An Arizona Home Where A Couple Tied The Knot Celebrates The Desert And Their Future


Ethan and Sarah Swartz Wessel...

Ethan and Sarah Swartz Wessel created this Tempe home with a welcoming front door crafted from walnut wood and outfitted with hardware of their design. The reeded glass panes allow light to enter the space while preserving privacy.

Wood accents and textured surfaces...

Wood accents and textured surfaces from the owners' furniture collection add warmth to a home that's largely built with concrete and glass. The long windows are strategically placed to frame views of the gardens that surround the structure.

A shelf backed by a...

A shelf backed by a piece of opaque glass makes for a glowing place to display this sculpture by TK. The owners were married near this spot while the building was under construction, and they mark each anniversary by purchasing a piece of art for their home.

The dining room table was...

The dining room table was designed by the architects using wood from a pecan tree harvested from the lot. "We decided to bolt the table to the floor, making it a permanent structure in the house," says Ethan. An Agnes chandelier by Lindsey Adelman for Roll & Hill hangs overhead.

The house is designed in...

The house is designed in an "H" shape, which makes way for the courtyard gardens surrounding it. Glass windows and doors allow the green from the mature trees and landscaping to be part of the interior.

metal chairs brown jordan patio

Curvaceous metal chairs by Brown Jordan make for sculptural seating on one of the garden’s patios. The architects designed the roofline to be sloping and low, which makes it at home with the classic bungalows that populate the established neighborhood.

The master bathroom is light-filled...

The master bathroom is light-filled due to its obscured glass wall. The free-standing MTI tub was purchased at Clyde Hardware Co., Inc. The architects designed the floating vanity.

The wife calls the master...

The wife calls the master bedroom a nest. "We wanted it to be comfortable and quiet, and just big enough to hold the bed and two nightstands," she says. "It's a peaceful place free of distractions." The architects created the space with low windows, and their position in the room allows the couple to gradually awake to sunlight.

It was just after 8 a.m. on a late January morning, and the Tempe, Arizona, building site was chilly. The bride and groom wore heavy jackets, jeans and boots as they stood before a newly poured concrete wall within a circle of stones they gathered and arranged. Shivering as she held her bouquet, the bride wished she’d worn a hat. The sun was still low in the sky as they said their vows before a couple of friends and an Internet-licensed officiant. In eight months, the spot where they stood would become an outdoor fireplace, and their home would be complete, but they didn’t want to wait. The couple chose to marry in the midst of rising walls and open plumbing trenches because, to them, this is more than a house.”It is symbolic,” says the husband. “As we created the plans for our home, we created the plans for our life together.”

The planning had begun years before when the wife, an Arizona native, taught her husband, a Midwesterner, about the beauty of the Grand Canyon State. “I thought all of Arizona was an arid desert, with blowing sands,” he says. “But she showed me the many shades of green in the landscape.” When they found a lot in an older neighborhood with mature trees, it felt like home to him, and they purchased it with the intention of creating their dream house. The wife, an architect who specializes in and writes about healthcare environments that promote healing, immediately thought of her former classmates, architects Ethan and Sarah Swartz Wessel, for the project. “I’ve followed their work for years,” she says. “I wanted their aesthetic in our home.”The Wessels are known for their modernist dwellings, but here they strove to create something that would live comfortably with the classic bungalows in this established neighborhood. “We didn’t want to build a house that would stick out,”says Ethan. “Although this is a modern home, its low scale fits with the traditional dwellings around it.”

Inside, the aesthetic has more to do with nature than the manmade surroundings. “The integration of the landscape is what drove the project,” says Sarah. “It was their desire to have a peaceful, timeless environment that was small, containing just what they need.” The long, narrow lot (60 feet wide and 300 feet deep) allowed the Wessels to create a linear structure that’s surrounded by four courtyards. Each space opens up to the outdoors in some way–either via floor-to-ceiling glass doors and windows that embrace the garden or narrow clerestory apertures and skylights that frame the treetops and sky.”The home feels remarkably expansive because of its very specific relationship to the landscape,” Sarah says. “Light floods the spaces and changes throughout the year, honoring the seasons.”

In large part, the home is composed of concrete, metal and glass–a concept that may sound stark, but in reality, is far from it. “Some consider modern architecture sterile and lacking the human touch,” says Ethan. “We know this couple and how they live, and they are warm people. We added textural elements like wood ceilings and board-formed concrete for an environment that feels natural and rich. Being in this home is a sensual experience.”Sarah adds, “It’s a place that truly reflects its owners.”

Influenced by the wife’s work promoting peaceful and healthy spaces, the rooms are designed around daily rituals–such as sleeping, meditation and work. For sleeping: Ethan describes the master bedroom as a haven, explaining, “It’s just large enough for a bed and two nightstands, making it uncluttered and peaceful. There’s a very low window that wraps the space and is positioned to allow them to wake up gradually as the sun rises and it gets lighter outside.” For meditation: A small room adjacent to the bedroom is a place to practice seated meditation and yoga. “This is a simple space with cast-in-place concrete walls that feels cozy,” says Sarah. For work: The couple’s shared office is one of the husband’s favorite rooms. “I like surroundings that inspire me,” he says. “I can sit at my desk, look out at the trees and brainstorm new ideas.”

Because they started their married life here, the couple is firmly rooted in this home. Their dining table, a place they enjoy gathering with friends and family, is symbolic of that connection. “We worked very hard to save the mature trees on the site, but we had to cut one pecan tree down,” explains Ethan. “The couple requested that we save the wood and reuse it. We had it milled into planks and slabs, and we used some of it in the ceilings and some of it to create this table, which is bolted in place to the floor.”

Clearly, the piece isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and neither are the owners. “There isn’t a single day that goes by without our home bringing us joy,” says the wife. “We wanted it to be a sanctuary, and it is.”