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This Glacier-Inspired Desert Casita Will Give You Chills

Using a steel frame to create jagged angles, artist Jeff Zischke built an iceberg-inspired casita, reflected here in his backyard pool.

Scottsdale artist Jeff Zischke takes inspiration from a glacial mass for his backyard casita.

By Nora Burba Trulsson | Photography by David B. Moore

Laid up with a broken ankle from a hiking accident, artist Jeff Zischke could have whiled away his cast confinement watching endless HGTV reno shows. Instead, he conjured up a new project—a 288-square-foot guest house/gallery/meeting space that looks like a shimmering, icy apparition set down in the middle of a desert garden.

That he should keep creativity flowing despite a setback should come as no surprise to those who know Zischke. The Michigan native and former art teacher is an artistic polymath, whose prodigious output includes painting, ceramics, sculpture, structures, lighting and furniture. After moving to Arizona in 1984, he also spent many years doing nightclub and bar design, creating interiors for the likes of Scottsdale’s Axis/Radius and Zen 32 in Phoenix. More recently, he’s become known for his temporary and permanent public art installations, such as “Water Striders,” which featured gigantic, illuminated insects that floated on the water during Scottsdale Public Art’s Canal Convergence festival, and “Impulsion,” a 23-foot-high stainless steel horse sculpture for Scottsdale’s West World.

Impetus for his crystalline casita, which Zischke calls the “Desert Iceberg,” came from repurposing a steel plate platform that had been built for the transportation and installation of a 50-foot-tall public art sculpture he created for the City of Peoria. “I didn’t want to scrap that piece of steel,” he explains, “so I had it cut in half and the pieces craned into my yard, thinking I could use it for something.”

1. Zischke’s “Desert Vase” series, made of plasma cut steel. 2. Zischke’s “Zsa Zsa” whimsical chair provides casita seating. 3. In an angled niche, a console underscores more of the artist’s work, such as the illuminated “Chromasis” ellipses and, at left, his “Groove” vase. 4. The artist’s “Peace Dove” dichroic acrylic sculpture takes flight. 5. “GrooveBots Chess,” made of laser-cut acrylic, invites casita visitors to try the queen’s gambit. 6. “Lillies,” a mixed-media work by Zischke anchors one end of the casita, where a futon provides a place to sit or sleep.

The raw steel plate became the flooring for the Iceberg, which he built behind the Scottsdale home he shares with his wife, Gena. With the help of friends (and once his ankle healed), Zischke used metal framing to create the building’s jagged shape, then filled the walls with spray foam insulation, sandwiched with strand board and DensGlass sheathing. The exterior is clad in glossy white articulated panels, meant to be abstractions of ice crystals, as well as strips of mirrors that reflect light and water ripples from the adjacent swimming pool.

Inside, walls are also white and serve as a foil to Zischke’s art and furniture, which animate the interiors.  A metal-and-glass table of his design anchors the space and is flanked by two of his “Zsa Zsa” dining chairs. A chandelier crafted of a tumbleweed and a floor lamp sporting a sandbag shade illuminate the room. Walls are hung with his paintings and drawings.

The interior of the Desert Iceberg serves as a gallery for Zischke’s work, including the tumbleweed chandelier above the table and chairs of his design, and “Corsica Memory” on the left wall. The flooring is the repurposed steel plate used to transport the “Blooming Spire” public art sculpture he designed, a scale model of which is on the back table by the window.

Outside, the artist surrounded part of the Desert Iceberg with a bed of alabaster rocks from a quarry in Winkleman. “It’s meant to emulate the chunks of ice that fall off an iceberg when it starts to crack and disintegrate,” Zischke says. As a contrast to the building’s glossy whiteness, he also added an array of patinated steel planters filled with cactus and agaves, reiterating the arid setting.

Now complete, the Desert Iceberg has been put to good use. “It’s a pristine, small gallery for my art,” says Zischke, whose upcoming projects include an entry sculpture for Mesa’s Falcon Field, done in conjunction with sculptor Lyle London. “Gena and I have both had meetings in here. And, although we didn’t plan it that way, the Iceberg is also a great event space. We had drinks in here with friends during my pre-pandemic birthday party.”

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