As she wound her way up toward a Paradise Valley, Arizona, house on a steep mountainside, designer Jamie Herzlinger recalls being amazed by its stunning landscape. And once she entered the sleek modern structure, she was struck by the mesmerizing vistas through the expansive glass windows. “I realized for the interior design, the trick would be to choose pieces that would make people stop and admire them instead of the view,” she recalls.
Herzlinger’s vision was the final step in a process that had begun two years earlier, when her empty-nester clients decided to downsize from their rambling family house nearby for a more midcentury look. “We wanted something turnkey,” the wife says. Although they were delighted with the clean lines of their new abode, built about five years ago, the interiors needed work. “There wasn’t a lot of detail,” explains the couple’s daughter, designer Amber Anderson. She was tasked with layering the interiors with architectural elements, including millwork and lighting, that would wash the minimal space with warmth.
The two-level floor plan also needed adjusting, notably enlarging key areas. Anderson worked with architects Mark Philp and Justin Ferrick and general contractor Greg Hunt to design a larger kitchen, master bedroom and master bathroom, expanding the footprint of the home. She also tapped woodworking company Woodesign to bring to life the distinctive millwork she envisioned, such as the media room’s wall of lighted shelves that illuminate small sculptures and curios. Outside, the architects added a wide entertaining deck to the lower level and a negative-edge pool on the site’s lowest area.
The new scenery informed every aspect of Herzlinger’s design, a clean, modern take on a 1950s look. “The clients love midcentury style, but I wanted to soften it, as it can get very masculine and stark,” she says. The designer paid careful attention to furnishings, from each item’s scale to its shape. “It was especially important to anchor the living area with larger-scale furniture to make guests want to stay there,” she says. To that end, she created custom pieces, including the space’s 13-foot-long curved sofa that invites the couple and their extended family to sit and enjoy the view. “Rounded shapes make people feel more relaxed, because they’re not so cold,” Herzlinger observes. She introduced curves in other pieces, too–witness the living area’s black-marble-topped coffee table with hand-forged brass legs, the shape of the dining area chairs and the luminous circular porcelain shades of the chandeliers in both spaces.
With a new grandchild and three rambunctious dogs, the couple prioritized low-maintenance furnishings. In response, Herzlinger upholstered pieces in fabrics such as mohair on the living area sofa and leather on the media room’s tufted sectionals. “These fabrics will look beautiful even as they wear,” she says. The designer involved the couple in helping create the custom pieces by bringing the clients to fabric showrooms and demonstrating sizes using paper cutouts–a process that paid off. “The furniture is just dazzling and comfortable,” the wife says.
Throughout the home, neutral hues–plucked from the wife’s wardrobe–harmonize with the exterior and serve as a calming counterpoint to the bright contemporary art the clients have begun to collect. “When I work with modern design, I limit myself to five colors,” Herzlinger says. “I want to keep it tight.” In this case, she chose black, ivory, navy and two shades of gray, playing with the tonality of each–as seen in the pair of abstract rugs inspired by midcentury patterns she designed to ground the living and dining areas. “There’s no wall between the spaces, and the floors are neutral, so I went bold with the rugs to define them,” she explains.
The clients are ecstatic about the outcome. “The house feels like us: clean and modern but still inviting and comfortable,” the wife says. Herzlinger chalks up the success of the project to the couple’s involvement in the process. “They really were the model client,” the designer says. “They understood that simple is always better when it comes to modern design.”