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Old Meets New in This Dreamy Willo District Home

Built in 1929, the Tudor-style residence took the homeowners 10 years to restore.
“It was the least inviting room in the house,” homeowner Francesca says of the turreted kitchen nook. “And now I’m in there all the time.”

While bringing it into the 21st century, a couple honors the history of a 1929 Willo home.

By Robrt L. Pela | Photography by Kevin Kaminski

It was the small, round dining nook just off the kitchen that sealed the deal for Francesca Thomas.

“I needed to rescue that room,” she says of the space adjacent to the kitchen of her Tudor home in downtown’s Willo Historic District. “It had a flat, low roof and it was painted forest green with heavy curtains of the same color. It was so dark, like a cave a little troll would live in.”

Once Francesca and her husband, Win, bought this nearly 100-year-old home, they lifted the turret room’s ceiling, restored the guillotine windows and ditched the dark window coverings. A new banquette covered in pale blue fabric printed with chickens lightened the cozy dining space; it’s hard to imagine trolls residing there now.

Across the street and visible from the turret room is the house where Win’s father grew up. “My grandma lived there until the 1980s,” he says, “and my dad knew the Cuthbertsons, who built this house in 1929.”

Listed on the National Registry of Historic Homes, the Thomas residence is filled with light, its walls painted in period-correct colors, its furnishings a mix of contemporary and vintage styles that reflect the many eras the homes have seen.

“Our real estate agent called and said, ‘This is the house you’ve always wanted. Buy it now, and you can take your time restoring it,’” Francesca remembers. “We did take our time. It took us 10 years.”

The interior palette was informed by the colors in their art collection—especially an Ed Mell canvas and a painting by Francesca’s grandmother, the artist Caroline Schmid. But mostly, says Francesca, the colors reflect a sense of whimsy.

“Win was very trepidatious about the colors I chose,” she admits. “But I was going for whimsical. I’d done some research about the colors that were used in the 1920s, and I was ready.”

In the living room, they refinished the original windows, raised the ceiling and replaced tiny windows on either side of the cozy gas fireplace with 15-pane French doors. The hearth and mantle are new, though they—like the overhead beams in that room—have been delicately aged to look like original details of the house.

The dining room’s original weight-pulleyed windows were restored, and a pair of built-in china cupboards were punched up with interior lighting. The once-cramped galley kitchen is wider and brighter now, thanks to an arched half-wall, a higher ceiling and butter-colored walls.

“I just always wanted a yellow kitchen,” Francesca says. She also longed for a proper pantry and got one by swiping part of a large closet from the guest room next door.

“It was this long, deep closet,” Francesca laughs, “like something out of ‘The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.’ I used to think if I went inside and kept going, I’d come out the other end in a different world.”

1. A variety of seating awaits beneath the cozy living room’s beamed ceiling. 2. Tired of seeing old homes in their neighborhood gutted and made modern, the Thomases updated their dwelling while honoring its original design—the blueprints for which they found in the hall closet. The interior color palette is consistent with hues popular in the 1920s. 3. Against a vibrant bougainvillea backdrop, the petite backyard includes a pizza oven, dining table and movable raised garden bed. 4. Exposed red bricks and buttery yellow walls and cabinetry give the kitchen a warm, inviting aesthetic.

The couple recovered the original footprint of the house by removing a badly built rear addition from the 1970s and revived original details such as the hallway’s built-in cupboard doors, which were given new life with crackle paint. Half of the hallway powder room, originally the home’s only bathroom, was taken down to expand the master bedroom closet on the other side.

The home’s spacious basement was a bonus the Thomases hadn’t counted on.

“When we first got the house, it was tilted,” Win recalls. “It was built on a wooden foundation, and the pylons were decaying. Our builder put a marble on the hallway floor, and it rolled off to the back of the house. That seemed like a bad thing.”

“We fell in love with an old house and wanted to respect what made it special. But we also wanted to live in the 21st century.”

—Francesca Thomas, homeowner

Built in 1929, the Tudor-style residence took the homeowners 10 years to restore.

When the contractor explained that stabilizing the house would require digging a huge hole under its backside, the homeowners asked that the hole be turned into a basement.

“This is where our kids hang out when they come home,” Francesca says of the room, which is filled with comfortable sofas and flooded with light from a below-ground window, through which leafy planter boxes are visible. The laundry room is rigged with a clothes chute that catches dirty laundry from upstairs.

Out front, landscape designer Brad Randall created a herringbone-patterned walkway that complements the home’s brick façade and lined the courtyard walls with dwarf myrtle for what he calls “a cottage-y feel.”

Against a vibrant bougainvillea backdrop, the petite backyard includes a pizza oven, dining table and movable raised garden bed.

The backyard, Randall recalls, was so overgrown with intertwined cactus and citrus trees that he had to scrape everything and start from scratch. He kept an old mesquite in the middle of the yard and replanted with bougainvillea and white rose vines.

“We had a good time being imaginative,” Francesca says, “both inside and outside the house.”

Of all the homes she’s lived in, she insists, she loves this one the most.

“Everywhere you look, you see something that’s about Win and me,” she says. “If I could wrap this house up and take it with me everywhere I go, I would.”


Construction: John Lauer, Intents Construction, Phoenix, Landscape design: Brad Randall, Native Bloom Landscape and Design, Phoenix, Remodel design: Mike Selk, Historic Builders, Inc., Phoenix, Front and Dutch doors: Craftsmen in Wood, Phoenix, PAGE 40, LIVING ROOM—Window restoration and ceiling beams: Window treatments: Crank table: Rug: Alyshaan Fine Rugs, Scottsdale, PAGE 43, KITCHEN—Cabinetry: Fixtures: Clyde Hardware, Phoenix, Light fixture in breakfast nook: Hinkley’s Custom Lighting, Scottsdale, Countertops: William Rogers Fine Wood Countertops, Tempe,


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