Authentic Touches Reign In This Desert Dwelling


rustic console table and staircase

Authentic touches reign in a Silverleaf dwelling inspired by a 1930s adobe house.

exterior and landscape

Hand-formed roof tile, rustic brick, Star Plastering's old-world exterior stucco and a scarcity of ornament impart a sense of authenticity to a new house in Silverleaf, a collaboration between designer Dana Lyon and architect Gene Kniaz.

rustic neutral living room fireplace...

The living room looks out to the pool and desert beyond through generously proportioned glazing from Sierra Pacific Windows. The David Dauncey painting is from Costello Childs Gallery.

rustic living room neutral palette...

The living room is furnished with custom pieces by The Refined Group, including sofas and armchairs upholstered in Holly Hunt Great Outdoors fabrics from John Brooks Incorporated, and a reclaimed-oak plank coffee table fabricated by Peter Thomas Designs. Underfoot is a handwoven rug from The Floor Collection Design. Custom lanterns by Spiral Architects illuminate the space.

ustic neutral kitchen subway tiles

Wolf, Sub-Zero and Miele appliances from Arizona Wholesale Supply as well as Kohler sinks with Rohl faucets, both from Ferguson, are integrated into cabinetry by Woodcrest Kitchen and Bath. The absence of upper cabinets allows picturesque McDowell Mountain views to take center stage. White subway tile from TileBar adds to the kitchen's crisp, clean feel.

rustic living room white-oak floors...

White-oak floors from Executive Hardwood and green doors from Sonoran Doors punctuate the predominantly white interiors. In the family room, pieces by The Refined Group include a Belgian-inspired sofa and armchairs around an upholstered iron coffee table. The softly curvaceous metal occasional table is from Brady Gray.

rustic arch to bedroom neutral...

A Brenda Holzke painting from Costello Childs Gallery hangs just outside the arch leading to the tranquil master bedroom, where a French beside table from Eloquence in Los Angeles and an E. F. Chapman marble lamp from Circa Lighting stand next to a custom bed dressed in Matouk linens.

rustic bathroom white and glass...

The master bath, which opens to a private courtyard through more glazing from Sierra Pacific Windows, is "a spa-like retreat with soothing tones," Lyon notes. The space is tiled in Walker Zanger tile from Craftsman Court Ceramics. Opposite the glass-enclosed shower is a Kohler Stargaze tub.

rustic exterior pool cactus

Landscape architect Steve Martino brought varied desert flora to the rear courtyard, which is arranged around a swimming pool and hot tub by Sarto Pools. Blake sconces flanking the steel windows are from Lanternland, while the custom iron furniture in Sunbrella fabrics is from On the Veranda.

Less is more” is not a concept normally associated with contemporary iterations of Spanish Colonial architecture, a style often particularly susceptible to overkill. But a new Arizona house for empty nesters in Silverleaf, decorated by designer Dana Lyon, could serve as a primer on the effectiveness and beauty of restraint. “We wanted clean lines without going completely contemporary,” Lyon notes.

Designed by architect Gene Kniaz, the house draws on the ethos of a 1930s adobe house he’d been previously working on in Paradise Valley. “A lot of the houses out here can be pretty gussied up with Cantera stone and other fussy things,” he says. “But the adobe house had a really clean approach to its exterior–no stone windowsills or surrounds–that felt like a more authentic Spanish Colonial style. I wanted that look for this new home.”

To carry that sense of authenticity into the 21 st century, builder Eric Linthicum deployed traditional 1-inch-thick, three-coat plaster, “which is a very labor-intensive process,” he observes. The terra-cotta tiles on the roof were also done the old-fashioned way–by hand-forming them over the artisans’ knees. Elsewhere, a modern approach prevails. “We took some risks, such as eliminating all upper cabinetry in the kitchen,” notes Linthicum. “We think that kind of cabinetry looks intrusive.” They also departed from tradition with white subway tiles in the kitchen and master bath and by using a treatment on the Douglas-fir ceilings that extracted the wood’s red tones and made them appear aged and slightly bleached.

This neighborhood is fairly densely built and, explains Kniaz, “The lot didn’t have much frontage, but it had a view of the Reata Wash and the trees bordering it that made you feel connected to the desert. I focused on maximizing that view.” He designed the house around a courtyard, creating views of landscape architect Steve Martino’s desert plantings and the trees beyond through enormous steel windows and French doors, which provide a modern update to the Spanish Colonial-style home without straying too contemporary.

The challenge for Lyon’s interior design scheme was principally one of time. “It happened very, very quickly — literally three months from our first meeting to them moving in,” she marvels. “I had to pull a lot of favors because most everything we do is custom.” Fortunately, Lyon says of her client, “She’s an incredible decision-maker, probably one of the most decisive people I’ve ever met. She also has an eye and knows what she wants. I don’t think I could have done it in that amount of time otherwise.”

Stylistically, the decor would ply the same restraint as the architecture. “They wanted a sort of Belgian classicism where the natural materials of the house stood out,” explains Lyon, “We did everything in a neutral palette — creams, grays, green. The art provides the pops of color.” Silhouettes are simple without being sleek, and by employing some traditional detailing, such as nail-head trim on the living room sofas and dining room chairs, they retain their connection to tradition. Antiques–hand-carved armchairs in the study, a large panel mirror in the dining room–are arranged judiciously in the uncluttered spaces to ground the design in the past, and that quality carries through to the newer pieces. “Authenticity of materials was very important,” says Lyon. “Even a new kitchen table is made of a thick, recycled plank of wood that feels substantial and aged.”

The homeowners, who have five adult children and 13 grandchildren, knew immediately they would feel at home here. “One of the things I love about this house is that there are plenty of places for eating,” says the wife. “Plus, there are three spare bedrooms. It’s plenty of room without being overwhelming.” Lyon’s favorite elements include details such as the beam ceilings, the great room window and the master bedroom’s indoor-outdoor patio and shower, not to mention the overall light and airy feel that prevails throughout. But, above all, it’s the home’s understated, serene demeanor that’s the key to its success. “There’s an honesty to the home,” Lyon says. “We wanted to live up to that.”