Rescued from neglect, a 1920s gem awakens in central Phoenix.
By Nora Burba Trulsson | Photography by Julianne Palmer
Set back from the road, the Spanish colonial revival house charms passersby with blue-framed windows, an arched doorway, clay roof tiles and a romantic Juliet balcony above the entry. Inside, the chic, warm setting is highlighted by a sweeping hall staircase with a lacy, wrought iron railing. Rooms are filled with comfortable sofas and French antiques, while the white plastered walls are hung with 18th- and 19th-century European oils and gilt-framed mirrors.
However, the elegant central Phoenix home didn’t always look so inviting. Built of adobe blocks in 1926, the two-story house stood unoccupied for some 13 years, looking more and more forlorn each time a neighboring couple passed by during their regular walks. “The house always attracted me,” explains the wife, who has a background in interior design. “When I finally saw a ‘for sale’ sign on the property, I jumped at the chance to purchase it.”
With her husband’s support, she embarked on a two-year restoration and renovation project, intending the abode to be a comfortable retreat for the two of them as well as a gathering place for their adult children and grandchildren. While the goal was to keep the structure intact, once builder Greg Hunt got into the nitty-gritty of the residence, he soon discovered that most of it was not salvageable. “The house was in real need of renovation,” he explains. “It needed all-new everything.” The decision? To retain the living room and sun porch and reconstruct the two-story main volume that contained the bedrooms, kitchen and dining room.
“The wife wanted the house to feel old and not be perfectly laid out. There was an emphasis on authentic materials,” recalls architect Mark Candelaria, a Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner. His colleague Vivian Ayala, an architectural designer and project manager, concurs, “She desired the intimate spaces of older homes—nothing that was too overscaled like many modern homes today.”
The original sun porch was enclosed to create a “ballroom” that houses a grand piano and furnishings that can easily be rearranged for parties and special events. The two-story volume was expanded, allowing for a larger kitchen space that can accommodate any table and chair configuration as well as a sunny orangery, which doubles as a second dining room. What was once a small downstairs bedroom was transformed into a cozy library and TV room, while upstairs, a guest bedroom and master suite remain virtually in the same spots, while the 1926 architectural pièce de résistance—an upstairs sleeping porch—was re-created adjacent to the master bedroom.
In a nod to a more modern-day lifestyle, the single-car garage was replaced with a three-car version and attached home office, while the addition of a detached one-bedroom guest house can accommodate visiting family and friends. Both the main home and the casita are clad in mortar-washed limestone for an appealingly aged appearance. “The look of those two new buildings reinforces the sense that the home evolved and was added on to over time,” explains Candelaria.
During the construction and renovation, the wife was hands-on with the details, approving the use of energy-efficient insulated concrete forms for the new two-story section, a material that Hunt notes has a similar wall thickness to the vintage adobe and imparts the same solid, quiet ambiance. The original ground-level wood floors were salvaged and repurposed in the upstairs bedrooms. Rather than installing the new wood flooring directly on the slab in the home’s lower level, Hunt used spacers to raise the floor slightly. “That way, the flooring can move slightly and creak,” he says, “just like it would have in an old house.”
Imported glass for the windows bears the old-fashioned “wavy” look, while in the orangery, custom steel-framed doors and windows impart a genteel, vintage charm. Reclaimed materials were used throughout, including Italian clay tiles for the roof, old limestone flooring for the kitchen and used slump block, turned on edge and trimmed, to create the orangery’s rustic, chevron-patterned flooring. New interior doors were patterned after an antique set the homeowner had found, which she installed on a wall as backdrop for the master suite’s bed.
According to Hunt, “The wife was involved in every square inch of the project. That’s why the home is so genuine.” Candelaria agrees. “Her attention to detail and push for excellence was incredible—she could tell if something was an inch off.”
The wife’s passion for authenticity carried through to the furnishings and the art, which were acquired through years of European travel, repurposed from other homes, heirlooms handed down from family members and fun bargains found around town. “I’m enamored with French style,” she says, summarizing her approach to interior design, “and I’m inspired by Parisian apartments and old houses, where nothing is brand new and matching, but it all looks good together.”
The living room’s sofas have followed the couple from home to home, refreshed here with new cream-colored upholstery. The two leather armchairs are from a French castle, and the coffee tables are made from repurposed antique gates. In the ballroom, a rustic library table—stacked with design books—was a find in a London antiques shop. The orangery’s baroque dining table has held court in several of the homeowners’ previous dwellings, but the metal garden chairs encircling it were a more recent acquisition. “I saw them, painted black and chained together, for sale on the corner of 24th Street and Indian School,” recalls the wife. “They’re vintage Brown Jordan. It took two trips to load them all in the car.”
Fresh flowers, piles of books, antique ceramics and other accessories add warmth to the interior. The artwork displayed throughout is less about the artists’ signatures and more about memories and subjects that appeal to the owners. “I’m attracted to the look of oils and enjoy country scenes,” says the wife. “Most of the paintings are French and Italian, from the 18th and 19th centuries.” In the entry, encircled by the curve of the staircase, an antique French trumeau—a wall panel that includes a painting and a mirror—forms a focal point with a chair and occasional table. Upstairs, a vintage oil on canvas, found on a trip to Italy, guides the way to the master suite. In the library, depictions of dogs and architectural drawings made by the wife’s father add nostalgic notes. Throughout the rest of the house, landscapes, seascapes and botanical scenes spark walls and corners.
After two years of painstaking work, the home looks as though it has aged gracefully for more than nine decades, well cared for and loved, with an interior that appears to have has simply evolved from the original occupants—which is exactly what the current homeowners wanted.
“This house is just right for the two of us,” says the wife, “and we’ve had so many family gatherings here. Everywhere I look, this place has memories.”
Architect: Mark Candelaria, Candelaria Design Associates. Builder: Greg Hunt, GM Hunt Builders.
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