When a society doyenne mysteriously disappears for a spell and reemerges looking a little more youthful yet still very much like herself, one might wonder if she’s had a bit of work done. The same could be said for this Paradise Valley abode which, thanks to a masterful and restrained reinvention, sports a freshened up look that remains faithful to its structure and spirit. “It had all the right stuff in the right places,” architect Susan Biegner says. “We just wanted to help it achieve its full potential. Everything in the house was touched, but it was subtle.”
Originally constructed in 1954 and extensively renovated in 1987, the midcentury concrete-and-stucco ranch sits in a highly desirable corridor—to the north is Mummy Mountain and to the south is Camelback’s famed hump. Its new owners, Jim and Catherine Tuton, were smitten with the home’s enviable location and idiosyncratic charms. “It was exactly what we wanted, where we wanted, but it’s a total oddball house,” Jim says. “There’s nothing normal about it.”
For starters, the residence sits on an irregular V-shaped lot, which gives it a wonky geometry. “There was some strange architecture happening, for sure—lots of odd angles, layers and bump-outs,” says Biegner, who was aided by builder Joe Costello on the project. To quiet the visual noise and better connect the home to the site, they cleaned up soffits, exposed ceiling beams, enlarged windows and opened up the west wall to create a new patio. “They seem like simple moves, but it was pretty dramatic in terms of transforming the spaces,” she adds.
It wasn’t just the house that had an aesthetic clutter problem: “All this conflicting landscaping was going on,” the architect explains. “It was so insular; there was no capturing of the views.” On a site that dispenses beauty in every direction, the outdoor spaces were a missed opportunity. Enter landscape designer Jeff Berghoff, who made magic from the madness, imposing a rational plan centered around a rectilinear lap pool and a series of simple patio spaces that extend the abode’s reach.
For the interiors, designer Terese Messina worked closely with Catherine, who has a background in design and saw the house as a canvas for a neutral palette, heavy on texture. Calculated splashes of earthy terra cotta, gold, olive and even blue brought vibrancy and spunkiness into the mix. If the house conjures the essence of a crisp, white-walled villa in some far-flung locale, that’s by design. “When people walk in, I want them to have the feeling of being on vacation,” Catherine says. Specifically, she envisioned “Cabo meets Santorini, high desert with a Mediterranean feel,” Jim describes. Global accents, such as woven raffia lighting, kilim-covered benches and a display of collected African masks, articulate the desired bohemian, well-traveled vibe.
While those international destinations exerted a strong pull, the team found inspiration a bit closer to home as well: The living room’s off-center fireplace, reminiscent of iconic adobe structures, nods to Arizona’s architectural heritage. Messina celebrated its form by restoring it and adding a raked plaster finish to the surrounding walls. “We loved its asymmetry,” she says. “It has such a strong shape, and the texture plays really nicely with the solidness of that central piece.” A similar Old West aesthetic suffuses the abode’s ornately carved doors, which were a lucky find by Jim. Messina had them stripped of their outdated mahogany stain, refinished and refitted. “Terese can take any problem and turn it into something lovely,” muses Biegner of the labor-intensive feat.
One area that remained virtually untouched was the sleek Poliform kitchen, a showpiece put in by the previous owner. “The lady we bought the house from put her heart and soul into the renovation, including the kitchen. They would go out to eat because she didn’t want to mess it up,” Jim laughs. The space was in such pristine condition that the team saw no reason to redo it.
Such a sensible approach illustrates an important bit of renovation wisdom: There’s value in knowing when to intervene and when to let a house simply be, so its inhabitants can appreciate the beauty in its incongruities. “We could have torn this house down, but we never could have rebuilt it like this,” Catherine says. “All those imperfections and quirks are what make it so charming.”