For a high-flying couple in the finance world who lived part-time in Hawaii, finding a geographical middle ground was like a complex mathematical equation. Since both had established careers that required them to travel to separate coasts of the United States, they needed an easy-to-access location for their mainland pied-à-terre.
Arizona proved to be the sweet spot; specifically, a 4-acre mountain property that offered many of the same aspects they cherished on Hawaii’s Big Island, including the feeling of living amongst nature. “The property backs onto the Tonto National Forest, which is made up of 20- to 30-foot beautiful saguaro cacti,” the husband says. “So the views in almost every direction are phenomenal. And we’re up here in the middle of wildlife—we see a lot of deer, wild javelina pigs, bobcats and mountain lions. We feel like we’re almost living outdoors in the house.”
To provide as much connection to nature as possible, architect Erik Peterson designed the home with soaring ceilings and full-height windows that capture the essence of the landscape. “They really pushed me to another level,” he says, “both with how much the house opened up and also stretching the limits structurally to remove as many posts on the cantilever roof forms as necessary to not impede the views.” To delineate the individual spaces throughout the open plan, Peterson varied the heights of the ceilings, covering them in wood in places to imbue warmth. “The feeling of being in Hawaii— the winds, the land, the nature and the views—was paramount to the owners,” says designer Holly Wright. But while the home needed to be Hawaiian in spirit, it was also important that it was Arizonan at heart. “In Hawaii, everything’s kind of focused more out and down, looking at the ocean,” notes Wright. “And here our land is so diverse that you’re looking down into the valley and up into the mountain. We wanted to make sure the space inspired the warmth you get with our desert surroundings.”
“We needed the home to blend and be nestled into its mountainside location,” adds builder Stephanie Fox. “It was also essential to have a seamless transition from interior to exterior and the natural materials also provide some softening and balance to the contemporary architecture.” Part of that came with incorporating local materials and vernacular design. “The pavilion shapes with the koa wood and that flat, volcanic stone really define the Hawaiian style,” explains Peterson.
“But here we’ve used the gray native stone that matches the surrounding desert. The home is Arizona soft contemporary and has a Frank Lloyd Wright-ish element to it, the way the lines of the house float and the spaces interact.”
The wife, who worked closely with the designer, wanted the atmosphere to be soothing, comfortable and neutral, so that the focus was on the landscape, noting, “I didn’t want bright colors. Everything just flows and is peaceful and serene.” Wright used the Chinese culture’s five elements of nature—earth, fire, metal, water and wood—for her material palette inspiration. Warm woods, natural stone, metal accents and cozy fireplaces add depth and intimacy. Rugged outdoor fabrics were also important, given the fusion between interior and exterior, but it was crucial that none of them be “shiny or loud,” says Wright. “The harmony within each space feels subdued but still interesting,” she explains. “Nothing too drastic or harsh. So you see a lot of the natural wood tones and the spaces kind of playing off the colors that you see throughout the views in the background.”
To complement the contemporary architecture, landscape designer Ken Larkins installed symmetrical layers of plantings, such as blue barrel cactus, lady slipper succulents and Weber agave. “We also were cognizant of aroma and sound,” he says. “Desert Mountain offers beautiful cooling breezes, so the addition of Sambac jasmine to the courtyard allows its fragrance to be carried into the great room. For sound, we installed a blue granite fountain to offer the soothing sound of flowing water.”
And soothing just may be the best word to describe the couple’s finished abode, which they view as a calming sanctuary. “In Hawaii, we had such a great blend between work and lifestyle and we wanted to find some place on the mainland to recreate that,” the husband says, admitting that the view from his home office is often hard to resist. “But I find myself—happily—being not nearly as productive as I used to be!”