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Study in Subtlety

With a color palette of cool grays both indoors and out, the home features an open floor plan that is comfortable for the owners, and welcoming for large groups of guests. Hand-painted panels brighten the patio and bring a touch of desert flora indoors.

A modern Paradise Valley home embodies sleek understated design.

By John Roark | Photography by Scott Sandler

For a Scottsdale husband and wife, transforming “fixer-uppers” has become somewhat of a hobby. After buying, tearing down and rebuilding a McCormick Ranch residence, they were in the market for a new challenge, and found one in the Paradise Valley gated community of Colonia Miramonte. Built in the late 1960s, the midcentury modern ranch home was saddled with some of the unfortunate architectural hallmarks of the era, including low ceilings, and a boxy floor plan that ignored the lot’s No. 1 asset: bookending postcard panoramas of both Camelback and Mummy mountains.

“In the original structure, you couldn’t see either vista from any room,” marvels architect Andrew Carson, who worked with the couple in reimagining the home. “Talk about underdeveloped potential. You had a million-dollar view that had everything effectively working against it.”

Carson understood the thought process behind the house’s design; a busy road near the abode’s southern side could be perceived as a deficit. “I have no doubt that the floor plan was designed to minimize the sound of passing traffic,” he says. “The view of Camelback Mountain was a casualty of that. Yes, you have noise from the road, but there are ways to deal with that. It just takes some creativity. Because we wanted to open up the views, we basically had to start over. The first question was, how could we take what we had and make it better?”

For the new owners, who divide their time between Arizona and a Pittsburgh condominium, Carson’s recommendation of razing the house and rebuilding on the existing pad was not as daunting as it might have been had they not already had one demolition under their belts.

Beginning with the blank slate, Carson reorganized the footprint with an open floor plan that would best meet his clients’ needs. Although they live alone, they also love to entertain. What they envisioned was a contemporary home that would be comfortably spacious for two without feeling cavernous, but that could also accommodate as many as 75 guests when necessary. As avid art collectors, they also wanted a gallerylike setting for treasures they have collected over a lifetime together.

1. With Camelback Mountain as a backdrop, the front of the home faces a neatly landscaped common area shared with neighbors. 2. A fireplace in the front courtyard provides warmth and ambience on cool evenings. The desert flora flanking the wall of the guest casita—including a row of cardon cacti (Pachycereus Pringlei)—is clean-lined, reflecting the contemporary aesthetic of the house.

“We love contemporary. There was nothing 21st-century about this place when we started,” says the husband. “We asked Andrew to give us clean lines and big open spaces.”

For Carson, architecture is about creating a journey of discovery. “I think about each project as if I am making a movie,” he says. “What do I see? What occurs, and in what order? How does my journey through a house make me feel? There are all these emotions that happen that are above and beyond the sticks and bricks of building.”

The architect conceived an open floor plan that is anchored by a circular entry rotunda. “It is the center of the wheel from which everything fans out,” Carson explains. “The great room, dining area and open kitchen present themselves to you when you enter.” The husband’s office (which can easily convert to guest quarters with a dedicated powder room, if needed) adjoins the great room; the master suite and bath lie behind.

“When it’s just the two of us, we’re comfortable. If we’ve got a houseful of guests, it doesn’t feel crowded.”

—the homeowner

“I am not about the one-hit boom; I prefer the slow reveal. The more you seek, the more you will find,” the architect explains. “This house holds many little surprises. For example, the frosted-glass front door creates a sense of anticipation, that something is going to happen. Open it, and there is a ‘wow’ that comes from unexpected details, such as the shimmering penny round floor tile and a very modern chandelier above. At that point, the interior leads you through textures and surfaces, strong lines and inviting spaces.”

Given the uninterrupted square footage of the main living area, it was important to maintain a cozy intimacy. “In an open plan, there are no walls. To establish a sense of comfort, you must give parameters,” Carson says. “This is not the grand ballroom at the Hyatt. These are sit-down spaces where 10-foot-high ceilings are comfortable. Each area has its own unique lighted ceiling cove, which adds visual interest and creates the perception of boundaries.”

One of the first design elements selected was the gray ceramic floor tile that is used throughout the home and extends onto a side patio accessed by a wall of retractable glass doors. Its hues set the tone for the rest of the residence. “Our Pittsburgh condo is also contemporary, done in creams and eucalyptus wood,” says the wife. “Here, we wanted to go with a darker aesthetic and were drawn to gray, which seems cooling and soothing in the Southwest.”

1. The courtyard gates open to reveal the stone-clad rotunda entry. “The frosted glass front door creates a sense of anticipation, that something exciting is about to be revealed,” says architect Andrew Carson. 2. A glass top appears to float above the dining table’s rebar base, while a centerpiece of glass orbs captures colors found both indoors and out. 3. The powder room’s mirror was designed and built by the husband, who also enjoys making jewelry. The wallpaper, made of mica chips, softly shimmers, adding a luxe note to the small space.

Carson was eager to play with the color palette, which he also incorporated into the walls and ceilings. “I don’t get a lot of clients who gravitate toward darker colors,” he says. “Grays are fun because they look completely different from sunlight to shadow. Every room is transformed throughout the day as the sun moves. The light fills the space in a way that people don’t often think about.”

The home’s Camelback Mountain-facing southern side—which had previously consisted of closets from end to end—was reconfigured. The walls are framed on each side and along the top with large windows that welcome light and mountain views. The solid vertical insets, which provide privacy and block the sight of passing cars, showcase artwork in the master bedroom and the husband’s office; in the great room, a linear fireplace topped by a wall-mounted flat-panel TV fills the space. On the outdoor patio, a water feature effectively blocks any sounds from traffic when the homeowners are enjoying dinner al fresco or when party guests are wandering indoors and out.

In keeping with the sleek contemporary lines of the house, Carson chose an exterior plant palette that is similarly spare and clean-lined. Mexican beach pebbles accent garden beds, while stately cardons and a trio of angular pots planted with desert spoons (Dasylirion wheeleri) complete the aesthetic. “Everything about the architecture of the house is purposeful, so the exterior should follow suit,” he says. “The natural landscape is so random, but when you take that desert material and organize it, it creates a dialog with the house.”

“I think about each project as if I am making a movie. What do I see? What occurs, and in what order?”

––Andrew Carson, architect

1. Beyond the circular entry, the open floor plan is spacious and bright. The kitchen, dining area and great room are defined by illuminated ceiling coves. To the right, the husband’s office can also serve as a guest room when needed. 2. The kitchen island’s countertop comprises both black and white quartz. Behind the cooktop, the LED-lighted backsplash casts a gentle glow; its circular pattern echoes the shape of the rotunda. The matching rectangular glass island panel conceals the sink when the homeowners are entertaining. 3. Just off the great room, the husband’s office features motorized cabinetry that can be raised when he is working or lowered to conceal his desk when the couple have guests. Carson designed the walls of the home’s back elevation to provide privacy and also let in light and mountain views. The painting on the right, entitled “The Now,” is by artist Terri Hallman. 4. The side courtyard includes a water feature that effectively masks sounds from the street directly behind the house. The interior floor tile extends outdoors, creating a seamless transition. 5. The dining table’s fire feature replicates the Pittsburgh skyline, where the couple own a condo. “It’s a little touch of home,” says the wife.

A one-bedroom casita at the front of the residence provides privacy for overnight guests. It, along with the garage, enclose the intimate gated entry courtyard with a fireplace that warms the space when the weather turns chilly.

The home away from home is a welcoming seasonal retreat for its owners. “I like the same things here that I do wherever I am, which are light and openness,” says the husband. “When it’s just us, we’re comfortable. If we have a houseful of guests, it doesn’t feel crowded.”

Carson smiles when he contrasts the original structure with the finished project. “A house is not just a box that people live in. We were able to take a cramped, closed space and reorganize it to make it welcoming. It now celebrates its setting, rather than ignores it.”

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