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Moving On Up

According to interior designer Tony Sutton, it’s not scale that gives the great room its name but instead the grandness of the setting balanced with the artful assemblage of furnishings and decor that create a suitable stage for embracing the desertscape outside. The fragmented forms that comprise the ceiling recall the jagged peaks of the mountains that ring the Valley.

A Scottsdale couple trade in their golf course home for a sky-high luxury condo.

By Jennifer Rounds | Photography by Art Holeman and Michael Duerinckx

Glass walls framed with abundant greenery. Flowers cascading from balconies, terraces and window boxes. In a city where barbed plants, rocks and sand rule the terrain, the possibility of living in a lush gardenscape with boundless blue-sky views casts a powerful lure. For one retired couple, it was a calling they couldn’t resist.

For 10 years, the husband and wife had resided in a Scottsdale golf community, but having given up the sport, they were seeking a change of venue and lifestyle. They sold their 5,000-square-foot Southwestern-style home with all the furnishings—including kitchenware and linens—and purchased two adjacent condominiums just steps away from upscale dining, entertainment and shopping venues.

Because Optima Kierland Center was still under construction, the two units, totaling about 3,000 square feet with northern, western and eastern exposures, were nothing more than empty shells. While some of the fixtures, such as the high-end kitchen cabinetry, were standard options, the new owners wanted to expand on the basic offerings. They hired interior designers Tony Sutton and Nora Johnson to adapt the space to their own needs and tastes. A rental apartment in the same complex served as a temporary abode, giving them a bird’s eye view of the renovation and allowing them to sample all the included amenities.

Although the homeowners wanted big changes, they set few specifications for the team. On their wish list were two master suites and a corner office. The remaining living area would be designed for daily use and include the kitchen, an adjacent dining room and social spaces for relaxing, watching TV, entertaining and playing board games with visiting grandchildren. “We didn’t need any guest rooms because room service at the nearby Westin Kierland Resort & Spa was more attractive,” notes the husband. Having owned and built a dozen homes during their marriage, the owners were open to Sutton and Johnson taking the lead on the decision-making regarding space planning, design style, color palette and furnishings.

Sutton, a Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner, faced two formidable tests: reorienting the entryway to create a visual pause before opening into a living area that frames a 180-degree panoramic view, and finding an artful disguise for a pair of structural columns that impeded prime usable space.

1. Large utility columns bisected the open space. Sutton covered them with faux onyx panels, transforming them into works of art. An ocotillo sculpture with red blooms adds a pop of vibrancy to the subdued setting. 2. The condominium’s million-dollar panoramic view is always a guest-of-honor at this casually elegant dining area where comfortable seating and good food invite visitors to share many a convivial hour. 3. A tiny powder room gleams with gentle illumination from a multipendant light that glows like a bioluminescent sea creature emerging from the ocean’s inky depths. Dark sisal wallpaper, a honed Black Heart granite integrated sink and Black Cherry granite countertop, which reveals a sparkling composite of mica and semiprecious reddish stones, add to the visual feast.

“It’s fun to watch people’s expressions when they turn the corner and perceive the views.”

—The Homeowner

When guests enter the home, they’re greeted by a wall that blocks the great room and is papered in a dark, textured wallcovering. The effect is quiet, harmonious and shadowy, offering a feeling of compression before releasing into the main space where windows frame the landscape. “It’s fun to watch people’s expressions when they turn the corner and perceive the views,” says the wife. “It’s a real wow moment.”

The condo’s overall form is a rectangle divided into thirds. A living room, which faces north, occupies the central portion; while the eastern third, with sunrise views, houses an auxiliary social area, an office, a master suite and a furnished terrace that overlooks the McDowell Mountains. On the western end is a kitchen/dining area and the second master suite with a balcony that looks onto the Westin Kierland’s golf course. Most spaces flow into each other without intervening walls so the spectacular exterior landscape is always in the frame.

As for those awkward columns? Sutton affixed decorative panels to the structures and lit them from behind to increase their visual impact. “The columns stored a lot of utilitarian assets, such as wiring and air-conditioning intake and outflow,” he says. “I wanted to preserve their functionality while enrobing them in a stonelike material, in this case faux onyx.” The panels swing open for easy access for repairs and cleaning. He added refrigerated wine storage and a bar/barista station to the backside of the western column.

With copious sunlight pouring in from floor-to-ceiling windows, lighting plans seemed superfluous, but as Sutton explains, “We used artificial light for accent and mood, and then balanced that with the natural illumination from the exposed view to highlight specific perspectives or heighten the sense of volume in the space.”

For Sutton, ceiling fixtures transcend mere function; they have structural possibilities as well. Customized ceilings with dimmable lighting to enhance their architecture create the framework for the electrical “art.” In the living room, backlit fragmented shapes provide a diffused glow, while a striking modernist chandelier with angled light rods mimics the forms above and serves the designers’ clever purpose: to turn the gaze inward to a stylish conversation area.

If Sutton’s designs set the framework, Johnson spun the magic that made the couple’s new home a beautiful reality. The homeowners chuckle when they recall Johnson’s fevered calculations as she verified that every item in the plan could fit within the inside dimensions of the development’s service elevator. “My waking nightmare was having to rent a crane to transport oversized objects 11 stories up and into the condo,” Johnson admits. “The living room sofa that was scaled to the husband’s tall height fit the elevator with a fraction of an inch to spare.”

1. The condo features multiple balconies, such as this one, which connects to the game room. Custom teak deep seating offers a comfortable spot to take in the views and enjoy the desert’s enviable weather. 2. A sculptural fixture illuminates a game table with custom seating that can travel to the dining room for overflow entertaining. A moody painting by Edward Lentsch and a softly patterned hand-loomed rug anchor the space. The louvered metal-and-glass barn door slides open to reveal one of two master suites. 3. A custom headboard features a textured central panel of molded fiberglass reinforced with gypsum; it’s flanked by upholstered side panels. A large-scale Edward Lentsch canvas complements the bedding’s organic pattern. 4. Soft blues, metallics and subtle shades of taupe in the master bedroom blend with the verdant green of a nearby golf course.

The furniture and built-ins are custom, the finishes are luxurious, and the decor is spare yet impactful.

For the overall aesthetic, Johnson chose a clean-lined contemporary transitional motif that favored elegant comfort. “I was looking for something timeless and tranquil,” she says. The furniture and built-ins are custom, the finishes are luxurious, and the decor is spare yet impactful.

Various shades of taupe throughout create a canny interplay of color value and textures, adding dimensionality and enlivening the limited palette. “Drizzles of cerulean blue woven into the area rugs offer a gentle murmur of contrasting color rather than a loud vibrant note. There isn’t a need for it,” the designer adds. Says the husband, “The real accent in the color scheme is the blue sky—a reasonable ploy because of the abundant sunlight and clear skies in the Valley.” With Johnson’s goal of quiet harmony within, the landscape and skies provide an ever-changing canvas of brightness, darkness and brilliant color.

The completed home is a cinematic experience for both homeowners and guests with all the creature comforts afforded by Southwestern living. And, should they ever feel limited by their surroundings, they can hitch an elevator ride up to the development’s resort-worthy rooftop pool complex, where plant beds soften the hardscape and rows of trees offer shade and privacy, for 360-degree sunrise-to-sunset views.

Architect: Aaron LeGendre, Optima Inc. Interior Designers: Tony Sutton and Nora Johnson, Est Est Inc.

For more information, see Sources.

1. The oversized and highly textured striated granite tiles that surround the TV alcove add drama while also reducing glare. Walnut-trimmed custom cabinets hug the entertainment/fireplace center and offer generous storage. His and hers recliners are built into each end of the sofa for maximum comfort. 2. Interior designer Nora Johnson selected the great room’s chandelier. The angled light rods mimic the backlit shapes in the ceiling. 3. Elegant finishes, European-styled cabinetry and high-end appliances add beauty and usability to the kitchen. Even though the couple live within walking distance of fine dining, they often enjoy a home-cooked meal. A trio of pendant lights with poetry and heartfelt quotations hand-etched on artisanal blown glass adds emotional warmth to this domestic hub.

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