One would expect a former fashion and food stylist to have an eye for design. But even Maria Mihaletos—who has traveled the world on shoots for a high-fashion magazine in her native South Africa—was surprised by her ability to envision every detail of her family’s new home in Scottsdale’s Silverleaf neighborhood.
“I was so laser-focused with this house,” she says. “I don’t know how to explain it, but I would buy things knowing exactly where they would go once the house was done.” To hold these discoveries—which range from Greek icons and African artifacts to a two-story wallpaper mural—Maria imagined architecture defined by clean lines, strong connections to the outdoors and “lots of warmth in the layers and materials,” she notes.
Finding an architecture professional who understood her concept—and how to sell it to a design review board partial to Spanish Colonial, Mediterranean and ranch hacienda styles—had proven difficult. That is, until she drove past a new Silverleaf house with a decidedly modern sensibility. “I loved the simplicity of the architecture and finishes and said, ‘This is who I want to talk to,’” Maria explains of residential designer Luis Antonio Bonilla. “I met with him and explained my vision, and the more I spoke, the more enthusiastic he got.”
“When I get an architectural opportunity that is more on the modern side, it’s a dream come true because it allows for creativity,” says Bonilla. To suit Maria’s vision, he designed a structure with formal Mediterranean massing and symmetry, but distinctly modern steel pergolas and columns as well as floor-to-ceiling windows. At the entry, landscape architects Russell Greey and Clayton Miller emphasized these clean lines with a negative-edge water feature and the “simple, striking textures and forms” of deer grass, agaves and succulents arranged “in a minimalist, mass-planting style,” Greey explains.
“The first impression is that this is a different house,” Bonilla says. “The steel pergola at the front is not a typical covered porch; it creates a sense of compression, and then you open the door to the foyer and there’s this double-height space.” Similar processions of spaces repeat inside, culminating at the back of the house, where motorized pocket doors vanish into the walls, uniting the interiors with a loggia and wood pool deck.
“I wanted wood to be a recurring theme,” Maria says of the material that also defines the kitchen, which she designed in collaboration with bulthaup Scottsdale’s principal, Robert Moric. Here, a walnut countertop and cabinetry wall provide a rich counterpoint to champagne-colored anodized-aluminum island cabinets. These, in turn, complement the limestone floors and furnishings in adjacent rooms. Moric likens the effect to the concentric ripples that form when a rock is dropped into water. “The kitchen becomes that rock, setting the tone of materials, textures and colors that start filling in the rest of the architecture,” he says. “It creates layers that are quite fascinating.”
Maria’s modern furnishings (some of which she acquired from as far away as South Africa, while others she purchased locally) also display a similar depth. “They have these beautiful warm textures, with sides and backs and legs in different materials,” she says. “Our bed has a leather-clad headboard and integrated walnut drawers. The living room coffee table is glass on top and marble underneath, with a woven-leather ottoman tucked alongside.”
Equally eye-catching are sculptural fixtures, installed in consultation with lighting designer Claudia Kappl Joy of CLL Concept Lighting Lab, who also served as a close adviser to Maria in everything from art framing to fabric selections. When the dining room’s crystal pendants and a massive roll of suspension cable arrived without assembly instructions, “Claudia’s team spent hours doing mock-ups of how they would hang and align it, then we spent a day knotting and tying,” Maria recalls. The lighting designer also devised the swagged installation of the main bathroom’s amorphous, blown-glass pendant lights, which initially hung high in the room’s clerestory. “We encouraged Maria to engage the whole height of the space,” Kappl Joy says, which they achieved by letting the pendants drop down over the freestanding tub.
“Although the homeowners have chosen such exquisite things, they do not shy away from really living in the space,” Kappl Joy notes. “They use it, they love it, they play, they entertain, and that is really exciting to see.” As Maria herself says, “This house is not a monument or a mausoleum. We live in this house.”