All through the house, an imaginary mouse inspires a sense of year-round whimsy.
By Nora Burba Trulsson | Photography by Julianne Palmer
Since childhood, artist Jane Edwards’ imaginary friend has been Philoneous J. Crumbsnatcher, a magical mouse known to eat offerings of cheese and leave gifts for family members. “He’s as real as Santa,” says Jane, tongue firmly in cheek.
When Jane and her husband Troy, a produce farmer, decided to build their house on a piece of land in the middle of their Yuma farm field, Philoneous was part and parcel of the design inspiration, helped along by Jane’s artistic talents. The resulting 14,000-square-foot, five-bedroom home resembles a gracious Italian villa, surrounded by lush gardens. Inside, the warm and cozy interior is filled with Jane’s artwork and frescoes, plus rich millwork that displays collections of everything from religious iconography to ceramics. There’s also a sumptuous built-in rodent residence for the family’s favorite house mouse.
Jane recalls, “When we were planning this house, I knew there needed to be a surprise around every corner. A home should exude happiness—and I wanted to look up and down and see something new all the time.”
The roots of their residence, situated on a two-plus-acre parcel on their land not far from the waters of the Colorado River, go back some 30 years when Jane, a Michigan native and an art history major, met Troy, a Glendale native, at the University of Arizona. Farming was in Troy’s DNA, Jane explains, and they made a deal: They would live in Yuma on the farm as long as Jane could build her dream house. Four children later, that pact became a reality.
The couple found their architect, Mark Candelaria, a Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner, after seeing magazine articles that showcased his romantic, historically inspired residences. Rather than giving him lists of square footage requirements, Jane regaled Candelaria with tales of Philoneous and her playful approach to life and shared images of her artwork. Instead of swatches and material samples, she gave the architect a CD of music that would inspire the mood of different rooms—with songs that ranged from “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” from “Oklahoma” to Elton John’s “The Bitch is Back.” For further inspiration, the entire Edwards family joined Candelaria on one of his annual friends-and-family tours of Italy, visiting museums and admiring architecture.
“Jane is an amazing lady,” says Candelaria, “and this was really a fun project for us, creating a gracious house in the middle of a lettuce field. The design of the home was totally driven by the story of the mouse—right down to the sophisticated mouse holes we built into the baseboards.”
Citing architectural inspirations that included Italian villas, rustic farmhouses and cathedrals, Candelaria designed a split floor plan connected by a long, gallerylike hallway. To one side is the great room, dining room, kitchen and breakfast area; to the other is the master suite and library, with four bedrooms located on the second level. The home’s smooth plaster facade is marked by classic old-world details, including custom-crafted wood shutters, carved stone window and door surrounds, arched porticoes, wrought iron Juliet balconies and red tile roofing.
Inside, dark wood and stone flooring, arched and domed ceilings, elaborately carved cabinetry and plenty of niches for Jane’s collection of religious statuary, give the home a warmly cloistered look. As for the walls? “I painted every inch of this house,” Jane remarks, noting everything from the faux-finished hallways to the fleur-de-lis and cherub motifs on the entry’s domed ceiling. “The mural of [the prophet] Micah in the dining room cost me a broken ankle, when I slipped off the scaffold.”
“This was really a fun project for us, creating a gracious house in the middle of a lettuce field.”
—Mark Candelaria, architect
Though Jane handled the selection of most of the furnishings and accessories—and included many pieces from the couple’s previous home—she did turn to interior designer Isabel Dellinger Candelaria, also a Masters of the Southwest award winner, for help. “Jane loves all of her things,” says the designer, who worked on the project with her colleague, Nikka Bochniak. “This is a playground of adulthood for her—she had a lot of fun with this house. We helped her repurpose and recover older pieces, as well as add in some others, such as the dining furniture and the bed for the master suite.”
Indeed, the interior is meant for enjoyment. The dining room can seat up to 12 for holiday meals, while the great room’s comfy seating and wall full of framed paintings and objets d’art invite cheerful family gatherings.
Perhaps the space that best exemplifies Jane’s persona is the library, where she keeps a large collection of children’s books. Illuminated shelves showcasing a family collection of Royal Doulton character mugs, a crystal chandelier and a shapely, overstuffed settee give the room a fairytale quality. “It’s a little bit like Hogwarts in here,” says Jane. “It’s magical.”
Even Philoneous’ design tastes were taken into consideration. Cabinetmaker Greg Peters, who handled all of the home’s custom cabinetry and millwork, created five teeny, historically accurate mouse doors, carved into baseboards. He also crafted the facade of Philoneous’ elaborate villa, set in a hallway wall. The exquisitely detailed interiors were made by California-based miniaturists June Clinkscales and Chris Toledo. “When I was young, I was obsessed with the Thorne miniature rooms,” says Jane, referring to the renowned 1:12 scale room models displayed at the Art Institute of Chicago and Phoenix Art Museum. “This is my version.”
Once the residence and its interiors were finished, the Edwards turned their attention to the outdoors, wanting to create an elegant transition between the house and the fields. Landscape designer Jeff Berghoff masterplanned the grounds, taking into account the local geography and climate. “The site is windy and dusty from the farming activity,” he explains, “and, because the Colorado River is nearby, the water table is high. You can’t dig too deep because you’ll hit water, and an unfilled pool could ‘submarine’ up, pushed out by the water pressure.”
Berghoff mapped out a long entry drive and auto court and anchored the front yard with a reflection pond on axis with the entry.
Boxwood hedges and low garden walls give the landscape a formal look and define numerous patios, while fountains and antique gates invoke a European appeal. Pines, olives, oaks and other trees provide shade and mitigate wind and dust. Vines, lavender and roses add to the lush look. In back, there’s enough lawn for the Edwards’ four Pomeranians to romp near the pool, which was kept at a safe, maximum six-foot depth lest the aquifer rises.
While the Edwards enjoy every inch of their new abode, they look forward to the fall and winter seasons the most. “I love the holidays,” says Jane. “I’d even make some up if I could.” She starts decorating the day after Halloween, leaving no room or nook untouched.
And for Philoneous? “Of course his house is decorated for Christmas,” Jane says. “Every door gets a little wreath.”
Architect: Mark Candelaria, Candelaria Design Associates. Interior Designers: Isabel Dellinger Candelaria and Nikka Bochniak, Earth and Images. Landscape Designer: Jeff Berghoff, Berghoff Design Group.
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