When a home is designed primarily with architectural significance in mind, the interiors aren’t always conducive to everyday living. Such was the case with a Paradise Valley, Arizona, home originally designed by Frank Lloyd Wright alumnus Paul Christian Yeager. The layout was a striking example of midcentury modern design, but it wasn’t exactly practical. “It was an oddly shaped space,” designer Melissa Morgan says. “The house is very angular, and it’s very much an architect’s house in that so many of the views are meant to be seen from the outside. It was very challenging to make livable spaces inside them for furniture.”
To wrangle those angles for contemporary livability, Morgan teamed up with architect Susan Biegner, general contractor Brock Brunkhorst and project manager Nancy Brunkhorst. The solution, Biegner says, was lifting the drop ceilings and lowering the windows. “There were even some surprise angles underneath the drop,” Biegner says. “So it was more about removing some of the extra to let it be about those clean feelings and unusually shaped spaces.”
It was a brilliant move architecturally, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. “The most challenging aspect of this remodel was the window replacement,” says Nancy. “They were embedded, so to speak, within the stone walls, and at unusual angles.” Notes Morgan, “It was really a matter of bringing the outside in.” So the design team worked to liberate the views, such as the one from a hallway to the bedroom wing. “If you peeked out the small windows, it had the most interesting view of a wash that ran off the mountain and under the home,” Brunkhorst says. “In order to enjoy the experience, we built a window seat into the hallway.” They also dropped the dining room windows to the floor so that it feels like the home extends to the pool and garden. “Sometimes just those simple moves make a real difference in how the house feels from the inside to the outside,” Biegner says.
Having worked with the owner—who is based in San Antonio—several times before, Morgan knew his preferred aesthetic for the interiors: clean and modern. While the home was in desperate need of an update, Morgan and Biegner made sure to retain the essence of the midcentury modern home, keeping the original limestone and stucco. Replacing the floors with natural oak, Morgan incorporated as much negative space as possible to complement the maximized window space.
The client relished the opportunity to build a design aesthetic from scratch and create a home that doubled as a stylish showpiece and complemented its stunning natural surroundings. Aside from a few items brought in from the owner’s other properties—a mixture of vintage midcentury and significant designer pieces—Morgan sourced all of the home’s furnishings to fit in with the contemporary, minimalist aesthetic.
As with the interior architecture, the home’s angles presented a challenge when it came to certain aspects of the decor. Since the rooms weren’t rectangular, configuring the rugs and designing the lighting proved to be a matter of geometry. “The lines in this house are really beautiful,” Morgan says, “but they made us think about which fixture works and hangs correctly and is the right shape for that room while also being functional. The space needs to be lit.”
Morgan used blocks of deep color throughout—from the emerald green tile in the guest bathroom to the bold blue and yellow furnishings in the living area—to create a “wow” factor in every space. But she was sure to incorporate soothing neutrals for a fresh, contemporary look. “I think something looks a lot more modern without a pattern, so a lot of the furnishings can be neutral, but then saturated bright colors give it more impact,” Morgan explains. “A little goes a long way. The client wanted it really simple, and that feels simple.”
There is one exception to this concept of simplicity in the powder room, where a wallpaper reminiscent of Japanese artist Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa brings the room to life alongside an eye-catching marble vanity. “Even though waves don’t have much to do with Phoenix, it was the color that was very powerful with the beautiful marble,” Morgan says. “It really let that wallpaper shine, and it’s so unexpected in that space.”
Each carefully considered room has one thing in common—the dazzling sight lines. “When you’re sitting in the house, there’s not one room that doesn’t have a jaw-dropping view,” Morgan says. “So you can enjoy the outside even when it’s super hot and you’re inside. You just feel really connected with the beautiful architecture.”