This northwest-side home merges family history with renovated amenities.
By Romi Carrell Wittman Photography by Robin Stancliff
A trio of wrought-iron signs greets visitors to the Esparza home on Tucson’s northwest side. One has the family name, Casa Esparza; another says, “Est. 1962,” and yet another says “Re-est. 2016.” In many ways, the home, located in a small subdivision, has made a complete revolution.
The home has special meaning to Sam Esparza, who grew up there with his parents and five siblings. His parents, Leo and Connie Esparza, built the home 56 years ago and lived there until they passed in 2014 and 2016, respectively. That was when Sam and his wife Jennifer purchased it and began renovations.
“This is the family house,” Sam says. “We’ve been having holidays here with everyone for years. This has been, and will continue to be, a central meeting spot for family gatherings.”
Jennifer is no stranger to the home. She and Sam met while students at Canyon Del Oro High School and, long before they married, she became something of a family member. She loves the history and tradition of the place.
The couple’s primary goal was to update it and make it more functional without obliterating its period charm and elegance.
A classic 1960s ranch-style, the 3,200-square-foot, 5-bedroom, 3-bath home featured the sunken living spaces popular in that era, along with a semi-open layout that fused modernist lines with a casual informality. The Esparzas wanted to maintain the comfortable vibe while remodeling the home and making it more functional.
With Sam serving as the de facto general contractor and Jennifer, a Realtor, serving as the designer, the couple moved into a rental home across the street so they could supervise all aspects of the work.
“That was really lucky,” Sam says, of finding a rental property so close by.
They gutted nearly everything, taking the home down to studs. “We re-plumbed the gas and water lines, replaced septic lines, installed all new systems, A/C, electrical,” says Sam. “And we did all the demo ourselves. I can still feel it in my back!”
They modified the floor plan a little bit, but kept the basic footprint. They also leveled out the floors so there’s no more going up and down as you walk through rooms. They raised the roof lines to match the higher ceilings in the dining room, which brightened the entire house and made it feel even larger. They expanded the kitchen into the space that was once an Arizona room, making a large, well-illuminated and inviting Great Room that easily can accommodate dozens of people. They added an elegant mesquite bar, which hides behind pocket doors when not in use. Skylights — some new, some original — give virtually every corner of the home a sunny warmth.
The dated Ionic columns on the front and back porches as well as inside the front entry were removed as were two load-bearing walls, which necessitated the installation of a 35-foot steel I-beam to support the roof weight. Sam had a 24-foot Douglas fir specially milled and stained to clad the I-beam so that it perfectly matches the original beams.
One of the biggest changes to the floorplan was the master suite located at the rear of the home. They converted that space into a guest suite with two bedrooms, a fireplace and a kitchenette. Long-term guests can very comfortably reside in this part of the home.
The new master bedroom is located toward the front of the home. They converted the smaller guest rooms into one large, elegant master with a spa-like en suite with outdoor access to a private side patio and hot tub.
To house their vehicles as well as provide a workshop for Sam, they enclosed the original carport and also built another garage. “Yes, we have his and hers garages,” Jennifer jokes. Sam, who often works from home for his education technology business, also has a large office that’s accessible from the backyard.
One of the property’s distinctive features they kept is a 140-foot-tall Aleppo pine in the backyard. Family lore has it that it was the tree from the family’s first Christmas in the home. Its tree well is original, too. “We built it with rocks we got from the end of Magee,” Sam notes, smiling at the childhood memory.
The end result is a home that wears its history proudly while also providing modern amenities. And the extended family approves. The Esparzas’ three grown children are frequent visitors, as are Sam’s sisters, one of whom said, “You’ve kept enough of the charm, but you’ve put your own stamp on it.”
Jennifer even relocated the dining room chandelier so it hangs above the kitchen island. “I call it rustic formal,” she says with a laugh. “And I love that it’s original and something that’s been part of the family.”
“It was a labor of love for sure,” Sam says of the project, which took roughly nine months to complete. “It feels good to keep the flame going.” HG