For architect Andy Byrnes, the measure of a building is in the details. “It’s that opportunity you have in architecture to make something extraordinary out of different pieces coming together—when steel touches glass, when wood touches steel,” he says. “What you do with those moments is critical in design.”
It was this approach that resonated with the owners of a property overlooking Paradise Valley. The couple—he is a prominent Chicago-based commercial real estate developer, she is a retired consultant and acquisition specialist—first met Byrnes at their newly acquired site, where, as the wife recalls, “Andy was as excited by the opportunity as we were.” But this initial meeting wasn’t a complete blind date. “We had long been fans of Andy Byrnes,” the wife adds. “He is known for his mastery of steel, glass and concrete, and we were drawn to the fact that he builds what he designs.”
Active in warm-weather outdoor pursuits, and with a growing family, the couple wanted a strikingly modern gathering place in the desert to serve as their own private resort. To capture that luxe vacation feel, Byrnes, working with project manager Marissa Mendoza and superintendent Kelton Spresser, pushed the house back on the site toward Camelback Mountain—“a fairly good slice of excavation,” the architect notes, that added foreground to 180-degree vistas of the valley and surrounding landscape. Although views now wrap the structure, whose concrete-and-vintage-galvanized-metal cladding makes it a distinctive presence on the slope, its orientation and courtyard plan still afford the homeowners a sense of privacy.
A custom glazing system of floor-to-ceiling sliding glass window walls and large pivot doors virtually dissolves the visual barrier between inside and out. The living room, office and kitchen open to the pool terrace, while the primary suite—on the other side of the main floor—has views north, south and west to the Praying Monk. It feels separate from the rest of the home, as though it’s actually part of the mountainside. Lower down the slope, a two-bedroom casita shares that same sheltered atmosphere, thanks to its west-facing views.
Continuing from the exterior, the walls throughout are a mix of cast-in-place, board-formed concrete and drywall. One exception to this through line is the main hallway to the living room, where richly hued vertical oak slats make up one wall and a large, commissioned artwork the other. In a unifying move, oak slats are also used in the dining room, this time installed horizontally across the ceiling, lowering it to create an intimate effect.
Working alongside Byrnes and project architect Drew Bausom, the wife was integral to the effort. She directed the interiors—as she had for their other residences in Chicago and Aspen—selecting all finishes and furnishings with a goal of “softening the somewhat masculine aspects of the architecture and the dominant material elements,” she explains. In particular, her choices of rift-cut oak flooring, natural stone and indirect lighting impart a warmth and serenity to the main living spaces. She also tempered the angularity of the structure by selecting furnishings with more rounded profiles, upholstered primarily with textured fabrics in shades of white. Inside and out, the various vignettes she composed telegraph frills-free comfort and reflect her mantra: “Minimal color, no cute, no clutter.”
Landscape architect Stephen Bardorf designed the surrounding environment with an eye toward preserving as much of the existing rock ground cover, boulders and native cacti as possible. However, the gardens, including the expanse of cacti that covers the roof of the casita, are still manicured. “You can try to recreate the Sonoran Desert, or you can do what we did: Don’t hide that it’s an obviously man-made interjection in nature, more geometrical and organized,” says Byrnes.
There were no half measures taken in the construction of the abode. At one point, the husband, comparing the schedule to those in his line of work, joked that he could have completed a high-rise in the same amount of time. Hyperbole? Perhaps not, given the vastly different building types and the processes involved. But in terms of the kind of supreme livability their new house affords, there is simply no comparison.