Robert Frost directed us to take the road less traveled, while Henry David Thoreau wrote that we should “simplify, simplify, simplify.” A Paradise Valley couple eloquently expresses both of these concepts in their one-story empty nester on the lower north face of Mummy Mountain.
Recalling the midcentury modern homes that once dominated this hillside area, the house—set on a 1-acre lot—features clean lines and a minimalist aesthetic in the tradition of such pioneers of modern Southwest architecture as Al Beadle. “These move-down luxury houses or ‘jewel box homes’ are for people who desire high quality but simply don’t want 6,000 to 10,000 square feet to maintain,” says architect Brent Kendle. “These owners were looking for a right-sized residence of exceptional design and craftsmanship that would meet their lifestyle needs. Every square inch had to be meaningful and work together and had to add to the betterment of the whole. This forces an architect to challenge every design move, questioning if it is both efficient and elegant.”
The owners, who were downsizing from two larger houses, also in Paradise Valley, turned to Kendle through a recommendation from friends to plan a sophisticated home with an emphasis not on size, but on style and lifestyle. “We asked for lots of light, views of the mountains and understated elegance in a smaller space that was functional, intimate and easy to maintain,” says the husband. “We didn’t want a splashy or boastful home,” adds the wife. “We were looking for a home that almost disappeared into its setting.”
The subtraction begins with natural materials such as rammed-earth walls, concrete masonry block, limestone and oak floors, and Douglas-fir wood ceilings. Many components repeat inside and out, interlocking the spaces and connecting the home with the surrounding foothills. The rammed-earth construction, in particular, with its natural beauty and inherent thermal properties, was central to the home’s structure.
“Rammed earth is formed into walls like concrete,” says builder Stephan Mackos. However, whereas concrete is poured into place, the rammed earth is set in place in 6-to-10-inch lifts at a time, and then tamped down either by hand, as in this particular project, or with pneumatic tampers. “The biggest challenge was to incorporate ceiling, roof, wall, and glazing elements into it precisely,” Mackos adds. For example, the frameless fixed low-emissive glass piece by the front door had to be installed as the wall was being formed around it—the only case he knows of such a placement.
These simplifying protocols provide for a real focus on nature. Outside, the homeowners preserved the indigenous flora and utilized xeriscaping, such as the native agave at the front artfully displayed in oxidized-steel planters designed by Kendle. Light from large windows and skylights further the transparency to the outside, while white-finished level-5 drywall complements the natural materials and yields a blank canvas for the owners’ art collection. Case in point: a colorful Dick Jemison abstract in the living room, for which Kendle created exact wall space—a method he repeated throughout the home for displaying other works of art.
Throughout the house is a mix of contemporary furnishings, such as the living room’s modular sectional, alongside a bevy of midcentury modern pieces from Design Within Reach. The result is a classic yet minimalist de´cor scheme accented by both the artwork and personal mementos from the owners’ previous homes; the husband, a jazz guitarist, displays his collection of guitars on a wall vignette near his home recording studio.
In the end, the road to simplicity has been a happy one, and the result is a smaller-scale space that Kendle says “feels cozy yet dramatic, modern yet welcoming, and elegant yet casual.” Adds the wife: “Everyone who visits our home says it’s so warm, and we think so, too.”