Benson – Desert Mountain
Meaningful Mementos and Unparalleled Panoramas Transform a North Scottsdale Vacation House Into a One-of-a-Kind Home Away From Home
Just inside the front door, a trio of acrylic cubes sits on a glossy console table. Easy to overlook, their precious contents speak volumes. In one is a well-worn pair of child’s moccasins; in another, a collection of pint-size Native American jewelry of silver and turquoise. In the third, a young girl and her mother, surrounded by a vast expanse of desert, look out from a diminutive black-and-white vintage photo.
“That’s my mother and me,” explains the lady of the house, who grew up and continues to primarily live in the Great Lakes region. “She had arthritis, and every year when I was a child—we’re talking the late ’40s, early ’50s—we would drive down to Arizona to stay with friends who lived in Tucson. I remember wearing those little shoes. And I remember that jewelry being purchased out here, as well.”
She pauses for a moment, adding “I was literally running around on Arizona soil when I was a toddler.”
Her significant other has his own childhood memories of the state. “My grandmother and two of my uncles were ranchers in Cochise County, in Douglas,” he says, recalling visits from the Midwest to the homestead. “I always thought the desert was fabulous.” Commemorating his family’s history—and one uncle in particular who was “kind of a wiry curmudgeon”—is a gangling bronze sculpture of a steer that greets visitors by the front walkway.
“We named him Barney, after the uncle,” she adds. “It’s the little things like that that are really special to us.”
Personalizing a residence can be a daunting task, one made even more difficult when the place in question is a part-time vacation home. But for this couple, small touches—artwork that relates to achievements and avocations; gifts that evoke deep emotions and intimate memories; cherished childhood mementos—thoughtfully displayed throughout bring a sense of familiarity and comfort that permeates the rooms and makes the large spaces feel cozy and approachable.
It’s a considerable feat in a home designed to be a stunning showpiece of architecture and setting.
Perched high on a mountain peak in North Scottsdale, the 6,800-square-foot contemporary former spec home has some of the best views in the Valley. “I’ve seen some great lots with great views, but wow, you walk in the front door of this house and you only see horizon,” says builder Dick Lloyd. “It’s like looking out forever at the sky.”
That view is what sold the couple on the house. “The first time he walked in, he didn’t look at anything else,” she says. “He just walked in the front door and out toward the patio overlooking the mountains. That was it.” He adds, “If I didn’t like the rooms, I could always change them, but there are only one or two of these types of settings.”
The duo hired interior designer Mary Meinz and landscape designer Chad Norris, both Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winners, to breathe life into the property and to complement the beauty of its natural surroundings both inside and out.
“The house itself is a gorgeous building with an incredible view, and that was not to be tampered with,” says Meinz. “Common sense tells us that you don’t need to ‘decorate’ something like that. You need to embrace it. So I didn’t get real colorful, and I didn’t add a lot of vertical or tall elements that would get in the way of any views, the topography or Chad’s landscaping.
“Standing alone empty, though, the interior space was a bit overwhelming,” she continues. “It would echo because it was both volumetric and expansive, and it was all hardscape, from the glass everywhere to the stone flooring and walls. So the design needed to be quiet, to blend in, be natural and soften everything.”
To fill the grand spaces, Meinz selected large-scale furnishings and accessories. For example, in the great room, a 30-foot-long by 20-foot-wide cream-colored silk area rug anchors a seating arrangement. It is topped by a 7-by-7-foot square iron-and-glass coffee table. In the adjacent dining room is a substantial 7.5-by-7.5-foot custom dining table. A pair of 7-foot-long dressers sit side by side in the master bedroom. Above them hang matching 8-foot-tall by 5-foot-wide mirrors that reflect the jaw-dropping views from outside. While dramatic in dimension, the clean lines and muted shades of these oversized elements harmonize with the contemporary architecture and natural building materials for a look that is aesthetically pleasing but not overwhelming. “What I love most is that it doesn’t look ‘done.’ It looks quiet and integral like it’s always been there,” Meinz says.
“Everything about this house is about scale,” she continues. “Scale is critical in a building like this with an extraordinary view and so much to see outdoors. If the mirrors in the bedroom had been 5-feet-high, the whole look would have flopped.”
Norris agrees. “Originally, the plant material onsite was so small or bushy that it either kept your eyes trained down or obscured the architectural details completely,” he explains. “The view corridors from the interiors looking out are important.” Treating the windows like picture frames and infusing elements of height into the landscape design and alongside the home underscores the long lines of the structure and draws the eye up and toward the vista.
In the front yard, Meinz accentuated the landscaping that leads to the front door by adding a pair of massive clay wine vessels at the entry. “This is a lot of house, with a lot of stone, and its entrance needed something just as dramatic,” she says. “Barney came first, and he’s adorable and the homeowners love him, but Chad created a beautiful catwalk of gorgeous plantings, and now it leads to something just as dramatic.” Not only are the vessels, which date to 1513, remarkable in the size and history, “they’re representative of our love of red wine,” notes the homeowner.
Echoing that sense of history on the back patio is a large fossil that can be viewed from inside or out. The 55 million-year-old piece is a palm frond that was found in a riverbed in southwestern Wyoming. “It is the most noteworthy piece of art on that entire property,” notes Meinz.
But it’s the small details inside, such as the treasures displayed by the front door, that take the house from a matchless masterpiece to a warm and welcoming home. “I get goosebumps just talking about those little shoes,” says Mienz. “They might not mean something to everyone, but they mean a lot to my client.”
Just about every piece of art in the home has special meaning to the owners. Opposite the shoes, in lighted niche in the entry, is a colorful painting of a Native American chief rendered in shades of blue and orange. It is a nod to Chief Illiniwek, the former mascot of the man’s alma mater, the University of Illinois. “While its not an exact replica, it’s good enough,” he says. “We like it.” Adding the painting to the entry “welcomes you in,” notes Meinz, and “creates a little gallery.”
Just around the corner, a circular metal wall hanging and trio of clay globes holds court, a subtle homage to another of the homeowner’s passions—his own charity that brings together able-bodied and disabled athletes to compete in challenges around the world. “I spent most of my life thinking about and going places, so this piece is like having a stylized version of the earth on the wall,” he says. The globes, he adds, “are the planets. Jupiter is the big one, and then there’s Mars and Venus.”
The colors of the “earth,” are reflected in the dining room, which features a rug in rich shades of blue, orange and gold. Here, two decorative plates hold a place of honor on a teal-colored chest. Vivid blue butterflies adorn the glass platters, reminders to the lady of the house of her son, who passed away. “He had a special friend, and we’ve kept in close contact,” she says, her voice filling with sorrow. “She sent me those plates on Mother’s Day, never having seen the house. The plates arrived after we chose all the colors for the dining room, which is why I had to put them there.”
Adds Meinz, “It’s these kinds of things that money can’t buy, and that’s what this house is full of. It’s stuff that doesn’t match, but who cares? It’s got memories. There’s a lot of story in this home.”