Revisiting Old-World Allure
A classical facade opens to chic, contemporary living spaces.
By Shannon Severson | Photography by Caren Alpert
The new house snuggles comfortably into its surroundings. With the rugged peaks of the McDowell Mountains rising majestically behind it, the Mediterranean-influenced residence of Jeff and Karen Stratton sits low amid cacti and ironwood trees, and—aesthetically speaking—converses easily with similar Old World-style houses on the street.
The home’s Chicago-based owners combined two high-level executive careers with raising a family, spending time with friends and taking sojourns to play golf and relax in Scottsdale. They owned various vacation retreats here but maintained their home address in the Midwest.
That changed a few years ago when Jeff eased back on his busy work schedule and the couple decided that it was time to find that perfect piece of property and build their first “from the ground up” home—as they put it.
“We fell in love with the weather and the mountains in the Valley, and we always knew we were going to retire out here,” says Karen. “We found a great lot in Silverleaf with the right views and ideal placement near the country club. We wanted a single-level contemporary home that still fit into the feel of the neighborhood.”
The couple enlisted architect Scott Carson and builder Steve Sommer to envision and execute their ideal design, with primary requests including maximizing those amazing views, creating a flexible floor plan, incorporating resortlike amenities and striking a balance between comfort and glamorous style.
“Silverleaf mandates that homes fall into four different categories, all of which are derived from Mediterranean styles,” explains Carson. “The residence was designed with a ‘Ranch Hacienda’ appearance for the exterior, which allows it to fit into the neighborhood and desert environment, while its interiors are more classic contemporary.”
The Strattons’ idea of a flexible layout was one that wouldn’t make the house feel too large when just the two of them were in town, but that was still big enough to welcome their three Illinois-based children and six grandkids for family get-togethers. Karen’s elderly father is also a frequent visitor; he even met with the design team to lend input on the look and function of the home, making it a place that four generations can enjoy together.
The home design—still in its blueprint form—was coming along nicely when Sommer suggested tweaking the orientation of the house slightly. “We identified the need to rotate the homesite about 10 degrees. So now they’re looking right into the heart of Silverleaf and taking it in every day. The mountains change color at sunset. It’s nature’s light show.” Carson agrees, saying, “The most important things in the design were the views. We worked to capture them as much as we could.”
To that end, the heart of the home visually and physically is the great room. A few steps from the front door and entry hallway, it encompasses a large, sophisticated family room that opens to those all-important vistas and outside living spaces, a gorgeous kitchen with bejeweled accents and a handsome breakfast room. It also separates the home’s two wings.
Carson designed the residence with separate bedroom areas. The owners’ side functions much like Jeff and Karen’s downtown Chicago condo. Everything is at their fingertips: Their master suite is adjacent to the great room, steps away from their shared office, and even includes a separate, small laundry area built into their spacious his-and-hers closet.
“It helped to create an area for the way they want to live in the house,” says Carson. “Although it’s a very large home, it doesn’t feel huge when they use just this part of it.”
The guest wing has three bedrooms and adjoining baths. “When the whole family is here, they can have some privacy on their end, and we have privacy in our area,” Karen says. “There’s space for everyone to feel comfortable.”
To attain their dream decor, the Strattons turned to interior designer Lauren Rautbord. “I’m from Chicago, just as they are, and the city strongly influences my signature style,” she explains. “Jeff and Karen wanted a classic look that wouldn’t necessarily read ‘Arizona’ but would feel in place here.”
Traditional American interior architecture elements, such as deeply cased openings, lintels and coffered or tray ceilings, were employed to add a classic presence. “Casing, visually, gives you so much bang for your buck,” Rautbord says. “I doubled up on all the casing and added triple crown molding in all the rooms. We worked to give the family a contemporary space that had some shine and glamour along with a refined style that would stand the test of time.”
Rautbord’s design for the kitchen exemplifies this approach and started with an eye-catching stainless-steel range hood. Combining both matte and polished metal, the hood inspired the choice of pendants that repeat its shape without obstructing its view. Dark blue-stained cabinets complement the metallic touches.
Other singular accents that are subtle but add greatly to the overall look include stainless steel baseboards; a raised, geometric tile backsplash that implies movement; and a distressed wood island base. “We wanted to keep a bit of rustic feel, but the materials aren’t ‘desert rustic,’” the designer explains. While this kitchen has plenty of finesse, it’s also hardworking. “It’s all very sturdy, and I think the space will stand up to lots of use when Jeff and Karen’s grandchildren are in town,” she adds.
The kitchen is connected to the guest wing by a long gallery hallway lined with windows that showcases the couple’s art collection, which Rautbord had reframed to fit the style of the home. The windows look out to a serene guest courtyard with an architectural fountain of basalt stone.
“When we rotated the home and added the gallery, it created this cool courtyard off of the hallway,” says Carson. “You almost feel like you’re going outside and leaving the house. It’s the perfect separation between the two wings.”
“It fits into the neighborhood and desert environment, while its interiors are more classic contemporary.”
––Scott Carson, architect
Accessible from both bedroom wings, the pool deck—and the entire yard, which backs up to an open wash—offers that resort feel that the Strattons desired, with an adjacent putting green, spa and outdoor shower, and a dining cabana with unparalleled views of the McDowells beyond. A circular fire pit was strategically placed in the center of it all, allowing the couple to keep an eye on the grandkids while also being able to maintain a conversation with folks who are dining or relaxing in the landscape’s many sitting areas.
“With a property like this, we created different destination areas,” explains landscape designer Chris Knight. “You never feel like you’re on a huge expanse of patio because the rooflines and exterior walls of the home vary. There are so many places to gather.”
After an evening spent outdoors, the Strattons can retire to their luxurious master suite. The room isn’t especially large, but it is full of visual and tactile contrast, from the billowy drapes and plush linens to the tailored seating area. Smoked mirrors that line the wall behind the upholstered headboard reflect the crystal chandelier and textured stone fireplace.
“The ceilings are very high throughout the home,” says Rautbord. “I used oversized chandeliers to visually bring them down a bit and make the rooms feel cozy. The draperies also warm up the space.”
Just across the hall from the bedroom is Jeff and Karen’s shared office. Its decor would look at home in a Michigan Avenue high-rise—sans the saguaro that’s just outside a large window. The space has substantial floor-to-ceiling bookcases that display memorabilia, family photos and books; walls covered in soft tan suede; animal-print carpet on the floor; and a traditional tufted wingback in the corner. A well-equipped bar cart gives the impression that a classy cocktail session could break up the monotony of work if the whim strikes.
At first glance, the Stratton residence maybe be mistaken for just another Mediterranean-style abode. But once past its pretty courtyard garden and through the front door, a well-planned, -executed and -loved contemporary American family home is revealed.
For more information, see Sources.