After two decades of creating dream homes for her clients, Chicago-based interior designer Stephanie Wohlner decided to finally devote some time to making her own dream home—a second house in Arizona where her husband, children and beloved new granddaughter, especially (“I can’t be away from her for more than a few weeks,” says the proud grandmother), could congregate for extended periods of time.
Wohlner and her husband, Rick, set their sights on Scottsdale some years ago (Wohlner graduated from the University of Tucson and has always made frequent trips to Arizona for family visits), but it took quite a while to find just the right spot. “We looked for almost two years in Paradise Valley, but we couldn’t find anything to renovate or a lot I loved enough to do a tear-down,” she says. “We didn’t envision ourselves on a golf course, but this lot, this view, peace, quiet, beauty—it’s an escape.”
Wohlner wanted “every inch of the house to be looked at” and immersed herself in thoughts of all the possibilities—but she also knew she had to edit herself. That editing began, first and foremost, with the architecture. So Wohlner turned to Yevgeniy Veller, a longtime designer friend and collaborator, to help her refine her vision. She wanted a large home with room to spread out, as well as a casita where her adult children could have their own space. In order to keep the walk between rooms from being too long, she devised a courtyard-focused house that feels intimate and “wraps its arms around you.”
To realize her ideas, Wohlner gathered architect Erik Peterson, general contractor Anthony Salcito Jr. and landscape architect Jeff Berghoff. “Stephanie wanted a really classic style of architecture—a little bit Mediterranean or old-world—but cleaner, especially since her interiors were going more modern in pattern and texture,” explains Peterson, who understood Wohlner’s vision and worked with project architects Jeannine Engh and Davina Griffis to meet it. “Stephanie brought a whole new vision and a very different energy,” observes Peterson. “The house feels fresh and exciting—it’s a vernacular we haven’t seen,” he explains. Adds Salcito, who, like Peterson, is excited about the shift from overly embellished to more restrained desert styles, “Her taste is refined and elegant. They wanted a solid, authentic house and for it to be masonry, which makes it unique here.”
Wohlner laughingly confesses that she was the toughest client she’s ever had. But she also says she loosened up once the building was done and she could turn her attention to the interiors. “Even though I wanted the architecture to be clean, I couldn’t not go crazy with fabrics and wallpapers,” she admits, pointing to the great room, where she hung wallpaper between the ceiling beams to cancel any echo while upping the cozy factor.
And though she went full-bore on tile, choosing a bold pattern for the eat-in kitchen (“I ordered what I wanted on this job, and I don’t regret any of it!” she pronounces), she also kept herself in check by incorporating a soothing palette that continues from the main living spaces to the couple’s master suite (which is a resort unto itself, boasting its own petit kitchen and gym). “I didn’t want your eye to feel like it’s jumping around,” Wohlner says, “so every single room is the same neutral color to ground the space.”
It was important for every area of the home to be an “interesting space,” and that includes the glazed walkways that display the couple’s art collection. “The beautiful, big hallways are like galleries,” says Peterson. “Most people wouldn’t give them that much square footage, but it creates a flow through the house.”
It also creates an immediate connection with the landscape, part of what brought Wohlner and Rick here in the first place. Around the home, Berghoff subtly transitioned natural desert plantings to more formal ones near the entrance; the grassy interior courtyard features a pool and a lush variety of annuals, lavender and roses (a nod to the designer’s award-winning Chicago garden). “This home is stripped down and tailored, and the garden reflects that,” notes Berghoff, “but there’s movement and a sense of discovery.”
“It was an epiphany,” Wohlner reflects, realizing her design included elements of every project she’s ever done. “All the jobs connected—historic, modern, cottage—and the pieces just worked together.” After decades of helping others find their style, she’s now done it for herself. “I’ve identified who I am,” she says contentedly.