A Tucson Residence with Soaring Ceiling Heights & Vistas


When architect Kevin B. Howard first saw the plot of land that his clients, Dan and Susan Parker, wanted to build their new home on, he understood the appeal right away. Nestled in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, the site afforded spectacular views of nearby Tucson and the valley below. Still, the location did pose some challenges. “The property had a big rocky outcropping smack-dab in the middle of it, and it looked impossible to build on,” Howard says. “But the more difficult the site, the more I love it. We weren’t going to fight the obstacles; we were going to work with them.”

Inspired by the site-specific design approach of Frank Lloyd Wright, who felt that a house should be of the natural environment, and the modernist styles of European architects Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius, Howard, along with project architect Joseph E. Brown, created for the Parkers a bold residence that follows the landscape’s rocky topography. “The house straddles the ridge and then cantilevers out on each side,” he says. “It also steps down the mountain, so there’s a fun relationship between the house and its location.”

Howard brought in builder Gregg Seaholm, who now does consulting work, to bring his plans to life. “Logistically, it was tough,” Seaholm says. “There were very tight confines, and the height on everything was super-critical, especially going up three stories and back over the earth. I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and that was the most complicated house I’ve ever built. But I loved driving up to it every day knowing that it was going to turn out amazing.”

Inside, Howard created various rectilinear forms—as in the kitchen, dining area and living room—then overlapped them and dissolved the room’s corners, allowing the volumes to flow into one another. The interior balances large, soaring areas that explode out to the views with small, cozy spaces for nestling in. “The house works really well with two people and two dogs, because you don’t feel like you’re wandering around in a huge space,” Susan says. “But when my brothers and sisters come with all of the kids, we don’t feel crowded.”

Soaring ceiling heights and large expanses of glass offer big swatches of the rocky hillside and sweeping views overlooking the city, while organic materials in rich, warm desert colors—split face blocks, rusted steel and limestone flooring—create warmth.

Landscape designer Tray Gers installed desert plants and decorative rocks near the entrance, along the driveway and in other spots around the home. “The whole premise was to make it look like the house sprouted out of the desert,” he says.

Minneapolis-based designer John Lassila, who had fashioned the owners’ homes in Minnesota and New Orleans, also chose to play off the desert palette when outfitting the rooms, incorporating orange, red and green tones evocative of the outside landscape. Using the architecture as inspiration, Lassila set out to create a modern interior that would depart from the expected Southwest motif. Because the home’s lines are so linear, the designer brought in clean-lined furnishings that would honor it, mixed with organic forms here and there, to add a bit of softness. “There are a number of spaces where a spiral or starburst motif appears— the foyer pendant fixture, the cocktail table, an art sculpture,” he says.

“These play against the straight walls that Kevin incorporated throughout the house.” The couple also acquired several fine art pieces for the home, mostly from the Lisa Sette Gallery. “They were sourced almost completely from Arizona artists who all work in very contemporary styles,” Lassila says.

Striking and modern, the house stands proudly on its hilly perch. What started as an obstacle became the muse of the entire residence and, now, the homeowners and their guests can enjoy perfectly framed views of the rugged mountains and valley. As Susan says, “The house just has a very uplifting feeling.”