On the border of Oro Valley, adjacent to Catalina State Park, sits the house that inspired the late Bobby Vee’s final album, The Adobe Sessions.
The ‘60s pop icon’s album was recorded in the adobe home built by his daughter, Jenny Vee, a general contractor and designer. “My favorite memories are making music around the campfire with my dad,” Jenny says. “We recorded The Adobe Sessions six months after my father’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. It was a special time to be together and celebrate our family through music.”
Like the single, “Tucson Girl,” Jen designed the house as a tribute to the Old West — paying homage to the desert landscape.
“The adobe blends an ‘Old World’ charm with modern lifestyle furnishings,” she says. “I’m a Tucson girl at heart.”
Southern Arizona has held a special place in the Vee family since the late ’80s. Bobby Vee, known for hits like, “Take Good Care of My Baby,” “Rubber Ball,” and “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes,” would take Jenny on road trips through Tucson — visiting his former producer and friend, “Snuff” Garrett, who had moved to Sonoita from Los Angeles. “I remember passing the Catalina Mountains on the drive,” Jenny says. “Seeing them for the first time struck me with complete awe — it was different than any other mountain range I had ever seen.”
By the early 2000s, Jenny, an avid horseback rider, began boarding her horses in Tucson. When a lot in Oro Valley became available in 2001 she purchased it immediately. “There is something special about the light here and the way it comes up from the mountains in bursts of pinks and purples. There is nothing like it anywhere else. When this property came up for sale, I had to have it. I bought it the next day.”
In 2009, she built a casita, designed by Isola Jacobs of Adobe Designs by Isola. The one-bedroom structure included a full kitchen, along with great views of the mountains from the wrap-around porch. “I learned that adobe is a super material for many reasons,” Jenny says. “It is sustainable, durable and beautiful.”
In 2012, she built a 1,749-square-foot retirement home for her parents, Bobby and Karen Vee, to live in on the lot adjacent to her casita. At the time, her mother was fighting a rare lung disease and her father was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. “Adobe is such a healthy material to build with. My mother needed to be around non-toxic materials as much as possible because of her environmental lung disease. I’m thankful she was able to live here and feel comfortable at the end of her life.” All of the exterior and a majority of the interior walls were created using stabilized adobe, an energy saver, according to Jenny. “With walls 16 inches thick, the home retains heat in the winter and stays cool in summer.”
Guests entering the main house are immediately struck by the open-floor-plan concept. The kitchen, living room, and dining room are all within view. In the corner resides a custom Rumford fireplace. The elevated nine-foot ceilings have 25-foot-long, hand-hewn Douglas fir beams brought in from Colorado. Natural light shines into the Great Room through two picture windows. Colored concrete floors were grouted and cut into four-foot tile squares.
In the kitchen, knotty alder wood cabinets are finished with a mix of stains to produce a rustic cherry finish. For the backsplash, Tierra y Fuego handcrafted tiles line the wall. Above the stove is a terra-cotta-colored plaster hood with a broad saguaro rib base. Two thick slabs of solid mesquite, with a live edge, from the Tumacacori Mesquite Sawmill, serve as the custom bar countertop.
Each room flows seamlessly into the next. There are no thresholds within the house —something that Jenny designed intentionally for safety.
“I had to make sure the design was perfect in advance because once the concrete was poured, that was it.”
For the master bedroom, the ceiling beams and planks were white-washed to complement the white cement/lime mortar walls. Desert tan, four-inch bricks were arranged in a herringbone pattern for the floors.
The bathroom features travertine tile floors and hand-painted shower tiles. The bold red, yellow, and blue tones were intended to reflect a Sonoran-style home.
A picture of Paul McCartney with the Vee family sits in Jenny’s office. “When your father is a music legend, you get to meet some big stars,” she says. A favorite childhood memory was when her father flew her to London to see Elton John in concert. “Elvis, Paul, Elton — all of these wonderful musicians loved my dad,” she says.
True to the style of a traditional adobe home, Nichos are placed throughout the house with statues of the Virgin Mary and crosses. “I wanted to honor the look of these great old adobe homes,” she explains.
Music is not the only art created on this property. Jenny and her dad would paint together before he passed away in October 2016, at the age of 73. “In the final days, painting was one of the few ways we communicated,” she says. “It is difficult to see someone you love experience Alzheimer’s disease. You do what you can to find a connection.” Bobby Vee’s guitars and awards are displayed in the main house. The cowboy theme continues with autographed posters from Roy Rogers.
The backyard space is perfect for potlucks and horses. A Santa Fe-style block and wood barn has attached straw bale walls and bancos. The custom steel fence showcases twisted rope-like cable around the property boundary. Low-water-use succulents and roses are scattered throughout the landscape. A large courtyard attached to the main house has a campfire area, two gardens, and plenty of room for outdoor dining.
The home serves as the perfect retreat for family and friends. “Sleeping at night is so quiet that I’ve had several guests ask for the brand name of my mattress,” she says. “It’s not the mattress — it’s the adobe. It creates a bit of a cave-like feel.”
When this Tucson girl is not riding horses, you will find her creating custom homes for others via her business, Sassafras Design, Inc. Her projects include custom materials (adobe and straw bale), along with traditional building materials to meet her clients’ needs.
“I like making people feel happy. When you build these homes, you get to make someone’s dream into a reality.”
Source: Sassafras Design, Inc. | www.sassafrasdesigninc.com