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.