What I love most about Phoenix is that it’s still a bit of the Wild West,” shares designer Kylie Wolfe. “People come from all over seeking the same thing—good weather and balance in their lives—and it makes design here really fun.” Such was the line of thought that prompted Wolfe to move from California back to her hometown to launch her interior design business.
Around the same time, Wolfe’s mother, Cynthia Harmon, was craving a new chapter. After raising her family in the suburbs, she found herself longing for a more active lifestyle—one akin to her pre-kid years in Hermosa Beach, California, where she’d hop on her bike to see a movie or meet friends for dinner. Further, she’d always wanted a quirky old house. When a real estate agent showed her a historic ranch in Arcadia with a past life as a brothel and “an amazing energy,” as Cynthia describes it, she was a goner. Sweetened by proximity to Camelback Mountain and Ingleside Golf Club, she got her turnkey-leaning husband, Doug, on board with the plan. Then she hired her daughter.
“Architecturally there was so much integrity, but the spaces weren’t talking to each other,” notes Wolfe, who, alongside general contractor Rick Stark, set about stripping decades of wear and alterations in an effort to return the 1940s residence to its roots. Along the way, an origin story revealed itself. When Sheetrock came down during demolition revealing brick walls in the kitchen, living and dining room, mother and daughter were all too happy to paint them white and let them shine. “We loved that element of age and showing off how the home was built,” says Wolfe.
That same mindset extends throughout the abode, including the dining room, where decorative woodwork patterning on the ceiling was lovingly rehabbed and whitewashed. Great attention was paid to sourcing period-appropriate replacement windows, antique vents for heating and AC ducts, and glass knobs for the interior doors.
With the restoration underway, Wolfe turned to finishes to create a fresh foundation that nods to her parents’ SoCal upbringings. “We picked elements that were pretty simple—nothing over the top because they are casual people—but we did incorporate special touches,” she says. To wit: textural Santa Fe skim-coated walls, hand-cut and hand-painted tiles surrounding the stove and fireplace, and sleek matte black hardware to break up the otherwise white palette. “I didn’t want everything to feel too ethereal. Black achieves that; it grounds things,” notes Wolfe.
If the decorating process reads like a catharsis, that’s because it was one. “We were looking to simplify our lives. I wanted clean, with no clutter and tons of light,” shares Cynthia. Indeed, says Wolfe, the process was an exercise in paring back—then paring back some more. “For every would-be purchase, I said ‘That’s great, but will you like it in five years?’ That was our approach and why the design is minimalist,” she explains.
In purging her parents’ existing collection and starting anew, Wolfe was able to look to her favorite vendors in selecting perfect pieces for the context. Take the dining room, where, lacking any sense of symmetry, Wolfe leaned into the pitched roof and incongruous door procession, draping an asymmetrical light fixture over the dining table like a cool piece of jewelry. “That fixture just takes care of the whole room—it speaks my language,” says Cynthia. A pair of leather safari chairs— “Vintage is my signature,” Wolfe quips—bring a like-minded element of edginess to the living room. In the primary bathroom, a custom cerused-wood vanity (modeled after an antique dresser Cynthia earmarked during the design process) similarly breaks up the sea of crisp, white modernity with something wholly unexpected.
Recently, Wolfe accessorized the dwelling in advance of her parents’ first party, where new friends from the neighborhood were treated to a margarita machine, tacos and a pickleball tournament. Evidently, the project has been a meaningful gateway for both generations. “This home has become a beacon of community and a real manifestation of the lifestyle they were looking for,” notes the designer, adding of her first full-scale renovation under her own firm, “it’s been incredible to see.”