A Glass-And-Concrete Home Puts Art In The Spotlight


modern exterior entry

In the hands of a skilled design duo, a glass-and-concrete house in Paradise valley becomes a space to engage with art.

modern neutral hallway bronze sculpture

A bronze sculpture by Kim Fox is displayed at the entrance of a Paradise Valley residence designed and built by residential designer Sarah Swartz Wessel and general contractor Ethan Wessel. The owners spend half the year in Arizona and wanted a clean-lined, contemporary setting for the artworks they've collected over the years.

modern black living room

In the living room, a pair of leather-upholstered swivel chairs by A. Rudin join a custom black walnut table by Brian Fireman Design. A ceramic artwork from Jun Kaneko's Dango series stands in the corner, while another piece is seen just beyond in the freestanding pavilion. Camelback Mountain can be seen in the background.

modern living room black couch...

Toru Kamiya's 2016 Silence injects vivid color into the open-plan living-dining room. "We wanted a limited palette of wood tones, black and white, so that the color would come from the art," says the wife. The Edra sofa is from DDC in Los Angeles. Saarinen chairs from Design Within Reach surround a bronze-detailed table by Holly Hunt.

An Esteban Vicente diptych hangs near a mixed-media piece by Maurizio Pellegrin in the hall. "Our former home was filled with Asian and European antiques and Persian carpets," says the wife. "This house is a bit of a mix."

modern dining area floor-to-ceiling windows

Floor-to-ceiling windows and a faceted plate-steel-and-glass skylight illuminate a space off the entrance that the owners use for casual dining and games. Holly Hunt chairs surround a table of sculpted steel by Perry Luxe. The 2013 silhouette photograph is by Erica Deeman and the oil painting is Alison Dunn's 1996 From Here to Here.

modern exterior concrete walls landscape

The house's angled concrete walls are juxtaposed with fast-growing bamboo outside the master bedroom. After the Wessels rerouted a wash through the middle of the property, Sarah Swartz Wessel redesigned the landscape, integrating new plantings with existing agave, cactus and ironwood trees. The bed is from Poliform.

modern gray bedroom glass windows

An Eames lounge chair for Herman Miller sits in a corner of the master bedroom. "We think of master bedrooms as spaces for two people," says Ethan Wessel. "We keep them as intimate in scale and ceiling height as the clients are comfortable with."

modern white bathroom

To balance their extensive use of concrete, the Wessels incorporated a variety of window shapes into the design, from vertical slivers to walls of glass to clerestory windows open to the sky, as in the guest bathroom.

modern exterior gray

Featuring a steel sculpture by Travis Constance and chairs by Kettal, the patio off the guest bedroom cantilevers over the newly restored wash, giving the house the feeling that it floats above the sloping landscape.

modern exterior sculpture

The Jun Kaneko ceramic in the outdoor pavilion is centered beneath an oculus. The Wessels made canted openings of varying sizes to bring in natural light and offset the weightiness of the concrete roof, which is angled to direct rainwater to nearby vegetation.

For a pair of avid collectors, the concept for their new home began as a vision for an Asian-inspired residence in the desert, a place that would allow them to enjoy the artworks they had gathered over the years. Through a gallery-owner friend, the homeowners met residential designer Sarah Swartz Wessel and general contractor Ethan Wessel, who have channeled their own love for Japan into clean-lined dwellings with a singular sense of place. After touring several of the pair’s projects, the couple knew they’d found their match.

The Wessels are collectors themselves, so they understood their clients’ desire to enjoy their artworks in a more personal way. “Rather than big expanses of gallery-like walls, we imagined a variety of ‘situations’ in which the art would become part of the experience of each space,” Sarah Swartz Wessel says.

The couple spend half the year in Paradise Valley, Arizona, and wanted to stay in the area, so first on the agenda was finding a lot to build on. One property caught their eye. Situated between Mummy Mountain and Camelback Mountain, it was populated with mature trees, agave and cacti. But it came with a hitch: A natural wash for seasonal runoff had been rerouted by previous owners and would have to be restored. When aerial photos from the 1940s revealed that the wash originally ran directly through the middle of the property, the Wessels were undeterred. Rather than set the house to one side or the other of what is–most of the year–essentially a dry arroyo, they designed a structure that would straddle it. That decision set into play a host of possibilities for the Wessels, who typically oversee every aspect of their projects, from design and construction to the interior and landscape design.

Set on one level, the house is laid out in almost an H-shaped plan, with the open living-dining area and kitchen at the center. Though the public rooms are positioned above the wash, from inside there’s no abrupt drop-off, only the feeling that the house sits lightly in the desert landscape. The sense of airiness is heightened by the peaked roof over the main volume, which features a gravity-defying skylight of faceted plate steel and glass weighing nearly 10,000 pounds. One wing holds the entrance, a guest suite and the garage. On the other side of the house is the master suite, a family room and a bedroom for the couple’s grandchildren.

When it came to materials, the Wessels chose salvaged Arizona mesquite to accent a longtime favorite: cast-in-place concrete, which they used for walls, cantilevered roof overhangs and patios, and even the roof for the freestanding pavilion. “It’s a limitless material,” says Ethan Wessel. Floors of white oak contribute to the neutral palette. “We wanted the color to come from the art,” says the wife.

The pavilion roof gave the designers the chance to explore the limits of the concrete in a new way. They’d originally conceived it as a solid rectangular slab, but wanting more light, they punched through it with conical holes of varying sizes. “We canted the sides of each opening,” Ethan Wessel says. “As the sun moves, the little circles move.” A glazed ceramic from Japanese artist Jun Kaneko’s Dango series sits beneath the largest opening, occupying its own natural spotlight during the day.

Balancing the concrete are windows that underscore the home’s transparency. From the floor-to-ceiling windows in the main rooms to the high horizontal opening in the husband’s office to the vertical sliver in the guest bathroom, glass is deployed throughout to frame interior sight lines as well as views to the landscaping–a mix of native plantings and bamboo designed by Sarah Swartz Wessel–and Camelback Mountain beyond.

The interior relies less on hallways than on what the design team refers to as “transitions,” with partition walls where the clients display pieces that include a large work by Alison Dunn, a photograph by Erica Deeman and a canvas by Spanish Abstract Expressionist painter Esteban Vicente. “It’s about shifting your brain as you walk through the house,” Sarah Swartz Wessel explains. “Those transition spaces are a pause before the next thing.” Minimal custom furnishings by the Wessels join contemporary pieces chosen in collaboration with the wife, who has a degree in interior architecture.

The couple now has a true indoor-outdoor experience in the desert: a private, serene and intimate retreat where they can delight in their collection and welcome family and friends. “There are a lot of layers to the house,” says Sarah Swartz Wessel. “The husband told us he spends time in each room just about every single day. He’ll go into his office, then he’ll sit in the living room to read, then the family room and then the bedroom. He says he just loves moving around the house because every part of it is so different.”