As a newly engaged couple hunted for a nest in Arizona, one wish topped their list: a mountain view. “I grew up and lived my whole life in Chicago, so the mountains were a treat for me,” says the husband. The couple indeed found a home with magical mountain views, but the house itself wasn’t exactly what they were looking for, so they razed it to build something new. “The design of the house started with walking on the land to decide where the living room should go,” architect Adam Berkelhamer says. “With that, we created one big room, all in glass, with the roof pitched toward the mountain to capture the view.”
The house would also have to suit the dynamic couple’s varied needs—from spending a quiet evening alone, to hosting overnight guests, to accommodating up to 200 people for charity events. “We designed it from the inside out,” the husband says. “There was a lot of thought put into how we would live in it. How many people did we want to entertain? How were we going to use the outdoor space?”
To answer these questions, the couple turned to Chicago-based interior designer Brian Snow to help conceive a spacious, clean-lined floor plan that mirrored how they wanted to live. “The intent was to use a block structure, with an open ceiling and I-beams in the living and dining rooms, to create that wonderful space,” Snow says. “The rest of the house would be very simple and pure.”
Berkelhamer then crafted the house to meet those needs, installing a long, wide corridor that forms the main circulation through the home and acts as a gallery to showcase some of the couple’s extensive art collection, which ranges from pre-Columbian sculpture to work by artists such as Jean Dubuffet and Bill Traylor. “I bought all of our Traylor drawings because they looked so whimsical to me,” the husband says. “We’re not investors in art; we just buy things that resonate with us.” Precise planning was taken to fit certain pieces—such as a special space designed to hold an 8-foot-tall, 3-ton steel Louise Nevelson sculpture that was carefully transported to and then assembled in the house and alcoves for sculpture that adorn the backs of two floating fireplaces. In the foyer, a special ledge was created to display a collection of African masks.
Within the larger spaces, Snow created various furniture groupings to lend coziness, with most furnishings brought from the couple’s Chicago home. “It’s unusual that anybody that we work with doesn’t have beautiful things that they want to reuse,” Snow says. “There’s a Viennese wingback chair in the tk room with a bold geometric print that came from the Chicago house. It was beautiful and didn’t need any changes to it. But then we also brought in some new pieces, like the rug by the tk fireplace and tk.”
Because the couple entertains, the kitchen had to be up to the task. “Behind the main kitchen is a second working kitchen, with cabinetry for backup plates and glassware,” Snow says. “There are multiple dishwashers, refrigerators and freezers, with a door leading to an area where caterers can set up their outside kitchens or grills.” Lucky overnight guests stay in the spacious guest wing—with its own den, morning kitchen and laundry room—that can be closed off for privacy.
“There are doors off the kitchen that pocket fully into the wall, so the room just opens to the outside,” Berkelhamer says. “In the evenings, you can sit at the fire pit right out in front and watch the mountain as it glows in the sunset.”
The couple loves spending time outside, and the yard features a saltwater lap pool, which was the wife’s main request. Here, they are surrounded by landscape architect Todd Briggs’ artful design, which honors both the modern house and its natural desert surroundings. “On the edges of the property, there’s wildness, which is beautiful in its own right,” says Briggs, who had worked on the project while with Ten Eyck Landscape Architects. “As the landscape creeps into the more intimate parts of the house, it becomes more refined and structured.” Plantings include about a dozen salvaged ironwood, mesquite and palo verde trees—mainstays of the nearby Sonoran Desert. “Some of these trees are over 100 years old,” Briggs adds. “To bring in trees with that craggy old character integrated the house with its surroundings.”
Just as envisioned, the modern house is at once a home, entertaining space, art gallery, and guest quarters. “A lot of people poured a tremendous amount of love and attention into this house,” the husband says. “We love living here. In the morning, when I’m calling my office in Chicago, I sit outside, just staring at that mountain.”