It’s a familiar story: Empty nesters decide to downsize once the kids have grown up and flown the coop. Sometimes, however, that’s easier said than done: Sentimentality makes it difficult to release both a home and the objects within. But, even with many fond memories, this Phoenix couple was ready. “We wanted to let go of a lot of material things and simplify our lives,” says the husband.
For them, paring back wasn’t just a KonMari-style approach to streamlining their possessions; it also meant reducing their footprint and their floor plan. “They were really serious about shrinking their lifestyle,” says architect David Dick, who worked with builder Mike Murphy on the project. “A lot of people don’t walk the walk, they just talk the talk, but these clients were really committed. And when you have an owner who is changing and evolving, a house has to do the same.”
The pair’s previous abode was a massive Mediterranean-style dwelling on a large property with a guest house. “We had all these rooms and we weren’t even living in them,” says the wife. After 18 years, they were ready for something more modest. “Previously, we’d done a lot of custom tiles and lighting; everything was imported from France,” says interior designer Laurel Pfannenstiel, who worked with the family on their previous residence. “This time they wanted to downplay that. They wanted clean and modern. They’re from the Midwest, so my goal was to create a home with a level of warmth that reflected their personalities.”
The shift to a minimalist style was partially inspired by a trip the husband took with his adult son to Spain, where they visited Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion. “We both really connected to that space, where you feel like the indoor structure is part of the outdoors because of the views and the ability to open the glass,” he says. “The time we spent there confirmed that this style really felt right for this stage of our lives.”
Nestled along a hillside in Paradise Valley, the new house champions function over frivolity. The owners were adamant about not wanting any rooms that they wouldn’t use on a daily basis. As a result, there isn’t a single inch of wasted space in the floor plan, which was also designed to flow seamlessly to the exterior spaces. Floor-to-ceiling windows slide open to breathtaking views of Camelback Mountain and downtown Phoenix.
For the interiors, Pfannenstiel paired pale wood millwork and doors with light concrete floors throughout to achieve a serene and cohesive feel. Dark charcoal oak was used in the pantry and office to provide a bit of contrast. Low-profile furnishings in creamy whites and light grays with pops of blue harmonize with the streamlined architecture and steer the focus to the dramatic vistas outside. “I wanted to keep the palette neutral so it wouldn’t take away from the views, but I did want the integrity of nature in these spaces,” she says.
To that end, the interior designer incorporated white-oak cabinetry to bring an organic warmth to the contemporary kitchen and complement the warm desert tones outside. The space, which opens up to the back patio with outdoor bar seating, was originally slated to be the dining room, but the views were so spectacular that the couple decided to make it the kitchen. Because low-maintenance, easy-to-clean finishes were a priority, durable quartz was selected for the countertops and marble was relegated to the backsplash as an accent. “They had very specific goals of how they wanted to allocate their budget,” says Dick. “Their motto was simplify, simplify, simplify: Keep it elegant and keep the lines simple.”
A similar less-is-more approach was also applied to the exterior spaces, which include a dining area, outdoor kitchen, fire pit and pool. To create a lush feeling around the home’s perimeter, landscape designer Jeremy McVicars employed native desert plantings that require minimal water and maintenance, such as Blue Palo Verde trees, Mexican feather grass, agave and aloe plants. “We focused on framing the sight lines with trees and shrubs while preserving the view corridor,” he says.
Being able to take in that natural landscape without even having to step outside is what sold the couple on a more modern, predominantly glass design—plus it made saying goodbye to their former way of living a little bit easier. Says the wife, “This is a new, separate chapter in our lives, and we needed a new house to go with it. Now it’s time for us to make memories here.”