Modern Master of Stone, Steel, and Cedar


Clean Slate in Arizona

Dramatic details elevate a Phoenix home inspired by the Rockies and conceived for a couple looking to start anew. In place of the old home now stands a serene modern house that takes its cues from the architecture of the Rocky Mountains, a design idea that struck, appropriately, on a family skiing trip. Flipping through a magazine while on vacation in Telluride, Colorado, the husband came across a picture of a house by the Aspen-based firm Charles Cunniffe Architects. “They noticed an overwhelming character of warmth in our work,” says senior project architect Jim Kehoe. Originally, Kehoe, along with principal architect Charles Cunniffe, set about designing a house using primarily wood, “but it was a little too heavy,” he notes. “So timber was replaced by steel, which brought a lightness to the home. We took from the mountain what they liked and evolved things that didn’t quite match the setting.” 

Great Room with Geometry, Fireplace, High Ceilings, and Rustic Features

The dramatic approach offers a view straight through the house to the central fireplace and the courtyard beyond. A massive double-height fireplace, consisting of a blackened-steel vertical panel between narrower columns of stone, anchors the conversation lounge, which is flanked by the family room to the left and an informal dining space and kitchen to the right. “The natural blackened-steel panels were a great material to tie the stone and wood together,” says builder John Schultz. Boasting rough-sawn-cedar ceilings, the space reflects the trio of elements the architects used throughout the house: stone, steel and cedar, all of which Schultz sourced locally. 

Interior designer
Claire Ownby created a warm, contemporary conversation lounge for a Phoenix house designed by architects Charles Cunniffe and Jim Kehoe with a dramatic double-height steel-and-stone fireplace; the custom chairs from John Brooks Incorporated wear Holly Hunt fabric. The walnut-topped coffee table, also custom, is from Rotsen Furniture in Miami, and the rug is from Tai Ping Carpets in San Francisco.

Dark Informal Dining Area that Flows into the Kitchen

One of the most ingenious details is in the kitchen: a striking architectural wall that doubles as storage. The wife enjoys cooking, but she didn’t want the culinary clutter visible. “We had to conceal everything,” Ownby says. “The dividing wall was built with pocket doors—there are hidden finger pulls in between the reveals. Aesthetically, we wanted it to feel like an extension of the living space.” A custom high-top table made of Blackheart Leather granite from Cactus Stone fabricated on-site offers a casual eating space. 

The glass doors in the dining area slide open to the backyard, beyond which is a rustic yet modern hardscape that leads to a pool surrounded by fire pits and seating areas. A low wall was also constructed “to separate the pool garden from the shaded walk through the mesquite and citrus groves,” says Kimberly Arevalo, who landscaped the grounds. 

An informal dining area is open to the kitchen, which features a dual-purpose storage and dividing wall with sapele-wood cabinets by
Finely Designed. The backsplash tiles are from Craftsman Court Ceramics, and the granite for the table and island came from Cactus Stone & Tile. Custom dining stools from John Brooks Incorporated are upholstered in Townsend Leather.

Stairway with LCD Screens of Family Photos

Rather than displaying artwork, a hallway wall supports three LCD screens that cycle through the clients’ family photos. Cyber Technology Group installed the Crestron home automation systems; the rift-sawn-oak floors are from Custom Hardwood Floors.

More Casual Lounge Area with Brown and Tan Color Scheme

Stone, steel, and cedar were the inspiration for the neutral hues Ownby chose for the interiors. “The palette is a play of both cool and warm tones,” she says. “It’s a repetition of what was done with the architecture.” For furnishings, Ownby selected monochromatic fabrics and contemporary lines. “The interiors were approached simplistically to give the impression the family was living in a minimalistic yet warm and inviting space,” she says. 

Adjacent to the central living space is a more casual lounge area that serves as a family room. The custom sectionals and ottomans, from
Classic Custom Upholstery, are covered in a Holly Hunt chocolate velvet. Roadrunner Glass installed the windows by Western Window Systems throughout the house, and the rolled steel for the fireplace façade is from Ranbro Steel Works.

Exposed Brick Master Bathroom with Plants

Flat-slab sapele wood was also integrated into the master bathroom. The shower tile and flooring are from Facings of America; the Watermark faucet is from Clyde Hardware.

Guest Room with Television, Fireplace, and Abstract Art

Creating a seamless transition between the indoor and outdoor spaces was vital, and measures had to be taken to mitigate the Arizona heat. “Using window-glazing technology, orienting spaces to avoid direct sun exposure and incorporating bold architectural overhangs all contribute to keeping the home comfortable year-round,” Cunniffe says. 

The guest room features a custom canopy bed from John Brooks Incorporated upholstered in Holly Hunt fabric. At the foot of the bed is a custom bench by Ownby Design with upholstery from
Tiger Leather in Greensboro, North Carolina. Ownby found the Malaga desk chair at Jayson Home in Chicago.

After spending 16 years raising a family in their 1950s-era Phoenix home, a couple decided it was time to embrace a fresh start, one in which their new house would reflect a more streamlined lifestyle. They sought something unique that didn’t struggle for attention, uncluttered yet warm, and they wanted to bring the outdoors inside. “It was a rebirth,” says interior designer Claire Ownby. 

Luckily, the couple already had the perfect lot for their new residence: the spot where their current family home sat. The plan was to demolish the structure, building a new one in its place. To celebrate this turning point, the owners staged an epic three-hour paintball war in the old house right before it was razed. “Doors were torn off the hinges and turned into shields, holes punched through walls for surprise enemy attacks,” the husband says. “It was a day of infamy!” 

That mature grove of mesquite trees, in fact, was one of the only elements from their previous residence the couple wanted to keep, along with precious photographs. “We have a wall in the house that has monitors that continuously cycle through about 1,000 images from our lives,” the husband says. Soon, he adds, they will include new memories from a beautiful, updated home “that fits our lifestyle—who we are and how we live now.” 

Alexandra Drosu