This Architect’s Dream Home is Stylish, Spacious and Surprisingly Kid-Friendly
Taking advantage of a Phoenix infill lot, architect Tyler Kuenzi designs a sleek home with room to grow.
By Robrt L. Pela | Photography by Michael Duerinckx
The occasional smudges on the many glass surfaces of his home make Tyler Kuenzi laugh.
“The little handprints on the walls? I like them,” he says. “They’re part of life in this house. They remind me of why we built it in the first place.”
The “we” are Tyler and his husband, Shawn Kuenzi. The couple—Tyler’s an architect and founder of Phoenix architecture studio DesignTANK; Shawn is an HR rep for an insurance company—designed and built a home that’s both stylish and roomy, with an eye on raising a couple of kids there.
It was Shawn who found the secluded infill property on which two older homes had recently been torn down. Bracketed by a wash, it has gorgeous views of Piestewa Peak.
“That wash running behind us is the best thing about these lots,” Tyler says. “We knew it meant no one could build behind us.”
Tyler set about designing a trio of houses on the plat—one of them, the largest of the three, for his and Shawn’s new family. Nearly two years later, their home was completed. Its façade is ultra linear; a trio of neatly stacked boxes surrounded by lush greenery. Much of the exterior elevation is glass, and the view from inside offers real-time portraits of the gorgeous mountainscapes beyond.
Both men are of German descent, so they named their new home Vater House; “vater” is German for “father.” Two months after the couple moved in, they welcomed their new son, Darren Neal, born via surrogate, to the home they’d created just for him.
On a recent summer afternoon, there’s no evidence of a 2-year-old in the 4,000-square-foot home’s light-filled downstairs—no toys strewn about; no unattractive bumper guards or baby gates.
“Everyone says, ‘Really? A kid lives here?’” says Tyler. “But I made the house so there’d be places for clutter and places for toys so it wouldn’t look like a daycare.”
Tyler’s home design included a lot of hidden storage. The ottomans in the living room are hollow—great for stashing toys in—and the wall under the staircase is one big storage closet. It wasn’t just kiddie chaos the couple was trying to mitigate.
“Shawn and I are both pretty obsessive about not having clutter,” he admits, “so we added an area behind the kitchen where we can hide any messes we make.”
He’d designed enough glass-and-chrome houses to know they can be cold and sterile. “This is a very linear home,” Tyler says, “with all the glass and metal and marble, but I knew I could do a contemporary design with those things that could also be homey.” He has. The home’s modern lines and sleek materials have been warmed up with neutral tones and softened with rounded corners and eased edges in the interior fixtures—which means fewer sharp corners for Darren to bump into. White wood floors and taupe walls let natural hues of blue sky, white clouds and green plant life shine through the home’s many wide windows.
“We wanted an open house that wasn’t just one big room,” Tyler says, “and a moodier vibe than we found in other contemporary homes. That’s where all the taupe comes in.”
The top floor is as light and airy as the downstairs, its surfaces and palette matching those of the lower floor. Darren spends most of the day upstairs with his nanny, in a sprawling entertainment room filled with toys and games, far enough away from Shawn’s downstairs office so that Dad can work in peace.
“We wanted an open house that wasn’t just one big room and a moodier vibe than we found in other contemporary homes.”
—Tyler Kuenzi, homeowner and architect
Tyler’s favorite bathroom is upstairs. “I like its dark, moody feel, the leatherlike floor tile and that the sinks and toilets are black. Who says a toilet has to be white?”
Distinctive touches in the master bath include shower walls tiled in four-inch strips of marble arranged in a random pattern and a pedestal tub placed in front of a huge picture window. When a visitor asked if he wasn’t worried about neighbors watching him bathe, Tyler was polite.
“I told them there’s a shade on the window,” he says. “And that I don’t take baths.”
The home’s single note of color comes from a bright green couch in the master bedroom. “I wanted to match the trees just outside the windows,” Tyler says. “The idea was to bring the outside in without having to open a window.”
Each upstairs room has its own balcony, and the windows have been positioned to face the best views. The family room is flanked by verdant planters filled with desert plants. “We wanted to create our own oasis that came right up to the house,” Tyler says of the lushly planted backyard, with trees that blend seamlessly with those growing in the wash just beyond. He worked closely with landscape designer Charlie Ray.
“I selected a combination of mesquites, palo verdes and olive trees,” Ray says, “because I knew that Tyler was interested in a native palette. I elevated that palette by adding hybrids, including artichoke agaves and totem cactus.”
Ray planted yuccas and Joshua trees alongside the house, and when the Kuenzis asked for lusher plants to contrast the desert trees and cacti, Ray went with a ground cover of myoporum for a carpet of green.
Proper grading and drainage were important because of the nearby wash, Tyler says. But he didn’t want a basin or a flat yard. When it came time to design the property’s backyard, he thought of the little boy who’d be playing out there.
“I wanted there to be little mounds that a child could climb and ride a bike on,” he says. “And he does. He’s out there all the time, rolling up and down the hills we built for him.”
Architect: Tyler Kuenzi, AIA, DesignTANK, Phoenix, designtankphx.com. Contractor: Beckett Construction LLC, Scottsdale, beckettconstructionllc.com. Landscape designer: Charlie Ray, The Green Room Collaborative, Phoenix, tgrcollaborative.com.