back to top
Homepage / Architecture  / Less is More

Less is More

Cutting back on space and belongings allows a pair of empty nesters to fully savor the Sonoran lifestyle.

By Niki D'Andrea | Photography by Michael Woodall

Most of us have heard the adage, “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” But when one North Scottsdale couple chose to build to a new home in the upscale community of Desert Mountain, they decided to turn that saying on its head by creating a glass-encased house that lives among the stones, inside and out.

After raising their two children in a 4,500-square-foot Southwest-style abode in Paradise Valley, the homeowners wanted to downsize. Their goal was a home that felt as luxurious as their previous one, but minus the maintenance, unused space and abundance of material items they’d accumulated over decades. Instead of shelves lined with collections, they preferred the seemingly infinite views of the surrounding landscape.

“It’s hard to find a really nice, small house in the areas where we wanted to live,” the husband says, “so we resolved to build our own. The idea was to have the outdoors come in and the indoors flow out—to make it feel like you’re really living in the desert.”

Adds the wife, “When you’re in the second half of your centuries, like we are, you really do begin to question what you value the most, and you begin to make decisions based on those values—not just in terms of architecture but also the stuff you put in it.”

“Every detail should be purpose-driven—nothing more than it needs and nothing less.”

—Brent Kendle, architect

Their 3,100-square-foot home, dubbed Painted Sky by Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award-winning architect Brent Kendle, showcases natural materials, such as fieldstone, metal and wood, and blends effortlessly into the surrounding landscape.

Kendle describes the residence as “a modern interpretation of ranch-home architecture.” Hot-rolled steel and copper cladding add an industrial twist.  “The design objective was an elemental abode—a house whose beauty is derived not by embellishment or ornamentation but by the simple, artful way the basic materials that create shelter and make up a home are considered and expressed,” he explains. “Every detail should be purpose-driven—nothing more than it needs and nothing less.”

The lack of accessories, combined with the creative use of limited space and its purposeful setting into the mountain make the house feel significantly larger than it is.
A main feature of the structure are the vast expanses of glass, including a floor-to-ceiling wall in the hallway and massive sliding glass doors on the back patio, that let in natural light at just the right times throughout the day. “Every space within this home engages with the outdoors in a unique way. There is no escaping it,” Kendle says. “It is the main attraction, the artwork, a tapestry that changes with every moment of the day, drawing your attention and begging you to engage.

“On one end, clerestory windows in the master bathroom are only inches above natural grade so that desert dwellers, such as foxes, bobcats, coyotes or javelinas, might peer through the window and look down into the room,” he continues. “On the other exposures, the interiors meet the outdoors with walls of carefully shaded glass.”

1. A copper-clad wall just off the entryway bridges the interior and exterior of the house. Copper is also used for the home’s roof. “It’s the perfect accent for the desert,” Lupien says. 2. Because the homeowners were looking to downsize to a more maintenance-free lifestyle, landscape architect Shari Zimmerman intalled easy-to-care-for desert-friendly greenery. Near the front door, a raised bed is filled with rows of compact Agave victoriae-reginae. 3. More than a decorative feature, the steel TV wall provides ample storage, thanks to hidden built-in closets and cubbies. 4. With its clean-lined cabinetry and marble countertop, the kitchen is both elegant and understated. Built-in appliances add to the room’s minimalist feel. 5. The master bath has a decidedly masculine aesthetic, with dark gray-tiled walls and a wood floating vanity. Clerestory windows let in light while maintaining privacy. 6. “When decorating patios, we always try to use furniture that looks like it belongs inside,” says interior designer Tony Sutton. “So when everything’s opened up, the area is just an expression of your living space.” The sloped wood ceiling also extends from the great room to the patio, further emphasizing the home’s indoor-outdoor connection. The homeowner clad the hot tub with copper; he also hooked up a speaker system for al fresco entertaining.

Landscape architect Shari Zimmerman worked with Kendle to “ensure that when you’re inside the house looking out, there’s a natural connection between the two expanses.” The property was positioned to preserve as much of the existing vegetation as possible, including palo verde trees, pink fairyduster (Calliandra eriophylla) and cholla. There is no pool or grass, just open views of the mountains to the north and Arizona’s blue skies above.

To make the interiors seem larger than they are, Kendle and builder Jeff Lupien created shared space, combining the main areas into one great room. “If you broke the dining, kitchen and living zones into separate rooms, the house would start to feel really small, but combining them all creatively so everything still functions perfectly makes the home feel a lot larger,” Lupien says. “Add in the large windows and doors on the back elevation and all the floor-to-ceiling glass that surrounds the front courtyard, and the space seems twice as big as it actually is.”

Hallways are minimal. “They’re transition zones that are not that interesting,” says interior designer and Masters of the Southwest award winner Tony Sutton. “There’s less square footage dedicated to these areas, so line of sight is critical.

“When you’re inside the house looking out, there’s a natural connection between the two expanses.”

—Shari Zimmerman, landscape architect

“We always want to entice a homeowner to live in every room of their house,” Sutton explains. “Some might have a house twice as big as this but live in less square footage than what’s been created here. If we design each room properly, you want to live in all the spaces you have for your new home. That is how a house becomes a home.”

1. Architect Brent Kendle and Lupien combined the main living spaces into a single great room, which gives the impression of a larger area. A hot-rolled steel wall anchors the open space. 2. Use of a single flooring material throughout ties the kitchen, dining room and living room together. The porcelain tiles provide the organic look of wood and are extremely durable. The homeowners wanted floors that were easy to care for, wouldn’t show wear and could hide the hair of their golden retriever. A textured wool area rug helps define the living room. 3. In the master bedroom, a custom plaster accent wall adds visual interest without the need for excessive decoration. A simple blue photo frame, crafted from salvaged airplanes, hangs above the bed. The large corner window overlooks the mountains to the north.

The couple agree, noting that they don’t miss the bigger rooms of their previous house and that they now find themselves having more time to enjoy living in the desert.

“I wanted to see the sun rise while I’m working out in the mornings and then, when I’m making dinner, to watch it set,” says the wife. “We have a small patio, and it’s very accommodating for being able to eat outside most months of the year.”

The husband echoes her love of indoor-outdoor living. “In the morning, I’ll take my coffee in the yellow chair in the living room, and I’ll look out at the mountains as the sun comes up. We get a really beautiful view,” he says. “And then we try to go outside most nights. Our time outdoors has grown significantly.”

Even the master bedroom, with its oversized frameless corner window, offers unparalleled views and an extraordinary connection with nature. Blending beautiful design with functionality, this glass house proves that downsizing can be done with style.

Architect: Brent Kendle, Kendle Design Collaborative. Builder: Jeff Lupien, True North Builders Inc. Interior Designer: Tony Sutton, Est Est Inc. Landscape Architect: Shari Zimmerman, GBTwo Landscape Architecture Inc.

For more information, see Sources.


Sign up for the Phoenix Home & Garden Newsletter

Stay up to date with everything Phoenix Home & Garden!

Our newsletter subscribers will have early access to things like:

  • Upcoming Events & Pre-Sales
  • Special Promotions
  • Exclusive Giveaways!