An interior designer takes a 1960s ranch from ’90s nightmare to fresh and fashionable.
By Katherine Adomaitis | Photography by Christiaan Blok
Sherry Engle and Cliff Paul’s Paradise Valley home sits atop a hillside with views of Camelback Mountain. Airy and comfortable, it is filled with a collection of midcentury furnishings and accessories, meant to complement its 1963 roots. But the couple almost passed on the abode when it was on the market a few years back—and then a disaster helped shape its look.
In 2016, Sherry and Cliff were looking for a house to buy, but they had a few requirements. “I wanted something that I could transform; something that I could put my stamp on,” explains Sherry, an interior designer. Cliff, a structural engineer, desired a house with a view. They also needed enough room for visits from their blended family, which includes six adult children and grandchildren, not to mention a yard for Nikko, their senior-citizen Pomeranian.
After Cliff found the property in Paradise Valley (it had views), Sherry initially had reservations and wanted to keep looking. “I know that as an interior designer, I’m supposed to visualize things,” she says with a laugh, “but I was doubtful I could do something fabulous with this house. I couldn’t see past the interior elements. It looked as though someone had taken a 1990s wand to the interior and said ‘tah-dah!’”
Indeed, the 3,000-square-foot main house and its 900-square-foot casita did have a lot of classic ’90s elements, including niches, soffits, pot shelves and plenty of plaster ziggurats (stepped pyramid shapes), all thanks to several remodelings that tried to eradicate the buildings’ midcentury modern forms. Sherry did some research and believes the house was a custom residence, possibly designed by Weaver & Drover, a Phoenix architectural firm. Its style was a modern ranch, with whitewashed adobe walls accented with board-and-batten siding. A 1963 Arizona Republic article notes that the home was built by Ray “Pete” Petersen Jr.
After a bit of reflection, Sherry was on board with purchasing and remodeling the home, and the couple moved in, camping out in the main house while the guest quarters were being renovated. The plan was to then move into the casita while the home underwent its transformation. But the remodel happened much sooner than expected. “We were having the roof redone,” recalls Sherry, “and we had a major rainstorm. The water poured in, damaging all the drywall, the lights—everything.” The watery disaster, she adds, turned out to be a blessing in disguise. “We were forced to take everything down to the bones and start fresh.”
Despite the setback, Sherry stayed on track with her vision for the house, which was to work within its footprint and floor plan but to eradicate all traces of dated ’90s design. “I also wanted to open it up further to the views,” she says, “and to make it connect more to the exterior.”
With the help of builder Joe Lauer, Sherry had the old drywall removed not only from walls but from ceilings as well, which allowed ceiling heights to be raised in some rooms and exposed the original tongue-in-groove ceiling in the living room. Solid exterior doors were replaced with glass, and some smaller window openings were enlarged to flood the interior with natural light and to capture views. A stone wall, made with rocks the builder found on site, was extended from outside to in. A fireplace in the dining room was re-clad in three-dimensional white tile, replacing an unattractive facade of more stones. “I think this fireplace was a later addition,” Sherry explains, “and it looked like a DIY project, done Flintstones-style.” New lighting went in, as did limestone tile and pale oak flooring throughout, creating a neutral, organic background.
The kitchen and the main home’s three bathrooms were updated with rift-sawn oak cabinetry and stone countertops, giving the spaces a modern look. “I wanted a functional kitchen and bathrooms,” Sherry says, “not a vintage look, but something that didn’t compete with the midcentury feeling of the rest of the house.”
The master bath’s original tub and small shower were replaced with a spacious walk-in shower. In a guest bathroom, Sherry had a wall covered in a black-and-white digital print of Joshua trees. “Originally, the image was going to be used as a piece of art for a restaurant project,” she explains. “The client didn’t want it, so I had it printed and framed.”
When it came to furnishing the house, Sherry went with a “Bohemian-meets-midcentury” look, using pieces that she’d been collecting for years, including high-style items as well as some major bargain scores that came from scouring vintage shops, indie stores and online sites.
“I wanted the home to still look like the old house—like it came from the desert, with a few modern twists.”
—SHERRY ENGLE, homeowner and interior designer
In the living room, a long, low sofa was a gift from a pal, who was looking to replace the seating in his office. Sherry had it recovered in black fabric, so it now serves as a foil for a midcentury bench-style coffee table, a bamboo chaise and an ornate vintage table lamp. Nearby, in what was once the original dining room, a classic Warren Platner table and chairs sit in front of the custom wine cooler and bar, which were crafted using the home’s original front doors, now stained a dramatic black. The table, ladened with art books, serves as Sherry’s inspiration space when she’s not at her Phoenix office.
The dining room—which Sherry believes was once a covered terrace—overlooks the pool patio and is anchored by a sturdy oak table, encircled by cream-colored, vintage-style chairs. A black credenza. updated with bold new hardware, is from Cliff’s “bachelor pad,” Sherry notes. Nearby, a wall leading to the master suite is adorned with a large old basket, suspended like a work of art.
But the pièce de résistance is a vintage Roche Bobois sofa and chaise set that provide comfortable seating in the family room. A friend alerted Sherry to the find, spotted at Goodwill. She wasted no time in getting to the store. “I paid $75 for both,” she remembers. “They were done in some kind of pink Navajo print. I had them reupholstered in a black-and-white stripe.”
The one-bedroom guest house was also refreshed with white lacquered cabinetry, oak flooring and a built-in work station. There, furnishings were kept fun and simple, meant to exude a beach-house-in-the-desert vibe. The “sofa” is actually two full beds, pushed end to end and covered in patterned pillows. A peacock chair sits thronelike next to a pair of furry club chairs, all underscored by a breezy striped area rug.
Outdoors, Sherry worked with the existing landscape and patios, adding some grass for grandchildren and dog, then furnishing living spaces with comfortable seating and lounges. A new fire pit was added at one corner of the yard, just off the living room, which affords those killer views that Cliff desired. Sherry finished the area with sculptural, egg-shaped wicker chairs.
The fire pit is where Sherry and Cliff, along with their family and friends, often gather with a glass of wine to watch the sun’s last rays wash over the mountain. It’s where the designer can relax, knowing she stayed true to her mission. “I didn’t want to make this home into something it wasn’t. I wanted it to still look like the old house—like it came from the desert, with a few modern twists.”
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“We were forced to take everything down to the bones and start fresh.”
––SHERRY ENGLE, homeowner and interior designer