A challenging site plan informed the design of this modern home that gave way to an innovative design.
The clients had fairly simple requirements for the home they wanted to build on a lot overlooking the open desert and a golf course in the northern reaches of Scottsdale, Arizona. The clients—a couple with adult children and grandchildren—wanted a modern, indoor-outdoor home that made the most of the property’s views. They wanted a place where they could comfortably entertain family and friends, and would serve as a backdrop for their collection of Western art.
For architect Mark Tate—who had designed the clients’ previous house—their requests were the easy part. The parcel of land they had purchased proved to be the challenge. “It was a lot that nobody else wanted,” explains Tate, whose Tate Studio Architects is based in Cave Creek, Arizona. “It’s narrow, surrounded by houses on two sides and slopes down from the street.”
However, the site’s restrictions ultimately formed Tate’s design for the house. He created an H-shaped plan for the 6,000-square-foot house, placing the master suite in one wing and three en-suite guest bedrooms as well as an office in the other, connecting both wings with an open great room that includes the living room, dining area, kitchen and bar. The two wings shelter an auto court at the front of the house and an outdoor living room and pool patio in the back, effectively shutting out views of neighboring houses and focusing the sightlines on the adjacent fairways and natural terrain. Tate also took advantage of the site’s slope to create a negative-edge (or knife-edge) pool at the far edge of the patio, reflecting endless sky and desert silhouettes.
“We kept the materials for the house simple using integrally colored stucco for the exterior walls and stone cladding for the monolithic walls that define the two wings," says Tate.
“We kept the materials for the house simple,” says Tate, “using integrally colored stucco for the exterior walls and stone cladding for the monolithic walls that define the two wings.” The architect and his design team also used copper and black enamel to define the roof’s fascia, while the roof seems to float above a series of clerestory windows. Indoors, polished concrete flooring, done in a random saw-cut pattern, is an easy, cool choice for desert living and the spaces are warmed by tongue-in-groove alder ceiling details. Smooth black basalt columns add an elegant touch to the great room, and its telescoping window walls link the space to the outdoor living area and pool. Floor-to-ceiling windows in the master bedroom and office make both rooms feel as though the spaces are cantilevered above the desert floor.
Tate incorporated numerous design details throughout the house. The front door, made of oak, steel panels and art glass, pivots open with an easy touch. In the kitchen, which is anchored by a large island, a seamless panel of art glass serves as the backsplash behind the cooktop. Nearby, the U-shaped bar, with a leathered granite countertop, opens onto the patio. For the powder room, Tate designed a cube-shaped onyx vanity, backlit for dramatic effect, and strategically placed a floor-to-ceiling window in the room to provide views yet ensure privacy.
The Tate Studio design team worked with the homeowners to incorporate some of the furnishings from their previous home with updated furniture selected for the new house. Comfort, simple lines and a neutral palette were key factors in pieces such as the lounge-worthy sectional and deep armchairs for the living area, and the upholstered chairs that surround the long wood dining table.
The couple’s art was hung in the gallery-like hallways of the two wings, where window walls at either ends illuminate the spaces with daylight. Tate also designed black basalt pedestals for sculpture and a modern shelving system in the living area to display smaller art pieces.
The outdoor living room and pool patio were detailed with sculptural cactus, agaves and aloes planted in beds and pots. The pool and spa were edged in black basalt and done in a black surfacing material, which, as the architect points out, is best for watery reflections. Because the couple enjoys spending time outdoors, the design team furnished the patio with numerous seating and dining groupings.
“The owners’ sunset experience is to sit at a two-person wine table on the patio, where they can see down the golf course and across the desert to the mountains,” says Tate. “They’ve seen deer and javelina traveling through the desert below them. That’s the beauty of this house. Even if you’re inside, you feel like you’re outdoors and all alone in nature.”