For designer and homeowner James McIntyre, the historic Arizona Biltmore hotel is much more than an iconic Phoenix landmark; it’s a divine inspiration. “I love the moodiness of the hotel and the use of things like gold and silver leaf in the ballroom,” says McIntyre, who splits his time between Canada and Arizona and went so far as to gold-leaf the living room walls of his Calgary residence. Since its inception in 1929, the Biltmore, dubbed the “Jewel of the Desert,” has been a go-to resort for Hollywood royalty the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra, and the designer planned to instill some of the hotel’s sophisticated luxury and Gatsby-like glamour into his own stateside retreat in Phoenix.
The dated Spanish Colonial bungalow McIntyre purchased—so untouched that it still had the vacuum marks on the cream wall-to-wall carpets—proved to be the perfect canvas for the glitzy-West-Hollywood-meets-exotic-Morocco vibe he envisioned. “I had a fantasy in my mind of what a home in the desert should be,” he says, “and that meant doing something that contrasted with the area’s bright light and that also utilized elements from my travels to Turkey and India.” McIntyre began his renovation by first tossing that original carpet, eschewing beige and white tones as a whole. Instead, his response to the area’s glaring sun and extreme heat was a less predictable layering of muted grays and blacks. “It makes you feel instantly cool,” says the designer, who opted to salvage the home’s original ceiling beams, stain them charcoal gray and then introduce wide- plank-oak floors in a similar tone in the main living areas.
The existing columns and Palladian windows that establish the structure’s symmetry and define the entry also made the saved list. Here, the addition of two precisely placed burled-walnut chairs and new laser-cut-wood room dividers of McIntyre’s own design further cement a sense of order. “The dividers were inspired by a window I photographed in India,” he says.
Just beyond the entry, a pair of black-velvet sofas trimmed with bronze upholstery tacks—an homage to French designer Jacques Garcia—face off in the living room over a decidedly Art Deco cube coffee table, and one can almost imagine Lady Gaga, whose portrait dominates one wall over another seating area, swooning over the setting. The seating is accented with black-and- white ikat pillow fabrics from Istanbul. “Not everything from that part of the world is about color,” McIntyre says. Three oversize Moroccan pendants are striking elements overhead, while underfoot, the unexpected pairing of a dark cowhide rug and a carpet with a modern graphic motif adds texture; dual mirrors above the sofas create the illusion of more space. “I don’t label my aesthetic as one type of design or another,” says McIntyre about his personal brand of chic. “It’s a hip mix of styles that’s more about the drama of places like India than a literal translation.”
By McIntyre’s own admission, nothing was worth keeping in the existing cramped kitchen with its swinging saloon doors. So, a total gut renovation in collaboration with Stephanie Brown of Affinity Kitchens opened it to the neighboring dining room, making way for one big entertaining space. The kitchen is now handsomely outfitted with black-lacquered cabinets and accented with brass pulls, the latter a reference to the metal elements at the owner’s favorite hotel. In lieu of a standard sit-down dining room set, a raised table surrounded by barstools better suits the kitchen’s recreational purpose. “I don’t do a lot of cooking when I’m in town,” says McIntyre, who lined the ceiling with twinkly star-shaped lights to spark the sheen on the cabinets. “Every hour is happy hour at my house, and I wanted it to feel more like a club or a bar.”
A shift in mood occurs in the master suite, where the melding of styles continues but in a less dramatic vein. Here, two cognac leather chairs with carved bases—a nod to the home’s Spanish Colonial architecture—are juxtaposed with a painting by Michael Schreiner and a Moorish-style rug that grounds the space. For continuity here and throughout the house, McIntyre color-matched the dwelling’s stucco walls to the pre-cast concrete blocks pioneered by the Biltmore hotel’s consulting architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.
All the main living spaces and the master suite open to the backyard, where the pool was the only rescued element. “The outside was really tired,” says McIntyre, who refurbished the pool with blue tiles from Turkey and installed two covered cabanas with black-and-white striped pullback curtains. Visitors in a guest room enjoy the more tranquil view of the front courtyard, which features newly planted vines on the wall and an awning over the front door that transformed the entry.
When he was finished, McIntyre had succeeded in infusing all aspects of the house, both inside and outdoors, with just enough edge to make it unique and memorable. “I tried to create character throughout the home,” he says. “I used exceptional design elements to turn a typical Arizona bungalow into something really special.” Mission accomplished.