusive North Scottsdale enclave of Whisper Rock, where Spanish colonial estates and Old World-influenced villas dot the terrain, the decidedly Western-style residence of Taunya and Steve Davis offers a fresh spin on Old Arizona. The comfortable vibe of the house is matched only by its eye-catching landscape filled with mature desert-friendly specimens. The verdant gardens conjure a welcoming atmosphere that would lasso any cowboy’s heart.
“From the moment we first saw the home, we knew there was something interesting about it,” says Taunya. “It called to us, and we fell in love with it. I couldn’t wait to work on the yard because I knew it could be fantastic.” To give the grounds a look that appears as though it’s been there since the days of the Wild West, the couple turned to Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award-winning landscape designer Chad Norris.
“What stands out most to me is that the home has this sort of ‘secret garden’ element,” Norris notes. “From the street, you can’t appreciate its incredible aesthetic. It’s secluded and tucked away.”
The rustic contemporary character of the Western ranch-style house, designed by architect Bob Bacon, is gradually revealed, thanks to an intricately layered palette of cacti, agaves and boulders designed to guide the eye up the long entry drive and to the front porch. Weathered shiplap and stone accent the stucco exterior, which features a rusty stovepipe and a metal-roofed front porch fashioned from reclaimed barn wood. A ranch gate, crafted of thick beams, leads to a motor court.
“You can peek through the trees to see parts of the home and the plants,” says Taunya, “yet we still have a ton of privacy. It’s not so dense that you have a closed-in feeling.”
It wasn’t always that way. When the Davises purchased the property, the landscape was an overgrown tangle of creosote and scrub. Norris trimmed and shaped every inch, removing neglected and dead foliage, revealing natural-growth hedgehog and barrel cacti and red-blooming chuparosa, and highlighting the more than 50 trees that surround the home.
“Now the yard looks like artwork,” says Taunya. “We have a view of the mountains that we didn’t previously have.”
Norris enhanced the native plantings by adding moundings of land throughout the property and importing approximately 80 tons of boulders. “They appear as though they were born here or just rolled in during the ice age,” says Taunya. “The use of the boulders was one of the biggest surprises of the design, and they have made a huge impact.” In the front yard, the designer employed chunky riprap to underscore a natural wash, adding a serpentine line of rugged texture that meanders through the grounds.
“The home called to us, and we fell in love with it.”
—Taunya Davis, homeowner
Taunya enjoys the newly landscaped front yard from the covered porch, which she says is her favorite spot to sit and relax. “I like to take an afternoon nap out here with the dogs,” she notes. “It’s just a nice place to hang out. We have a squirrel who lives beneath the porch, and we’ve named him Sir Henry.” A mother bobcat and her three babies, who the Davises have dubbed Huey, Dewey and Louie, also frequent the property.
“That deck is so unusual,” says Norris. “I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it in Scottsdale. Elevated and made of weathered wood—it totally accentuates the home’s style.” The deck is furnished with a farmhouse table, rocking chairs, a comfy couch and a pair of decorative rusted steel llamas. “I wanted to give prominence to the deck and not take away from it,” Norris adds.
The designer removed a formal hedge that encircled the wood structure and replaced it with wispy grasses and low plantings that bloom throughout the year, including pink muhly grass and lilyturf (Liriope muscari).
At the foot of the deck’s staircase is an imposing 4,000-pound armed Mexican giant cardon (Pachycereus pringlei) that’s the star of the entry courtyard. Nicknamed “Carlos the Cardon” by the Davises, the massive plant was brought in to replace a decaying tree; it’s so large that it had to be placed using a crane.
“The space needed something tall, wide and sprawling that wouldn’t obstruct the view,” explains Norris. “When the Davises saw this cardon, they fell in love with it.” Unlike a saguaro, which is similar in appearance but blooms only at the tops of its stems and arms, cardons produce spring blossoms all over their bodies, resulting in a visually impactful vignette when viewed through the home’s large front window.
“It is probably one of the best elements of the landscape. It fits so well from a scale perspective,” says Norris of the showcase cactus. “When you round the corner from the driveway and it comes into view, it’s a climactic event. It’s the perfect crescendo, and it completes the story that started at the street.”
The central feature of the backyard is a covered outdoor living/dining room that is framed by beds filled with desert plants and pots overflowing with lush greenery. The space invites lounging, dining and sharing the spectacular sunsets framed by the trees in the distance. Light spills in from an atrium nestled between the covered patio and the house. To create a relaxed yet polished feel, Taunya worked with interior designer Jacques Piquemal.
“We used furniture that Taunya had from her previous home to break up the space so it doesn’t look so big,” says Piquemal. “The majority of the seating is in a deep turquoise hue accented with a zigzag pattern in the same shade and some lime green, so it’s relatively neutral. The goal was a color palette that would blend in and not distract from the landscape. It’s young and fun—a modern interpretation of traditional, but it still has a desert feeling.”
The patio opens up to a mirror-edge pool that reflects the soaring desert sky; its cerulean waters complement the blue furnishings. All around are small potted plants bursting with color. Each pot was carefully chosen by Taunya; they’re filled with small cacti and succulents, blue chalksticks (Senecio serpens), sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima), dusty miller (Senecio cineraria), geraniums and more.
“I’m a gardener at heart,” she says. “I have a shoulder injury that keeps me from doing any major digging, but I’m constantly tweaking things with Chad’s help.”
She and her husband are also avid golfers and lovers of all things sporty, so the couple had an area of the backyard leveled to create a putting green with a contemporary, rectangular shape. It is bordered with a stone pony wall and framed with grandiflora roses, another of Taunya’s selections. A horseshoe pit and bocce court add to the outdoor fun.
“We are really happy with how everything turned out,” says Taunya. “The addition of the putting green really opened up our whole yard. We have a lot more useable space and the entire property has better balance now.” Listening to her enthusiasm, it’s clear that this restorative place with a bit of Western whimsy is the result of a purposeful vision.
For Norris, seeing the homeowners enjoying their new landscape is the most rewarding aspect of his job. “The Davises love the outdoors, and Taunya is a gardener who knows her stuff,” he says. “To be able to collaborate and create a desertscape that is so unique has been rewarding. For me, it felt as though I was creating a garden for the first time.”