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From Pillar to Post

A Southwest-style home gains Midwest sensibilities and a connection to the great outdoors.

The grand, heated pool

For all the beauty in every inch of the spectacular custom home at Desert Mountain in North Scottsdale, one element particularly stands out for its residents: the cabinets.

The owners—a Chicago restaurant family who maintains their privacy—had several barns that were falling down on their generations-old Midwest farm property. They carefully reclaimed the heritage wood, which was then refinished and used for custom cabinetry and trim throughout the house. “They also managed to salvage large pieces of finished cabinetry and millwork from their family owned restaurant, bringing cherished memories to their new home,” says Lee Hutchison, AIA, who led the architecture through his Urban Design Associates in Scottsdale. “They brought stacks of photos of traditional wood homes and barns to start planning their dream home.”

In a rare-to-the-Valley style called post and beam, much of the 6,150-square-foot house is constructed of heavy Douglas fir timber, painstakingly crafted at an Oregon mill and seasoned for the low moisture content and custom stain process needed to protect the wood from the severe Sonoran sun. It was reworked by local artisan carpenters, then paired with new wood that was hand-weathered to appear old.

The look might be called a blend of Midwestern barn and Southwestern styles. As Hutchison explains, the timber walls were hand-chinked and finished much in the same fashion as a log home. “We haven’t seen anything like it before,” he says. “We are calling it: desert craftsman.”

To escape the cold Midwestern winters, the family wanted their Arizona home to take full advantage of an indoor-outdoor lifestyle, so Hutchison added copious amounts of local stone, including Arizona slate, and brought the desert landscape inside through large windows and bifolding doors accessing deep, covered flagstone decks all around. The home centers around a great room with glass walls, making the need for interior art minimal, as views of Apache Peak to the north and McDowell Mountains to the south flood the senses. The ridge beam of the great room, too, was aligned with a nearby mountain ridge.

A negative-edge pool glitters invitingly, sparkling with glass tile and set next to an outdoor living room anchored by a soaring, aged steel fireplace and chimney. And in a design accent prompted by the need to hide an air-conditioning system in the mostly exposed great room, mechanically operable windows were strategically placed to allow cross ventilation without inhibiting the views.

It wasn’t an easy task for the builder, the Phil Nichols Company of Scottsdale. “The biggest challenge was integrating the unique details required into the wood frame structure,” says owner Phil Nichols. “Extensive framing and layered wood beams were used to create the ceilings and wood feature walls, and in turn, the mechanicals and electrical that create this special space had to be integrated into the framing. It is a different style than anything we have seen in the past in the Arizona Sonoran Desert.”

Another request? The grand kitchen. The island is a single granite slab, mitered to create a waterfall edge, and set off by stone backsplashes and steel-and-wood-timber trim. In the adjacent dining room, a glass wine cellar holds about 700 bottles.

“The joy of doing custom residential architecture is that you get to create a piece of art that speaks to the way someone really lives,” says Hutchison. “This family home started as a winter getaway and quickly turned into a labor of love.”