In Scottsdale, New York designer Mark Zeff creates a very personal space for a tech entrepreneur.
Near the entrance of Matthew Hill’s downtown Scottsdale condo there’s a troika of metal virus ampules, props scored from the 2012 movie Prometheus. An illuminated cabinet holds a gold aureus coin from the time of Julius Caesar, a T. rex tooth and the wrist communicator worn by Ricardo Montalban in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. In the office, Hill’s glass-topped desk is made from the rear elevator of a World War II-era B-25 bomber. There are even more unusual curiosities—objects and art that reflect his interests in history, science fiction and technology, all set against a backdrop of dark metal, leather, wood and glass. But the interior didn’t always look this way.
The 30-something tech entrepreneur founded Liquid Web, an internet hosting company, in Michigan while still a teenager. A few years ago, he began escaping winter by traveling to Scottsdale. “I love it here,” says Hill, whose firm has 500 employees and several locations, including a local one. “There’s a positive energy, people are friendly and there’s a vibrant night scene.”
In 2009, he bought a 3,180-square-foot condo at Optima Camelview, attracted by its modernist architecture, landscaped terraces and floor-to-ceiling glass walls. “The interior was modern and neutral,” Hill says. “But it wasn’t me. I lived in it a few years knowing that I was eventually going to gut it.” To interpret his vision, Hill turned to New York designer Mark Zef (markzeff.com), whose firm has done homes for Hillary Swank and Annie Leibovitz, and hospitality work for Hilton and Virgin Hotels. Hill had seen the designer’s medievel meets modern design for Dark Knight, a former Scottsdale nightclub, and knew Zeff was right for the project.
“Matt’s not your usual kind of guy,” Zeff says. “While I basically had carte blanche, Matt gave me some very specific visual cues that referenced steampunk, cyberpunk and technology. He wanted something [that was] industrial, edgy and playful, yet had an elegance.” Working with a team that included interior designer Catalina Castana from Zeff’s own firm and Phoenix builder The Construction Zone, Zeff orchestrated the makeover, removing walls from a smaller third bedroom to create Hill’s office, shrinking a large kitchen island to enlarge the living room and reconfiguring a walk-in closet to visually expand the master bedroom. New custom cabinetry was installed in the kitchen and two bathrooms. The pale travertine flooring was replaced with deeply hued tile and, in the bedrooms, with carpet.
“The original space was really open, too open,” Zeff recalls. “You walked in the front door and were instantly plopped into the kitchen and living room. We used a series of perforated and woven metal screens, set in metal frames, to break down the spaces. The screens’ textures and patterns give the effect of wallpaper.” The designer used the screening to create an entry hall, to close off the kitchen and to fashion a boxlike setting for the office. Zeff also designed the spot-lit curiosity cabinet that holds Hill’s smaller treasures. Shelves move to create different displays and the unit can be locked up behind a sliding woven metal screen.
Working with a palette of brown, silver, black and gray, Zeff specified furnishings—including custom designs—that were comfortable and had a vintage-modern look. A deep, leather sectional anchors the living room. In the master bedroom, a two-person chaise (often occupied by Hill’s four cats) rests in a sunny alcove, while a sculptural metal bed seems poised for flight.
Between the living room and office, a small round table and two leather stools are as close as it comes to a dining room. “I’m not a chef,” admits Hill, who divides his time between other homes in Michigan and San Diego. “When I’m here and have friends over, we usually have something in the living room or terrace, or we go out. There are so many great restaurants in Scottsdale.”
Though Hill let Zeff take the lead in most of the design decisions, he was hands on when it came time to choose artwork and accessories for the home. “I obsessed about choosing meaningful art objects,” Hill admits. “I didn’t want knickknacks. I wanted things that were historically or artistically relevant.” Hill found meaning in pieces like the terrace’s animal sculptures made from recycled metal and gears, an alarm clock made from Nixie tubes and his custom keyboard, done like a manual typewriter (“It has that great, tactile click,” Hill says).
Hill also had input with the home’s automation, installing a Savant system. In the living room, a custom bronze coffee table is fitted with a touch-screen top; a television screen floats behind the master bathroom’s mirror. On the terrace, a television screen rises up from a steel planter.
Zeff completed Hill’s project about a year ago. “It’s a great bachelor pad,” Zeff says. “I know he has fun there.” Next up for Zeff? A project not far away—interiors for a new resort on the Mountain Shadows property in Paradise Valley.
Next up for Hill? The renovation of his downtown San Diego home. “I’m going to ask Mark Zeff to work on that too,” he says definitively.