For many architecture buffs outside of Arizona, Phoenix is synonymous with Spanish-style adobe dwellings and Frank Lloyd Wright’s craftsman home zeitgeist. It may be challenging to think a white farmhouse-inspired home would work within that design context, especially against the backdrop of rugged Camelback Mountain. However, C.P. Drewett of Drewett Works, and Marc Nassos of Marc Development, believed it could work. They would prove it by going back into Phoenix’s past as an agricultural hub, a few decades before Frank Lloyd Wright made his mark on the Southwest.
Next, they found the perfect location—Phoenix’s Arcadia neighborhood, along East Lafayette Street—to set down the roots for this vision as well as debunk a few myths about Arizona architecture in the process. Nassos points out that as the home was a speculative build, it presented an opportunity to create a new dwelling option for people to live in a neighborhood that grew from citrus orchards to a desirable hub centrally located near the financial district with shopping, restaurants and entertainment. The careful thought that went into this reimagined design ultimately led to the National Association of Home Builders to award the Magnolia House its 2019 “Best in American Living™” Award for One-of-a-Kind Custom or Spec Home of 4,001 to 5,000 square feet in the Single-Family Custom Home.
The careful thought that went into this reimagined design ultimately led to the National Association of Home Builders to award the Magnolia House its 2019 “Best in American Living™” Award.
“The reason why a ‘Southern’ style like this works for this property is because the area is not your typical Arizona rocks and dirt desert terrain,” Nassos says. “There is thriving vegetation because of the soil. Therefore, we designed the home inside and out to have more clean lines and a modern style, while keeping in line with the neighborhood’s charm and the residents’ collective love of the great outdoors.”
“It’s a green belt, with its own established micro-climate,” adds Drewett. “It’s green, lush and irrigated with water from the Salt River, giving it a different character from other communities. As this community attracts a lot of people from cooler parts of the country, it’s truly a melting pot. With this sort of desire for people to find their own sense of home, one will find the most diverse collection of architectural influences coexisting anywhere in Phoenix—from French Country to Frank Lloyd Wright to Mid Century Modern. Here, variety is the spice of life, and when we took this on, we knew this particular notion of agrarian architecture is something that seemed to make sense, especially because the land was used as fruit orchards before there was an Arcadia.”
The orchards benefitted from the water brought in from the Salt River, and while the land has now yielded an interesting and diverse community, the notion of having a modern farmhouse-inspired home ties the land back to that proud history. Although families and couples come to Phoenix to escape the cold, Drewett and Nassos knew intuitively that the design of the home should factor in a way to create a “safe harbor” to stave off the effects of the harsher western and eastern summer sun.
“We were fortunate to have a north-south lot orientation with the street entrance to the south and Camelback Mountain views to the north,” Drewett continues. “Adapting a kind of agrarian architecture described academically as ‘farmhouse’ or ‘western farmhouse,’ we wanted to create a new courtyard, but innovated on the farmhouse structure by building an ‘H’ form into the home as well as a dual courtyard.”
“We Arizonans love the outdoors so much, and when we were developing The Magnolia House, we took into consideration the ‘U’ shape layout of the home and made sure there was a good amount of glass facing the front courtyard and backyard to bring in natural light and give a defined view of the outdoors,” says Nassos, who wanted to add a functional and stylish modern design and application of the windows so the future homeowners could enjoy the year-round sunshine.
“When inhabitants are in the great room, hallways or the master bedroom, they’ll feel like they’re connected to the outdoors. And although we have a warmer climate here in Arizona, we were able to bring in that awesome sunshine we see every day because of the angles of the house and the north-south facing elevation. We wanted this as opposed to so many homes and developments we see being built that put us hiding behind walls and residing in air conditioning.”
They also built a new set of rules from the ground up on how they would use materials like vertical siding and natural stone.
To retrofit the farmhouse concept for the 21st Century Phoenix lifestyle, the Drewett Works team stripped the structural design to its bare essence both in the preliminary design process and then in the execution. They also built a new set of rules from the ground up on how they would use materials like vertical siding and natural stone. Some areas of the exterior featured vertical siding and other horizontal, setting the tone of order and specificity. Limestone was used to bring out the elevation and the metal roof is clean and precise. Instead of trying to add interests through excessive ornamentation in the vein of European-inspired homes, Nassos’ and Drewett’s teams created visual interest for the exteriors through materials themselves.
“We were very careful to practice a great deal of restraint, avoiding too much ornamentation,” stresses Drewett. “Utilizing a modernist approach, we let the architecture stand on its own and used interesting, high-quality materials to set the house apart. We hope future homeowners and builders take note that they do not need to go overboard on ornamentation of facades. We effectively took grassroots materials and deployed them in different but thoughtful ways that contrast with unfortunate uses of things like porcelain tiles that fake the look of stone, or stone made out of foam and concrete that will eventually make the structure look dated. We stuck with a palette of natural materials in mid-tones, as going too dark or light also dates the structure’s appearance. By not staining woods, and making sure that the contrast of the colors is not too great, these measures will translate to timeless architecture.”
Details about the unique combinations of materials and tweaks in traditional construction in the finished home then emerge in the conversation. The Stone Bar, which C.P. described as, “a destination game room at the northwest corner of the residence,” features retractable glass doors and a retractable window over the bar. The outdoors join the indoors for an amazing Arizona space. Sonoma Charcoal Limestone and a “Musket Grey” metal roof provide texture and sharp contrast to the painted white siding. In the public spaces, exposed beams, limestone and rolled steel provide continuity and stunning texture against the white walls.
“This neutrality gives us a flexible base to work from and the opportunity to re-create the interior when the time is right, and without a large construction project,” concurs Nassos. “If we used materials that may be considered trendy, we confined their use to small areas where the potential buyer can change them out easily. I always personally suggest to buyers to keep trendy looks and materials confined to a backsplash or powder room, so the eventual renovation won’t be cost prohibitive.
When Nassos decided to move forward on this spec house project, he knew Drewett would be the perfect partner, based on his reputation for creative building design solutions and a willingness to step outside the norm to achieve something that added to the structure’s original inspiration. From there, the duo surrounded themselves with other talented people who could apply their specialize skills to ensure the Magnolia House’s actualization would fulfill or exceed expectations set during its conceptualization.
For his part, C.P. brought in DW team member and fellow architect Stratton Andrews to collaborate and act as the co-designer. After Nassos interviewed a number of landscape architects, he tapped Jeremy McVickers of Refined Gardens to bring the garden and outdoor spaces to life. After Nassos selected Rafterhouse to be the general contractor on the project, his instincts led him to select new team member Stephanie Shortridge as the primary interior designer on the project.
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“She definitely held her own during the process,” he says. “Stephanie and I sat down, and I was able to convey the direction we wanted to head with colors and materials and she just ‘got it.’ She was responsible for providing a construction-specification book illustrating her suggestions for interior building materials and colors, paint colors, floor selections, plumbing and lighting fixtures and cabinetry. She also provided specific elevations for tile installations and lighting placement. My wife, Terah, also played a part in selecting some of the materials and colors, especially for the master bathroom.”
Not long after this interview, Nassos announced the perfect buyers for the home emerged, a young, educated and professional married couple planning on starting a family. “They love to entertain and felt that the openness of the floor plan, unique and beautiful working pantry design, large pocket doors, game room with a full bar and bi-fold window, courtyard, fire features and water feature were the perfect fit for having guests enjoy their home,” Nassos says enthusiastically. “The home’s atmosphere provides a great mix of intimate livability yet invites high energy entertainment.”