Re-Formed To Function
Homeowners Brint Milward and Jill Bemis with
their canine friends Eliot and Lucy.
A former atrium was replaced with display niches
for collections gathered during the homeowners’ travels.
The kitchen, which was remodeled two decades
ago, still remains current due to its classic style.
The outdoor living room overlooks the pool area.
The formal living room décor combines
contemporary and vintage pieces.
By Romi Carrell Wittman
Photography by Amy Haskell
A foothills home has undergone two decades of room-by-room remodeling to become the perfect fit.
There’s an entire cable television network devoted to shows depicting intensive home remodels. No matter how big or how small the project, they’re often wrapped up in a nice, tidy half-hour segment. Although the frantic pace works for television, it’s not practical — or desirable — in the real world.
“When you live in a home for a while, you get a feel for how it functions,” says Jill Bemis, former CEO of Children’s Clinics, now retired.
For Jill and her husband Brint Milward, Director of the University of Arizona School of Government and Public Policy, remodeling and renovating their elegant 1960s Catalina Foothills home has been a 20-year process.
They purchased the 4,000-square-foot, three-bedroom burnt adobe home from friends. Several things drew them to the property: location, scale and potential for indoor/outdoor spaces. First, it had the space to accommodate their blended family of five boys. They also recognized that, with a little work, the home provided many opportunities to display the art and sculpture they’ve collected in their travels around the world. The home’s high ceilings, which weren’t terribly common in homes built during that era, were another selling point.
Before they moved in, the couple embarked on the first of many renovations: adding lighting to the formal living room and removing the popcorn ceilings. “We actually lowered the ceilings a little bit,” Jill explains. “We added recessed lighting because there wasn’t any. It was so dark.”
They also removed the atrium at the center of the foyer, another regrettable artifact from the 1960s and 1970s. “We found that it acted as a heater in the summer and an air conditioner in the winter!” Jill says with a laugh.
The space, now enclosed and highlighted with a skylight, serves as a gallery to display the large African sculptural pieces they’ve collected, as well as some smaller artifacts Brint obtained during his years in the Peace Corps many years ago. These include Kenyan memorial figures, an ornately beaded baby carrier from Borneo and many other decorative pieces.
“Every one has meaning,” Brint adds.
The kitchen remodel came next and, though it was completed some 20 years ago, its classic lines and high-quality cabinetry remain stylish and current. More recently, they added a master bedroom suite and remodeled a library, for which they created a dedicated patio with amazing mountain views.
“We have patios off most areas,” says Jill. “It’s really an extension of our home’s living space.”
A few years ago, some of the land near their home was sold and the couple feared a large development would spring up adjacent to their one-acre property. They’d expected this to happen at some point, but were nonetheless worried that their privacy, not to mention their city views to the south, would be compromised. They came up with an innovative and functional solution. They constructed a three-side living room space in the backyard next to the swimming pool, creating a warm, inviting space for guests to relax and chat while also providing a stylish privacy barrier of sorts.
The home’s open layout and adjoining outdoor spaces make it ideal for entertaining and hosting guests. The couple’s children and grandchildren visit frequently, and every year they host a large Christmas Eve party. They also enjoy hosting fundraisers for the various charitable organizations for which they volunteer their time.
“We’ve had as many as 110 people here,” Brint says. “Jill is an amazing chef and she does it all herself.” The garage, which also has been renovated, serves as a staging area for these large events.
Most recently, the couple had the home’s saltillo tile removed — a lengthy and very messy process. It was replaced with elegant 24- x 36-inch gray-tone porcelain tile that perfectly complements the home’s eclectic and warm furnishings.
For the most part, Jill has served as the designer for every project, partnering with contractor Kevin Moody to determine what to remodel and how, then finding just the right pieces to furnish the completed spaces.
She says the home’s overarching style is eclectic, with a blend of contemporary and traditional styles. “We love the mix of cultures you find here in Tucson,” Jill says. “We wanted our home to reflect that. I like to think of the style as ‘contemporary hacienda.’”
Jill loves every part of the remodeling process and often assists friends who ask for her input. “People want it to be done fast. They are scared,” she explains. “But I help them see what can be.”
Jill has some words of advice for people considering a home remodel. “It’s a process,” she says. “Give yourself time and you’ll make better decisions. When you’re done, you’ll have a home that you truly love.” HG
Contemporary Furniture: Contents Interiors, www.contentsinteriors.com
Antique Door and Furniture: Colonial Frontiers, www.colonialfrontiers.com
Outdoor Furniture: House ’N Garden Furniture, www.housengarden.com
Rugs: Rug Resource, www.rugresourcetucson.com
Contractor: Kevin Moody Construction, (520) 631-2101.
Interior Designer: Lee Goodrum, Baker’s Home Furnishings, www.bakerstucsonfurniture.com