A Hillside Retreat Inspired by Arizona Landscape


When building a hillside vacation home in the Scottsdale community of Desert Mountain, Joni and Brian Wilkerson weren’t just looking for a warm-weather oasis from their native Kansas or the chance to play golf in the shadow of the Tonto National Forest. They also sought a home that could celebrate the desert’s rustic beauty, be it from the panoramic views or right in the home’s interiors. Working with architect Tor Barstad and builder Emilio Lo Cascio, they found a way to bring the two together. “We were out there at the site a year before we started building, just figuring out how to place the house perfectly to maximize the views,” Joni says.

From the home’s entrance, the open plan allows one to gaze straight through the glass wall of the great room, past the patio, to take in a wide vista of Pinnacle Peak and the unfolding cityscape. “You just get that wow feeling,” Barstad says. “It gives you a sense of awe and inspiration.” And that’s before the 15-foot expanse of glass slides open and disappears into the wall with a clever retractable door system. “The idea is to bring the outside in,” he adds. “There are no dissimilar materials to tell you they’re indoor or outdoor. I wanted the architecture to flow seamlessly from room to room and inside to outside. I wanted every room in the house to have a view.”

Barstad’s design extends the house’s exterior walls to partially wrap around the patio, fashioning a true hybrid of interior and exterior spaces that is ideal for entertaining—be it with the couple’s five adult kids and their families or a group of friends—as the great room, patio and indoor outdoor living, dining and kitchen areas become one continuous space. Walls of rough mortarless stacked stone set against immaculate Turkish travertine floors help achieve the cohesive flow throughout. “The open design produces more of a cozy environment,” Lo Cascio explains. “And it creates a space that you can use 365 days a year.”

Joni, who served as the project’s interior designer, brought in a unique blend of contemporary and traditional elements with the furnishings and finishes. “I love building rooms around things I’m inspired by,” she says. “I call it rustic-modern-eclectic. Every room starts with something that I love.” Her diverse design concept shows through with the kitchen’s antique buffet table that sits beside a cooking island topped with sleek, contemporary black granite. The adjacent great room is an exercise in elegance, with black leather club chairs and a cream-toned sectional complementing the hues of the kitchen backsplash. The indoor-outdoor areas feel just as stylish as the rest of the house: A stone fireplace with an antique beam mantel adds warmth to the living area, for example, while two custom loveseats hang from the ceiling like a giant plush swing set.

The luxurious look continues in the master suite and guesthouse. His-and-hers bathroom (complete with indoor and outdoor showers) surround the master, where a soothing gray palette is enlivened with materials such as Carrara marble, Belgian linen and a stacked-stone fireplace. The guesthouse, centered around an elegant contemporary four-poster bed, features its own pair of private covered patios.

“As you walk through the house, every step you take you can see something new,” Barstad says. “And then when you walk out back and the doors are open, the view is simply incredible, kind of like being in an airplane. To really be in this space, it’s a different level of experience.”