Watch a 19th-Century Mining Warehouse Morph into a Sprawling Dream Retreat
A 19th-century Jerome building gets transformed into a rambling, very personal vacation retreat.
By Nora Burba Trulsson | Photography by Mark Lipczynski
Near the top of Jerome’s winding streets, a stone house has sweeping views of the town’s old mining sites and historic buildings.
To the north, the San Francisco Peaks and Sedona’s red rocks stand out in sharp relief against the blue sky. Indoors, the rambling abode is a showcase for family heirlooms, art, collectibles, detailed millwork and comfortable furnishings that invite gathering and lingering. For more than 25 years, the home has been a multigenerational vacation retreat for Judy Pemberton and her partner, architect Fred Miller, as well as her daughter and adult grandson.
As Judy tells it, her chapter of owning this historic property started with a six-pack of Coors. “The artist Jim Rome used to have a gallery in Jerome,” explains Judy, a long-time educator and owner of Arcadia Montessori in Phoenix. “We used to come up in the summer and gallery-sit for him so he could travel to Oregon.” During their frequent walks, Judy and Fred would amble past an old stone building with a partially collapsed wall. Judy fell hard for the building, and began envisioning it as a loft-style weekend home. “Fred was totally against it,” she remembers with a laugh. “He said it was a folly and thought I was totally cuckoo to take this on.”
But Judy couldn’t get the idea out of her head and approached the then-owner—a woodworker who used the building as his shop—to sell. He wasn’t particularly amenable to the idea. “I came over with that six-pack,” she recalls, “and I figured, after three beers, he’d name his price. Well, I met my match. I had three beers, too, and he was waiting for me to name my price.” The brews did lead to a deal, and, in 1995, she acquired the property.
What Judy acquired was the oldest standing structure in Jerome, a warehouse originally built in 1885 out of Tapeats sandstone by the United Verde Copper Company as a warehouse for the mining business. According to information from the Jerome Historical Society, by the 1890s, the building served as the T.F. Miller Company store—a dry goods business—and, later, as its warehouse when the company built a proper shop on Jerome’s Main Street. Over the years, it also housed the town’s utility company and then was owned by the Phelps Dodge mining company before becoming the woodworking shop.
Judy began a bit-by-bit renovation project, starting with shoring up the collapsed wall and repointing—or replacing—the deteriorated limestone mortar that held the sandstone blocks in place. She used the talents of a variety of craftspeople and artists to help her with the project, working on one section at a time and virtually camping out in the building as residential amenities such as bathrooms and kitchen facilities were installed in the once-commercial structure.
“My father was a contractor in California in the 1950s,” she explains. “When I was growing up, he would always ask me, ‘What would you do?’ when it came to a remodeling. I learned to see potential. As an adult, I’ve always enjoyed having a building project.”
Eventually Judy’s Jerome project yielded a home with three “apartments” or living spaces, where family members could both come together and have privacy. Three full kitchens, six bedrooms and six bathrooms are scattered through the home’s levels and sections, with a floor plan that resembles a carefully assembled Rubik’s Cube. “I admit, I would get a little bit lost in here when we first started remodeling,” Judy says of the four levels. “I’d go down an old staircase and not quite know where I was.”
Built on the slope of Cleopatra Hill, the home now has access to the outdoors via gravel patios and metal balconies designed and built by now-retired Jerome craftsperson David Soule. Indoors, the spaces were unified with wood flooring, plus custom windows and glass doors, designed to fit the building’s original archways and openings. New electrical, plumbing and HVAC were also part of the equation.
Judy furnished the spaces with comfortable, contemporary upholstered seating, accented by antiques, such as Navajo weavings, and family heirlooms, such as her grandmother’s leather settee. Art, including works by Phoenix artist Linda Ingraham, and family photos grace the walls. On one side of the house, two loft bedrooms are connected by a sculptural metal catwalk designed by Scottsdale artist Jeff Zischke. “With the stone walls and the tall ceilings, this place was a blank canvas when it came to interior design,” Judy says. “We could have gone in any direction, but I wanted it to be comfortable and personal.”
In addition to the metal balconies that were added to the back of the house, the sloping site was landscaped with numerous trees for shade. A small orchard with apple, pear, cherry, apricot and peach trees took root on one side of the building. At the lowest level of the property, a recently added lap pool offers refreshment during warm summer months.
Presently, Judy is putting finishing touches on that lower-level third apartment, a cozy spot where she and Fred spend most of their time when they are in residence. “I saw this as a five-year project,” she laughs. “More than 25 years later, I’m still working on this, and it’s time to start over on the first spaces I did. But I love the energy of this house, and I love the creative process. Here, that’s endless.”
Catwalk railing: Jeff Zischke, Scottsdale, jeffzischke.com.
Main-level kitchen and bath cabinetry, and millwork: Jeff Kilgore, Momentum Woodworks, Phoenix, momentumwoodworks.com. Lower-level and loft cabinetry: Lonnie Anderson, Lonnie Anderson Custom Woodworking, and Jonathan Ryan, Jonathan Ryan Design, Cottonwood; (928) 451-4139.