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Inside a Charming English Country-Style Estate in North Central Phoenix

Owners Rick and Alex Stark preserved many of the exterior characteristics of their North Central home, originally built in 1947— including an 80-year-old Montezuma cypress tree. “They’re very rare, so we did not want to damage the root system,” Rick says.

An English country-style estate is reborn for the latest generation of a family to fall for its charms.

By Lauren Tyda | Photography by Michael Duerinckx

Growing up in North Central Phoenix in the 1970s, Alex Stark would often ride her bike past a quaint home just off of the Murphy Bridle Path on Central Avenue. 

“I was always drawn to it,” she recalls. “It was so charming with its spacious front yard and all the trees. I had never been inside, but there was something about it… some vibe. It was like a storybook.”

But it was not just destiny that brought the Starks into their personal domestic paradise—it was a deep connection to the surrounding area. After meeting at ASU, Rick, a builder, and Alex, an interior designer, spent nine years living in California before returning to Phoenix and purchasing Alex’s childhood dwelling. 

“We have lived in multiple places within a few blocks of here,” says Rick, who has renovated many properties in the North Central corridor. “Most of the people who own homes here are generational. I think that’s what makes this pocket of the Valley so special.”

Built in 1947, what is now the Starks’ abode was marketed as a replica of one of the Duke of Windsor’s cottages. Rick calls it an “almost Tudor” designed in the English-country style with its leaded glass windows, brick facade and pitched roof. 

After being sold by the original owners in 1961, a couple lovingly occupied the half-acre estate for 45 years before the Starks bought it in 2019. 

The neighbors were ecstatic. “They knew we were not going to build something new,” Alex says. “We wanted to honor the architectural character.”

Working with remodel architect Meredith Thomson, Rick stripped the edifice down to the studs and carefully rebuilt in its previous image. “While it had beautiful framework, a lot of work was needed on this home,” Thomson notes. “We wanted to keep the existing materials and match any new ones, including brick, cedar shingles and stucco.”

Rick adds: “We kept as many original details as possible—the windows, the doors. We even repurposed a tree that needed to be cut down to build the garage as my office desk and our potting bench shelves.”

1. Rick raised the ceilings in the family room and introduced crown molding. To conceal the powder room behind the fireplace and create a clever transition, he added a small library. “It’s nice when you’re the builder, you can change things on a whim,” says his wife. “The book nook wasn’t in the original plans, but it turned. 2. “I always loved the idea of having a seated bench,” Alex says of the breakfast area off the kitchen. “This was a dark,  enclosed little room before, but Rick and I re-imagined it as a happy, bright little enclave, a spot where I could sit and look out at the neighborhood.” 3. The Starks opted for an art deco look for their powder room, which is hidden from the family room by a small library. 4. The team converted an enclosed porch off of the master suite into a second master closet. 5. The Starks preserved some of the home’s original leaded glass by applying them to new energy-efficient windows. “I still have the ones I did not use in the build,” Rick says. “I couldn’t just throw them away.” Pictured here is an exterior view of the second master closet.

The team reconfigured the layout and raised the 8-foot flat ceilings throughout to create a better flow. Rick preserved the leaded and stained-glass windows—handmade by one of the past owners—applying them to specially sized, new energy-efficient windows.

The original crystal chandelier still hangs in the foyer and is lowerable by a pully system. “I put fake candles in there because I wouldn’t want to burn the house down,” Rick jokes. “But back in those days, you would lower the candelabra, light the candles and crank it back up.”

1. As an avid cook, Alex enjoys the ample kitchen and an adjacent butler’s kitchen with a butcher’s block for chopping fruits and veggies from her garden. “We entertain a lot,” she says. “It’s nice that we can place  all the dishes in the sink and close it off from the main space.” 2. One of the motivations behind raising the ceiling in the family room was to fit the TV console from the Starks’ previous home. “I loved this piece so much,” Alex says. “We had our architect, Meredith Thomson, design the spaces based on our current furnishings.” The small wicker chair is from Rick’s childhood. 3. The owners transformed what was originally a card room into a formal dining space with French-door access to the backyard. “It’s more of a classic look with a transition toward modern,” Alex says of her aesthetic. 4. Alex continued the traditional English country motif in the master suite, where she employed her favorite hues, blue and white. 5. Landscape architect David Bales carved out a small corner of the yard as a mini English-inspired garden for growing flowers and edible produce. 6. The owners kept most of the mature trees on property and introduced a covered patio and fire pit seating area. The brick benches are original. Their two grandchildren are frequent visitors and enjoy playing in the treehouse, which is perched on a 75-year-old ash.

New additions such as a pool, detached garage, laundry room and covered patio were added to enhance and tie the property together.

Keeping much of the grounds intact, landscape designer David Bales based his design on old English gardens with lush green plantings, adding white roses and dwarf ollies to the front yard. The solid iron motor court gates were repurposed from what was a portecochère leading to the backyard.

There, Bales incorporated a small corner garden enclosed by iron repurposed from original fencing on the side of the property. “David had just returned from a ‘Downton Abbey’ tour in Great Britain,” Alex recalls. “I imagined this English garden look, and he knew exactly what I wanted.”

For the interiors, Alex and her New York-based daughter, Elina, also an interior designer, collaborated with a focus on creating a transitional motif to align with the country cottage feel of the exterior.

“I just wanted a happy house,” Alex says. “And for me, ‘happy’ is bright white and accents of blue. It’s crisp, clean. I don’t want someone to come here and feel the home is too formal. I wanted it to feel cozy.”

The Starks’ son, Nick, also a builder who works in the family business, lives just a mile away and visits often with his two children, who enjoy playing in the tree house perched in a mature ash in their backyard or in the playroom above the detached garage that was once destined to become a storage space for personal treasures and seasonal decorations.

“Halfway through the build, my wife said ‘This is so fun, this would be a good space for our grandkids. I can’t even walk in here,” Rick says, laughing about the low ceilings in the second-story loft. “But they love it.”

On a warm summer day, the stretch of homes on the Central Avenue thoroughfare is bristling with pedestrian activity, from bikers and joggers to walkers and gawkers who enjoy the shaded bridle path, sprawling lawns and daydreaming about life in these handsome, uniquely appointed residences—just as Alex did as a youth.

1. Alex continued the traditional English country motif in the master suite, where she employed her favorite hues, blue and white. 2. A former porte cochère leading to the backyard was converted into a pool bath, outdoor dining and separate office where Rick can take meetings. “I work from home, so this way I can have my clients come by without having to take them through the main living space.”

“I guess you can say it was meant to be,” she says of the serendipitous circumstances that brought her back to the house. “Rick does a lot of business with people I knew as a kid, and now he’s redoing their properties. So it all comes full circle.”

As far as their plans to find another gem in North Central Phoenix, Rick is content to call this hideaway their happily ever after: “We’re never moving. This is our forever house.”


Builder: Rick Stark, Starion Custom Residences, Phoenix, Interior designers: Alex Stark and Elina Daugstrup, A&E Interiors, Phoenix, Landscape architect: David Bales, DWBales Landscape Architecture, Buckeye, (623) 308-0500. Remodel architect: Meredith Thomson, Candelaria Design, Scottsdale,


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