It was 115 degrees in July when a New Jersey couple first visited Phoenix on the advice of a friend. Almost immediately they began looking at real estate, and by the end of the week they’d put in an offer on a lot in Scottsdale’s Mirabel golf community and were discussing a ground-up build with residential designer Gary Wyant and general contractor Tony Calvis. Sitting on the patio of their completed house, the wife laughs at the memory. “We weren’t actually supposed to buy anything,” she says. “I kept telling my husband, ‘We can’t be impulsive.’ But we just fell in love with the place.”
Wyant introduced the clients to interior designer Lissa Lee Hickman, whose gift for creating interiors that embody what she calls “livable luxury” was just what they were looking for. Hickman has called Arizona home since 1993, and she understood what drew her clients to the area. “I love the mountains here and how they contrast with the green of the golf courses,” she says. “And I love the fact that it’s a growing city.”
Self-described “T-shirts and jeans people,” the couple sought a vacation retreat that could comfortably accommodate them and their college-age son and daughter. Proximity to the golf course was key, but they also wanted a house where they could entertain friends and extended family. The wife leaned toward a rustic aesthetic while her husband was specific about what he didn’t want: ultra-modern or Pueblo-style details. Wyant and Calvis responded with a plan for a Mediterranean-inspired home characterized by open spaces and an easy flow from indoors to out. “The vision was for the exterior architecture to be old-world-rural Mediterranean in style,” explains Wyant, “but the interior was to be more contemporary and fun.”
Project manager Mike O’Connor oversaw the build and, as the house took shape, the wife flew in from the East Coast every couple of months to shop with Hickman and check on construction. “Lissa knew we were 2,500 miles away and really took ownership of the project,” she says. “I’d come to town, and one day we’d look at door hardware and the next we’d shop for bathroom tile or flooring.” Designing a vacation residence isn’t all that different from doing a primary residence, Hickman points out. “It’s about tuning in and asking the client how they live and how they want to feel in the space.”
In keeping with the wife’s love of authentic materials, she and Calvis Wyant’s team selected elements like hand-painted tiles and reclaimed wood and brick. The layered, textural approach begins outside, with walls clad in DC Cobble fieldstone and brick. Terra-cotta tiles line the floor of the entry, which opens to the brick-accented great room, an expansive, high-ceilinged volume that encompasses a living and dining area. In the kitchen, reclaimed beams and wood planking are balanced by crisp white walls and “from the ground up,” guided them instead to white oak. “Light floors visually expand a space,” she notes, “and here they tie in with all that reclaimed wood.” Similarly, she specified a light-colored grout for the brickwork “to keep it from feeling too heavy or weighed down.”
The luminous interior is reinforced by a simple palette of white, cream and blue, along with furnishings Hickman custom designed for the house, like the dining table and chairs in the great room and the breakfast room table. Throughout, she sprinkled hand-selected pieces, such as the refinished antique doors that lead to the master bedroom. Making everything work together is all about balance, Hickman notes. “When you walk into a room, it’s important that it just feels good. A space should quietly unfold as you walk through it.”
Details in every room invite lingering, from the breakfast room’s groin-vaulted brick ceiling to the wood planking on the tray ceiling in the master bedroom. While their guests favor the freestanding casita off the pool–“They don’t want to leave,” quips the wife–the couple gravitates to the covered patio off the pool or the pergola off the master bedroom, where they can watch the golfers nearby.
For now, the house serves as a family getaway and a jumping-off point for other adventures, but the wife admits she’d like to extend her visits to the desert. “My husband’s not ready to retire yet, but when we leave, he’ll say, ‘Bye, house.’” That’s music to Hickman’s ears. “When my clients want to spend more and more time in a home,” she says, “I know I’ve done my job.”