A Study In Design

A custom metal gate was designed
to fit between the entry posts.

The covered outdoor kitchen provides
a perfect spot for entertaining.

 An east-facing patio is a cool, shady spot for relaxing.
Low-maintenance faux grass surrounds the patios

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

A Study In Design

By Romi Carrell Wittman
Photography by Amy Haskell

One local couple, professors at the University of Arizona, looked at dozens of houses before finding “The One”: a mid-century, Art Brown-designed home built of concrete, steel and glass.

With its parabolic roof and long, clean lines, the 2,700-square-foot, four-bedroom house certainly stood out from the Mission Revival and Spanish-eclectic style homes of its Sam Hughes neighborhood. But, though it may look different than its neighbors, the home is a perfect fit for its locale. Its wide porch overhangs, which face east and extend over an expanse of windows running the length of the home, as well as its private interior garden and solar panels, make it well suited for Tucson’s climate.

It was the wild, overgrown front yard that got the most attention. “The neighborhood kids called it the ‘ghost house,’” say the homeowners, who loved the clean lines and modern appeal of the 1959-era home. The location and walkability of the area were huge advantages as well, but it took a bit of vision to see past the out-of-control shrubbery blocking much of the house. The overgrowth was so bad it obscured the minimal façade on both the northern and western sides.

The couple turned to landscape designer Jeffrey Trent Landscape and Environmental Design for help because he was familiar with the home and its landscaping issues.
“For a while I lived not far up the street,” he says. “I remembered going by that house and wondering what was back there because you couldn’t see anything.”

Trent and the homeowners decided to rip out everything except a grapefruit tree, a lone Aleppo pine and the Mock Orange Pittosporum, which were original to the home.
“The Pittosporum was very typical of when the house was built,” Trent says. “It would be impossible for me to replace that. They had 50 years of growth and were very much of the period of the house. They’re so well established that they’re drought tolerant.”

Trent opted to dramatically trim them back. The new owners wondered if the Pittosporum could come back but they did.

Trent says once the overgrown and extraneous plantings were removed, he could begin to plan in earnest. The removal exposed the minimalist, Asian-inspired look of the home, including a gray concrete block fence that previously had been hidden from view. The couple who built the home in 1959 had traveled extensively in Korea and included many Asian design elements both in the home and the garden. Korean characters on the gateposts translate as, “In spring comes prosperity.” Trent designed an entry gate to fit between the gateposts. The circular motif, an ancient symbol of perfection, originated in China and spread to gardens throughout the Far East.

The minimalist theme was carried through to the west side. Prior to the garden renovation, a chain link fence covered in cat’s claw was the only “feature,” and soil erosion was a significant problem. Trent constructed a stepped concrete block retaining wall to address the erosion, but it also served to visually unify the home’s theme across all outside spaces. Drought-tolerant plants and rock groupings soften the areas and break up lines and angles, adding to the Asian aesthetic.

In the street-facing spaces, reclaimed water was used for the irrigation system. For the interior garden, which features both artificial and natural grass, a swimming pool, an outdoor kitchen as well as lush, drought-tolerant plants, the couple chose to go with traditional irrigation.  

In the front of the home, Trent installed stepped concrete slabs, creating an inviting walkway from the street to the home’s front gate. Inlaid tile mosaics in the slab are meant to evoke the earth, with the mosaic inside the front gate representing water. A large metal gate, with sleek lines and Asian elements, finishes the scene without dominating the space.

The gate was designed to be open and inviting while also providing a degree of privacy, an important quality when one’s house is made mostly of glass. “It’s a trade-off between privacy and not looking like a fortress,” says Trent.

He credits the homeowners with much of the success of the project. “I really liked working with them because they were very interested and cared a lot about the design itself. They have great taste,” he says. “I can take credit for design work, but it will only be as good as the client will allow.”