So often good design comes down to a matter of proportion, where the difference of an inch marks the line between discomfort and true leisure. John and Melissa Donnelly dreamed of a custom home that would fit their life in measurements great and small, from the height of the windows to the depth of the family sofa. So when they found a Scottsdale property overlooking views of the McDowell Mountains, they were eager to start from scratch and build a place truly suited for their young family. “We literally left our old house with a toothbrush and a suitcase full of clothes,” laughs Melissa. “We wanted to start completely fresh.”
The news delighted designer Kristen Forgione, whom the couple previously recruited to restyle their former residence. Even then, “we always kind of knew that home didn’t represent them,” recalls Forgione. “When we got the call that they wanted to build, obviously it was a great day.”
Bringing residential designer Agnieszka Jastrzebska and general contractor Brad Leavitt on board ensured that personally tailored dimensions were built into the very bones of the couple’s new abode. Melissa and John, for example, loved the wide porches of traditional Craftsman houses—plenty of space “for one of those hanging bed swings that we’ve always wanted,” notes Melissa. But they also craved spaces that fluidly transitioned between indoors and out, especially to enjoy the gardens by landscape designer David Creech, who filled the property with desert-adapted plants like Texas sage, Arizona yellow bells and mesquite trees. “We wanted to develop a simple, classic landscape that would serve as a green backdrop and provide pops of seasonal color,” notes Creech of the lush layout.
The final design combined a classic Craftsman front porch and more modern, streamlined interiors flooded with sunlight pouring from clerestory windows and sliding pocket glass doors. This required careful engineering in the vast great room, which spills onto the outdoor entertainment area. The two spaces are connected by a multislider system featuring open-corner glass doors and a pass-through kitchen window. “We had to build this entire structure off-site,” notes Leavitt. “We did a mock-up that included framing, cabinetry and countertops just to make sure that when it was delivered and installed, it would fit.”
Jastrzebska carefully considered measurements as well, playing with ceiling heights throughout so that “each space is proportionally designed for its function,” she explains. As one moves from room to room, the different elevations “create a certain emotion,” the residential designer says. For instance, the lowered beams of the dining room evoke a sense of intimacy, while the lofty expanse of the great room is ideal for large parties.
Thoughtful calculations also guided the home’s millwork and furnishings. The couple both stand over 6 feet tall, “and the world was not made for people like us,” laughs Melissa, making average-sized counters and seats often feel awkward. The team raised most of the surfaces, including work desks and the 42-inch-high kitchen counters (the average bar height). When composing the gathering areas, Forgione also favored custom sofas and chairs. Creating pieces with symmetrical lines and curves, Forgione’s lead designer, Rachel McCloskey, made sure to incorporate longer seats so the couple could curl up comfortably. “As crazy as it sounds, it’s made a huge difference,” says Melissa. “They did an amazing job providing furniture that met our lifestyle and fit us.”
A sense of ease runs throughout the interiors overall, with white oak flooring and an 18-foot porcelain fireplace façade painstakingly book-matched by Leavitt’s team reflecting Forgione’s signature organic desert style. “Everything is really grounded and earthy,” explains the designer. “Through and through, we have natural tones with no big pops of color.” Think blond woods, bouclé upholstery and linens in shades of oatmeal and heather gray. Notes of black puncture the soft gradient of hues, especially in the minimalist light fixtures, cutting an elegant geometry against the ceilings.
Guided by such considerate design, each space now feels calibrated for the family’s daily motions. The great room opens wide to the sunrise every morning while Melissa enjoys her ritual cup of tea. And the second-floor deck provides the perfect amount of shade in the late afternoons, where John enjoys long chats with their daughter, both swaying together in their custom swing chairs. The house even accommodates the family’s beloved Yorkies, who can easily dart through their own door. In every square inch “this home works for our family,” says Melissa. “It truly feels comfortable.”