A European-Style Sonoran Desert Home with Old-World Craftsmanship


Traditional Cream Bathroom with Venetian Plaster Walls

Italian Calacatta marble fashions the countertops of the master bath’s custom vanities. Timeworn limestone covers the floor that leads to a tub with a picturesque view. Sconces by Naos Forge in San Diego, California, and a custom mirror complete the elegant setting.

Traditional Cream Bedroom with Vaulted Venetian Plaster Ceiling

A wool carpet from Stark grounds the master bedroom, where a bed and bench, both from Century Furniture, are dressed in the same custom fabric and sit beneath a vaulted Venetian plaster ceiling. The Big Five, a serigraph by LeRoy Neiman, is displayed above the bed.

Traditional Cream Great Room with Salvaged Barn Beams

The grand room’s seating arrangement is placed facing the second of the home’s two antique French fireplaces. Architect Michael Franks incorporated white oak ceiling trusses, salvaged from the massive beams of a 19th-century Midwestern barn, to add a ski lodge quality to the expansive space.

Traditional Neutral Front Elevation with Terra-Cotta Roof Tiles

The house, perched between two hills, required a road to be built leading to the property. Thousands of antique hand-formed terra-cotta roof tiles were imported from France, resulting in a look inspired by old-world Europe that also recalls traditional desert architecture.

Traditional Cream Kitchen Vignette with French Butcher's Block

A French 19th-century butcher’s block was found on a bicycle tour in Amboise, France.

Traditional Cream Kitchen with Terra-Cotta Range Hood

The kitchen combines granite countertops with knotty alder wood cabinetry, a sculptural light fixture from Dennis & Leen and an antique terra-cotta piece transformed into a range hood with a faux finish.

Traditional Cream Dining Room with Brick Ceiling

A ceiling clad in reclaimed bricks, fabricated by Jim Wood Masonry, is the highlight of the dining room, where a Mansion chandelier from Currey & Company calls attention to a Century Furniture table and chairs upholstered in a custom smooth woven silk.

Traditional Cream Hallway with Venetian Plaster Walls

Throughout the house, walls and ceilings covered in Venetian plaster rarely present a right angle. The hallway’s 17th-century chest, which sits under a serigraph by Howard Behrens, was found in Pienza, Italy. The 18th-century sideboard at the end of the hall was purchased in Bath, England.

Traditional Cream Hearth Room with Antique Fireplace

An antique fireplace the homeowners found while trekking through rural France defines the hearth room, a family room-like space designed for casual relaxation. Custom armchairs upholstered in a French tapestry flank a Henredon cocktail table.

Traditional Stone Exterior with Europea-Style Façade

Overseen by Jim Wood Masonry, the exterior façade evokes the look of historic European homes.

Traditional Cream Grand Room with Velour Sofas

Sofas in the grand room are upholstered in a French velour, bookending a Paul Ferrante coffee table.

Traditional Neutral Stone Entry with Dutch Vitrine

An antique chandelier the homeowners found in Cortona, Italy, marks the entry; in the background is an 18th-century Dutch vitrine. The front door’s custom iron railing is by Rustic Elegance.

Traditional Neutral Covered Patio with Sonoran Desert Views

Perched high above Tucson with panoramic views of the Sonoran Desert, it also celebrates natural elements and an inside-out connection in a way that is quintessential western United States.

What happens when you combine the grand sophistication of an Italian villa, the rustic charm of a French country house and a matchless view of the Arizona desert? You get a series of delightful contrasts greater than the sum of its parts and a house etched in old-world formality tempered by casual comfort and an open floor plan. A new home built, in certain cases, with centuries-old materials, this residence is appointed with rare antiques, art and artifacts procured from years of worldwide travels. Perched high above Tucson with panoramic views of the Sonoran Desert, it also celebrates natural elements and an inside-out connection in a way that is quintessential western United States.

“We didn’t want a dyed-in-the-wool new home,” recalls the owner, who, with a bachelor’s degree in interior design, took an active role in the styling process. “We aspired to something that looked like it had been here for years. When some people have a house designed for them, they go away for a while and when they come back, it’s done. That was not our goal. We wanted our own memories and our own collections.” He recalls, by way of example, the home’s reclaimed 18th-century fireplace, found during a bicycle trip through France.

“They really knew what they wanted,” affirms architect Michael Franks, who, along with project manager Michael Josett, project architect Ben Cole and architectural designer Trevor Buhl, brought a fine attention to detail to the home’s design. “It was such a delightful process. There was a high level of comfort between everyone involved. The result was rooted in the collected efforts of dedicated professionals working with a great client.”

Builder Daniel Rorbach, who spent some 30 years working with the homeowners and came out of retirement to construct the residence, started the project by laying a road that ran into the property, over and down one small hill and curving around another. “That was a six- to eight- month process in itself,” Rorbach remembers. For the construction of the exterior façade, overseen by master mason Jim Wood, a combination of classic detailing with stone and stucco prevails, punctuated with decorative wrought-iron pieces collected by the homeowners. The roof was made using approximately 24,000 hand-formed roof tiles imported from France. “You can still see the fingerprints,” the builder notes.

Inside, there is neither paint nor hardly any right angles. Instead, walls are coated with Venetian plaster, curving over corners and arching over hallways. One enters the grand great room beneath wood rafters reclaimed from a barn. “The material was very substantial and unique for reclaimed timber,” Franks says. “It’s like walking into a ski lodge with this incredible volume and strength.” Other portions of the house, such as the dining room, entry and kitchen, feature ceilings clad in brick veneer, which stylistically marries the home’s European and Southwest influences. “It has roots in the European origins of the farm- house, but it translates through Mexico as well,” the architect explains.

Franks’ design quietly fills the house with natural light, be it via skylights or expansive glass. Throughout are treasured art and furniture pieces, such as the 18th-century Bombay-style Dutch vitrine in the entry and the intricately carved antique mirror, from Cortona, Italy, over the pow- der room sink. The kitchen centers on a range hood made from three reclaimed terra-cotta pieces the homeowner found in Italy, while in the master bedroom, a handsome sleigh bed takes center stage. But the real showpiece here, as well as in the guest bedrooms, is the intricate detail work on the ceiling.

Substantial in size, the residence nevertheless feels snug, nestled in a natural saddle-like dip between two hilltops. Breathtaking vistas can best be enjoyed from the home’s rear exterior, which features an infinity-edge pool fed by a manmade waterfall that descends from the mountainside. “It’s almost like a natural pond that might be found on a hike,” Franks says. “But that pristine edge makes it very modern.” It is this combination of eclectic elements—modern and traditional, American and European—that makes for a house born from myriad styles, but one where they all come together in a sophisticated medley that personifies the homeowners’ past and, now, their future.

—Brian Libby