When it comes to designing the perfect home for her clients, architect and designer Catherine Hayes is willing to move mountains—or at least parts of them. And she did just that while working on a new Arizona residence for a husband and wife looking to change their lifestyle. No strangers to the building process, the couple had previously owned eight other homes in various styles, however this time around, they sought something smaller yet still highly sophisticated. “I started looking at ways we could live differently,” says the wife, “including ways of living in less square footage.” This new design would represent an about-face for the owners both in terms of style and attitude.
The owners’ search for an architect to help answer their conceptual concerns led to Hayes. Her reputation as an explorer of many styles and of having a keen deftness for answering a client’s lifestyle needs and aesthetic sensibilities immediately won the wife over. “Once I met Cathy I knew she was the one,” she says of their instant connection. So, when Hayes presented a plan for a 3,600-square-foot house built around a courtyard, her well-traveled clients were delighted. “I was coincidentally always trying to draw courtyard homes while traveling,” says the wife.
Since the locale in question backed up to a mountain, the house would end up being just 10 feet away, with its windows, doors and patios looking out onto the face of it. “Because of this, we meticulously feathered the mountain back to both stabilize the face and bring out the natural beauty of the hillside’s colors, shadows and shapes,” says Hayes, who teamed up with builder Greg Hunt to deal with the challenging terrain. “The foundation and topography were essentially one and the same,” says Hunt. “Where required, we drilled all of the foundation footings into the mountain’s base.” Meanwhile, they salvaged every piece of rock for later use and set out to design a flat-roofed structure that would sit low into its surroundings.
Fashioned from glass, steel, rock and plaster, the home’s design called for a generously proportioned living, dining and kitchen area, as well as a master bedroom, guest bedrooms, a small library for the husband and an office for the wife—all assembled around a lushly landscaped interior courtyard. Floor-to-ceiling, operable glass walls that define the outdoor areas allow light to flow through the public spaces, while the openings are free of the visual distraction of thresholds underfoot. Although a small detail, it’s among the reasons for the resulting clean aesthetic. “There is no room for error in a contemporary home,” says Hunt. “The architecture is deceptively simple, but unforgiving in terms of quality and expectation.”
When the time came to select furnishings, the owners decided it was best to start over. “All of our old furniture was better suited for a larger house,” says the wife. “But this space called for clean yet comfortable lines.” Hayes and her team, who were also responsible for the home’s interior design, began by establishing a palette that connected to the colors in the mountain by employing a cashmere hue on all of the walls. “The choice was made early on to have the architecture be a warm, natural color inside and out in order to have the building planes create a calm and sophisticated composition,” says Hayes. This tone is first established in the foyer, where glass walls complement the warm wood floors and ceiling. In the living and dining areas, luxuriously upholstered furnishings feature fabrics selected to mimic the colors of the desert when in bloom, such as palo verde yellow, Texas mountain laurel blue and sage green. Mindful of the outdoors, two leather Minotti armchairs in the living room swivel to take in the views, while the master bedroom’s gossamer-upholstered platform bed looks out to a line of perfectly pruned bradford pear trees.
The indoor-outdoor connection continues in the simple yet polished kitchen, which boasts windows along the east and south walls that face a terrace decorated with a black granite water feature, long sofas and a dining table custom-designed to seat 14 guests. The homeowners’ art collection was then integrated into the interiors, with one of their favorite pieces hanging in the foyer. The piece seems to float in front of the glass wall overlooking the courtyard, while the back of the painting is faced with a custom screen in a subtle pattern of olive leaves that seamlessly blends with the olive tree within the courtyard.
The courtyard is where landscape architect Steven Vollmer tailored the plantings to various settings, including the creation of a micro-garden of swordtail ferns. “We layered shades of green for a cooling effect,” says Vollmer, who also introduced more resilient plantings on the perimeter of the home. Farther from the house, agaves and succulents hold their own against the striking mountainside, which the architect shaped into a sculptural façade in perfect harmony with its site.
The rock material removed earlier appears throughout the space. “All of the rock inside and outside the house was taken directly from the mountain,” says Hayes. The resulting effect grounds the residence, making it feel as if it belongs exactly where it is. And the owners also feel they are where they belong, recognizing that out of all their homes, this is their favorite. “It’s the best,” the wife says, “and it will, most likely, be the last.”