No matter how much you love your job or the city you live in, sometimes you just need a place to escape from it all. For an industrial designer with his own business in downtown Phoenix, that escape took the form of a minimalist, off-the-grid retreat enveloped into the Sonoran Desert. He and his partner envisioned a home that would integrate into the wild, lush surroundings and be gentle on the earth and its resources. “It would be great if the world just went away on evenings and weekends and no one knew we were there,” he says, of the goal he shared with the husband-and-wife design team of architect Cavin Costello and designer Claire Costello.
A staunch believer that less is more, the owner had three main criteria in mind: The house had to be low so that it didn’t block the neighbor’s mountain views. It had to be minimalist, with form following function every step of the way. And it needed to be a showcase for the desert. “You can’t beat nature,” he points out. “And I don’t like closed-in spaces, so if I’m sitting in the living room, I want a 180-degree view to the outside.” That meant glass, and lots of it, with floor-to-ceiling windows dominating almost every room so that the landscape remained the focus. Cavin says that from the outside the structure’s unusually flat profile enhanced the landscape’s best assets. “Because it’s low and linear, all the interesting shapes and forms of the rocks in the cacti and the succulents really become much more dramatic.”
Another slightly unusual request? No hallways. Since the owner wanted to be as efficient with the space as possible, the design team, which also included general contractor Evan Boxwell, planned the house in a rough O-shape, with rooms encircling a courtyard. That central outdoor space also served another important purpose: as a place for the couple’s small dogs to run around without falling prey to local desert wildlife, such as bobcats and coyotes.
Inside the home, minimalism again reigns supreme, and the owners purposely eschewed any art on the walls. “Sometimes the issue with art is that it’s always the same, and you kind of get used to it,” Cavin says. “What’s amazing about having plants and nature as artwork is it’s constantly changing.” The challenge for the design team, in that case, was to still find ways to make the home feel casual and cozy. “We wanted to keep the interior really warm and use natural materials as much as possible,” Claire says. “And to also use things that were very low-maintenance. So the finished concrete floor speaks to that—there are very few grout lines or sockets.”
Though working with a limited palette, they found ways to create visual anchors throughout, with the matte black countertops referencing related tones in the piano and window frames. Walnut slats provide a striking visual thread throughout, at either end of the large living space and as a feature above the kitchen island. In the yoga room and walk-in closet—which has the open plan of a retail fashion boutique—walnut walls and cabinetry continue the theme. The wood slats also do double duty as an acoustic buffer. “We worried that if we made a big room with concrete floors and glass that it would be an echo chamber,” the owner says. “But the piano tuner was here when we put the piano in, and he couldn’t believe how good the room sounded.”
For the outdoor spaces, landscape architect Charlie Ray didn’t have to look far for inspiration.“The Sonoran Desert is the wettest and most biodiverse desert on earth, so we have a real opportunity to be unique and creative while being sensitive to the ecology of the desert,” he says. “We used a combination of both native and non-native desert-adapted plants to create a feeling of Zen. We looked for plants with particular color, form, leaf texture to recreate an idealized Sonoran landscape in subtle and elegant ways.”
The couple moved into the home in January, right before the pandemic hit, so they’ve had plenty of time to enjoy the view—and the solitude they were seeking. His favorite aspect of the house, the husband says, is standing in the kitchen. “It’s about 60 feet of glass panoramic view. That’s where I catch myself every day. I cannot believe I’m cooking eggs and this is what I get to see.”