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This Historic Home in Phoenix’s Willo District Pops with Personality

Landscape designer Benjy Levinson created a French-style garden for this Tudor Revival home with hedges, white-flowering plants and custom metal gates.

A quaint 1920s home in a historic neighborhood offers small-town charm in the heart of the big city.

By Nancy Erdmann | Photography by Chris Loomis

Some people thrive on the pulsating energy of metropolitan life, while others prefer the quietness of rural living. Andrea Katsenes Pappas likes a little bit of both. “I grew up in Phoenix, but after college I moved to Washington, D.C., where I lived in a row house that was hundreds of years old,” she says. “I later relocated to Chicago and was surrounded by high-rises.” When she returned to the Valley 18 years ago, she wanted to find a house in a neighborhood that had classic appeal as well as a big-city vibe.

“I had friends who lived in the Willo Historic District in midtown Phoenix, and I immediately fell in love with the area’s diversity of architecture, its history and its charm,” she recalls. Originally an agricultural region, Willo was later developed into a quintessential suburban community, with enchanting Tudor- and Spanish colonial-style homes and Craftsman bungalows, many with manicured lawns. As commercial development began to encroach, the area shifted into what is now a pleasant urban setting—and just what Andrea was looking for.

In 2003, she purchased a 2,100-square-foot 1927 Tudor Revival abode. Known as the P.W. Womack House, it is named for its original owner, a prominent Phoenix contractor whose company built numerous residential and commercial properties, including the Paradise Valley Country Club. The three-bedroom, two-bath residence features a steep-pitched gabled roof, sweeping eaves, small-paned windows and an arched entry with stone quoins. Andrea shares the home with her husband, John Pappas, who she married in 2019.

While her new dwelling was picturesque, it needed cosmetic updates and a fresh landscape. “Because it’s a historic house, you really can’t do much structurally,” explains Andrea, who tackled most of the renovations herself. “For example, I couldn’t turn the carport into a garage.” But she could bring her love of color, pattern and all things black and white into the interior.

“I collected photos to get ideas, and I experimented as I went,” she remembers. “There was a lot of really bad wallpaper that I had to have steamed off in order to paint the walls.” She originally chose a deep mossy green for the dining and living rooms and a rich shade of salmon for the family room. Most of the existing hardwood flooring was kept intact, but a previous owner had updated the master bath and kitchen floors with planks taken from a nearby school’s basketball court. Realizing that it wasn’t the best material for the kitchen, Andrea installed durable prepainted wood in alternating stripes of black and white that extends into the breakfast nook and plays off her beloved MacKenzie-Childs’ pieces that are displayed throughout the two rooms.

1. Interior designer Christopher Coffin brightened up the once mossy green living room with white paint and reupholstered several of the furnishings. “I recommended keeping the original tile around the fireplace that dates back to 1927,” he says. The painting above it is by Clemente Bornacelli; the piece over the sofa is by Robert Ransom.  2. Coffin painted the dining room walls marine blue with alternating stripes of matte and high-sheen finishes. The coved ceiling is coated in silver leaf. “I monogrammed the dining chairs with Andrea’s initial, and we found the chandelier at a local antiques shop and painted it chalk white. 3. A painted niche in the dining room showcases a dial-up telephone that worked until the home’s phone system switched to digital a few years ago. A small pewter cross selection from Andrea’s immense collection completes the look. 4. The kitchen’s original Robertshaw gas range includes built-in salt and pepper shakers and a white cooktop cover. 5. Filtered sunlight softens this outdoor seating area where black and white are repeated in the chairs, drapes and accent pillows.

Paintings from Greece, China and Croatia, along with ones from a local art school sale, adorn many of the home’s walls. For years, Andrea has collected original art; she especially loves finding works while traveling. “Every time I look at something I purchased overseas, it reminds me of where I’ve been,” she relates. The colorful images provide a sense of fun and are complemented by patterned fabrics on upholstered furnishings, rugs, shower curtains and pillows.

The master bedroom features an en suite bathroom, which is something of a rarity in homes in the neighborhood, as most were built before the 1950s when this amenity became popular. “I actually have a good-sized bathroom,” Andrea remarks. With its clawfoot tub and crystal chandelier, the room’s updated cream-and-white color palette matches that of the bedroom, which Andrea designed to convey a serene ambience. The family room, located in the back of the house, presents a much more energetic atmosphere, thanks to a vibrant salmon wall color that’s echoed in the upholstery, along with black-and-white accents and big-screen TV.

1. In the master bedroom, a bank of west-facing windows was covered with a false wall of draperies that serves as a backdrop for a large headboard and helps cut the heat from the afternoon sun. 2. Evergreen hedges, a fountain centered between brick pavers and a latilla-style ramada form the backdrop for this charming backyard patio.

Many of the dwelling’s original elements that give it its delightful character remain, including all of the hardware, glass door knobs, the vintage kitchen range, an old dial-up wall phone inside an arched niche, and interior door locks that are operated with skeleton keys, which Andrea still uses. “I sure hope we never lose those, because we’d have a hard time replacing them,” she says.

Many of the dwelling’s original elements that give it its delightful character remain, including all of the hardware, glass door knobs, the vintage kitchen range, an old dial-up wall phone inside an arched niche, and interior door locks that are operated with skeleton keys, which Andrea still uses. “I sure hope we never lose those, because we’d have a hard time replacing them,” she says.

To increase the home’s curb appeal, Andrea worked with landscape designer Benjy Levinson to develop a French cottage-style garden. “Our goals were to create an inviting entry, add a guest parking spot and formulate multiple comfortable sitting areas enhanced with lush, mostly white-flowering plantings,” the designer recalls. Levinson added a fountain in the center of the backyard with connecting formal walkways that branch off of it on an axis, a look common to French landscapes. A series of metal gates enhances the vintage residence. Levinson based his designs for the decorative features on research he did on residential architecture in the 1920s. “We have received so many compliments on the gates,” notes Andrea.

Although she loved what she did to the home and lived with the renovations for a decade, about seven years ago Andrea decided to refurbish the living and dining rooms with the help of interior designer Christopher K. Coffin. “The rooms were originally decorated in green and black and anchored by a rug the homeowner had purchased in Istanbul. She was looking for a brighter contemporary appearance while keeping the home’s authentic  character,” he explains. “Andrea asked me to incorporate her artwork, and we both agreed that we wanted to emphasize the coved ceiling in the dining room.”

Coffin painted the dining room walls a bold navy blue and silver-leafed the ceiling. The living room was given a fresh face-lift with a crisp white hue. “By limiting the window treatment in both areas, I was able to bring in light and show off the original etched-glass window panes,” Coffin points out. “I mixed in some of Andrea’s photos from Buenos Aires and had her iron tables chromed to give them a more modern look. We had fun updating her lamps by replacing the shades with modern silhouettes.” Many furniture pieces were kept but either reupholstered or refinished.

1. New flooring in the galley kitchen extends into the breakfast nook, which is embellished with MacKenzie-Childs’ accents. The kitchen’s cabinetry and hardware are original, as is the brick exterior wall. 2. The blue-themed guest room pays homage to Andrea’s grandfather with his century-old antique desk serving as a side table. Several of the blue plates are from Turkey and Paris. 3. An intimate corner of the family room reveals the homeowners’ love of color, pattern and texture. Crown molding was added to visually bring down the height of the tall ceiling and used brick replaced the original plank flooring. The fireplace was installed when Andrea first moved in; its surround was designed to look vintage.

While Andrea admits that she didn’t set out to buy a historic home, she has spent the past 17 years cherishing its character—as well as its remarkable locale. “John and I both love being able to see the city’s skyscrapers from our bedroom, as well as listen to the whistle of the 11 p.m. train and the daytime ringing from the Valley Metro Rail,” she enthuses. “We can walk to restaurants, take the light rail to sports venues and drive to the airport in no time. It’s our perfect little piece of downtown.”

Remodel Interior Designer: Christopher K. Coffin, Christopher K. Coffin Design. Landscape Architect: Benjy Levinson, Levinson Studio.

For more information, see Sources.

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