One couple’s regular trip from Mexico to Tucson led them to take up residence in a new (old) community.
BY DEBBY LARSEN
PHOTOS BY AMY HASKELL
Over the years, Dhana and Gene Waken have owned houses in scenic places, including Napa, California, and Maui, Hawaii. But four years ago, while traveling between their Alamos and Tucson homes, they stopped in Tubac and discovered another place to put down roots. The drive from Alamos to Tucson sometimes seemed very long for the Wakens, and on one trip Gene joked, as they were approaching Tubac, “If we lived here, we’d be home by now!” They pulled off the interstate and took a quick drive through the newer Barrio de Tubac neighborhood, falling in love with — and eventually purchasing — a Spanish Colonial home on a quiet cul de sac. The village, known for its arts community, provides a tremendously convenient location for the couple — just 60 miles to Tucson and 17 miles to the border. Although they sold their Tucson property, they periodically visit the Old Pueblo to see their physicians, friends and acquaintances. The couple kept their Alamos home, too, and Dhana still has an antique shop in that area. When asked how she selects items for her shop, she notes, “I buy things I would love in my home and hope someone else is inspired by my finds.”
The couple’s dogs, Blue and Kikkoman, love to romp from the main house through the courtyard to visit Gene in his office.
The Frenchstyle graveled courtyard is a terrific space for outdoor entertaining.
It was Tubac’s scenery that drew them to the city, but they really fell for the house, which was featured on a recent home tour. Dhana has decorated their three-bedroom casa with treasures in a mix of styles from many cultures. “I love unusual pieces, such as a 15th century Bishop’s robe closet,” she says. She has found interesting and beautiful items in local shops, including Pancho’s Resource & Design, Angeles y Diablitos and Jane’s Attic. One of the appeals of the home is how interior and exterior spaces blend. “I love the inner courtyard and open floor plan,” says Dhana. “It has lots of windows and doors that lead to the center garden.” There’s even a casita for Gene’s office off the center space. He owned an engineering firm for more than four decades, and still consults. The couple’s dogs, Blue and Kikkoman, love to romp from the main house through the courtyard to visit him in his office. The backyard slants down toward the wooded Anza Trail on the Santa Cruz River. “We would like to build a bocce court in the backyard someday,” observes Dhana. The area is visited by local wildlife, and the Wakens have sighted deer, javelinas, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions and coatimundi. In addition to being a Master Gardener and floral designer, Dhana also is a dedicated and enthusiastic hostess. Gene is of Lebanese heritage, and Dhana enjoys utilizing his family recipes in her entertaining (see Entertaining at Home on page 26 for some of her favorite recipes).
Southern Arizona proved to be the perfect location for a couple from California to build their future.
BY DEBBY LARSEN | PHOTOGRAPHY BY AMY HASKELL
Russell Palmer and Alec White lived and worked in Santa Barbara for many years, but they dreamed of building a home in Southern Arizona. Their combined creativity is on full display in their Spanish Colonial casa south of Tubac in the Morning Star Ranch development.
Imagine a central courtyard-style hacienda — with modern amenities — sited to take advantage of views of the nearby mountain ranges. Surrounding this fabulous home are 40 acres dotted with native mesquites, Mexican blue oaks and ocotillo. Who wouldn’t want to live there?
Russell, who had worked in the music industry and studio electronics, recently began selling real estate. Alec is a landscaper who managed the grounds of a major historical home when they lived in Santa Barbara. For several years prior to moving to Arizona and starting the building process, the duo made a lengthy list of their must-haves for a desert home, borrowing extensively from favorite features in their previous residences. “We chose what we liked best in each one,” says Russell. “Luckily, we have the same taste so most decisions were easy.” They continued revising the list until the first shovelful of soil was unearthed. The hacienda, built by Dorn Homes and nicknamed “Las Montañas” due to its surroundings, combines everything they love. The couple’s knowledge of architecture, horticulture and art history have been blended together perfectly to create a cohesive whole.
Built of concrete block and color-matched to the desert to mimic adobe, the result is a rustic aesthetic. Many elements of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in the Andalusian tradition are evident, such as wrought-iron metalwork, painted ceramic tiles and lavish landscaping.
A wide tiled stairway leads down to the front patio. The entryway features a large iron double doorway with a cantera stone surround.
Most of the home’s rooms can be accessed from the interior courtyard. Casement windows and French doors were carefully aligned to capture views and open to shaded loggias. Greta, the couple’s 17-year-old heeler, enjoys lying on the home’s stained and polished concrete floors.
A Rumford-style corner fireplace with cantera stone mantel is the focal point of the expansive Great Room, with its 22-foot-high ceilings. At its far end is an open-concept kitchen with a large central island topped with honed granite. Travertine backsplashes, a copper farm sink and colorful talavera tile give the room a casual feel. “We love to cook, and this design is perfect for entertaining,” Alec notes.
Off the courtyard, one of the inner vestibules was designed to accommodate a large antique glass bookcase from Myanmar. This and a similar piece were purchased from Colonial Frontiers several years ago, and were chosen specifically for their Arizona home.
Alec’s expertise in landscape design shows in the home’s wraparound patio gardens, displaying native and desert-adapted species for year-round visual appeal.
The duo remains busy since finishing their home. From his home office, Russell is a realtor with eXp Realty in Tubac and Rio Rico. He enjoys assisting clients in finding retirement homes in quaint towns near Tubac, while Alec currently manages some of the grounds at Morning Star Ranch.
Their hacienda provides a restful ambience that both gentlemen adore. Russell concludes, “Even in the summer when everyone else wants to leave, we love watching the monsoons from our covered patios.”
From new appliances, to updated cabinetry, to custom islands and countertops, these kitchen makeovers have all the right ingredients.
The homeowners found their kitchen to be uninspiring, as well as lacking in functionality for their cooking and entertaining needs.
The kitchen sported cherry-stained cabinets, glass mosaic backsplash and granite countertop, along with basic pendant lighting.
The kitchen’s footprint was changed, with the island shape redesigned to offer more storage and better traffic flow. Revised elements include a new pantry layout and built-in appliances. Slate-gray painted cabinets and white marble-look quartz countertops add a fresh look. The hood was replaced with an inset version covered in drywall layered with oxidized copper, which added a bright punch of turquoise. Brass cage pendant lights were added above the island.
The homeowner recently purchased this abode, and a kitchen remodel was at the top of their wish list. The result was a fresh new look with a modern white and gray color scheme.
The kitchen’s style was reminiscent of the late 1990s. The overall layout worked, but the homeowner disliked the look of the perimeter cabinets. The island was oddly shaped and lacked function. Dark knotty alder cabinets, travertine floors and backsplash, granite countertops appeared dated.
The island and peninsula cabinets, pantry door and the stove hood were replaced. The layout of the island was changed to include seating. The pantry cabinet was converted into a coffee bar. The perimeter cabinets were retained but updated with custom doors and drawer fronts to match the new cabinets. The ceiling was redone with shiplap. Subway tile was installed, spanning from the new quartz countertop to the ceiling. A white hood with stainless steel trim became a focal point for the kitchen, along with the adjacent floating shelves. Dramatic chandelier pendants were added above the island, and the recessed can lights were updated with LEDs.
The homeowner wanted a redesign to result in a lighter and more modern look through the use of materials such as quartz, marble and granite.
The home was built in the late 1980s with raised panel oak cabinets, Corian counters and dark blue mosaic tile backsplashes. The existing island, which was too large and bulky for the scale of the space, was the biggest challenge. Outdated appliances and light fixtures needed to be replaced.
The first order of business was to redesign and replace the kitchen island and incorporate a free-form raised granite bar counter. A full slab of marble was installed above the cooktop for a dramatic accent. The original doors and drawer fronts were replaced with Shaker-style versions in maple that were painted white. Polished chrome hardware finished off the look.
The previous kitchen was dark, dated and too cramped for the needs of a growing family.
The home was built in the late 1980s. The kitchen had dark, heavily grained cabinets. The lower soffits made the room feel closed in. The small-scale ceramic floor tiles and dated appliances needed replacing.
Two partial walls that separated the kitchen and family room were removed. The basic layout was reconfigured, and the refrigerator relocated to an opposite wall. The soffits above the cabinets were taken out, and an archway closed off and replaced with a door. Larger windows, cherry cabinets and sleek stainless appliances were added. The limestone subway tile backsplash creates a contrast with the wood tones. Wood-look flooring differentiates the kitchen from the family room. New lighting was installed, including under-cabinet LEDs, low-profile fixtures and recessed LED lighting in the ceiling.
This ’90s-era Southwest-style home’s kitchen required re-working to increase its functionality.
The custom, energy-efficient mud adobe home features exposed brick on the inside. The kitchen had a utilitarian feel, with a stainless-steel backsplash. The interior finishes included honey-colored shaker cabinets and outdated appliances. The original L-shape design only allowed for a tiny island and pantry. The layout did not work well for entertaining.
The old kitchen was completely gutted. The sink and stove locations were reversed to create a better flow. The pantry wall was removed to open up the space, and an island was constructed using five mesquite pieces. A new hutch was made of mahogany and stained to match the mesquite countertop. A porcelain tile backsplash complements the adobe walls. Rustic golden alder cabinetry enhances the ranch-style concept.
A spacious center island prep area and wall of windows provide an open feeling.
Retro Ranch Remodeled
This 1961 gem received a much-needed makeover that retained its bones but updated the style.
BY ROMI CARRELL WITTMAN | PHOTOGRAPHY BY MATT VACA
How do you know when you’ve found The One?
For one couple, it was all about the feeling they got upon entering a stylish mid-century in the eastside Windsor Park neighborhood.
Tucson couple Billy and Helena had been on the hunt for a home for several months, but they’d had no luck in finding something that suited their growing family. It didn’t help that it was 2007, the very height of the housing boom, when nothing stayed on the market for long. They originally wanted something in midtown, but were priced out of the market. They never considered looking on the eastside until their Realtor suggested it.
Turns out their Realtor was onto something.
“I just knew,” says Billy about discovering the three-bedroom, 1900-square-foot home. “I walked in and saw the wall of windows and that was it. It was an emotional response.”
Built in 1961, this classic mid-century ranch featured sleek, angular lines, large expanses of windows from which to see the Catalina and Rincon Mountains, little to no exterior ornamentation and the liberal use of glass, concrete and wood throughout. Unlike the mid-century residences you might find in Palm Springs, with their turquoise, orange and green accents, the home’s palette is subdued, creating a sophisticated and timeless appeal.
Although the couple loved the house and the friendly neighborhood, there were some aspects they decidedly didn’t love.
First, there was the entryway, which at one point had been an outdoor porch. A previous owner had enclosed it to make a living room, but it was completely at odds with the home’s design style.
Soon after moving in, the couple attacked that problem first, hiring an architect to streamline the house, while maintaining the overall square footage. The next item on the to-do list was the kitchen, but, being a much bigger undertaking, the couple put it off until 2016.
They knew they needed expert help for the job, so they contacted Kathryn Prideaux of Prideaux Design and David Papanikolas of Alta Constructors after seeing ads for their respective businesses during Tucson Modernism Week. The couple had no idea that Prideaux and Papanikolas frequently work together.
The kitchen had been updated over the years and the end result was a cramped, dated U-shape with builder-grade, alder cabinets and green granite countertops. Aside from the problems with functionality, there was a potentially more significant issue with the stove, a commercial-grade restaurant range.
“People raved about it because it was a professional six-burner range,” Helena says. “But restaurant ranges aren’t usually found in home kitchens. It had no insulation around it and I worried it would burn the surrounding cabinets.”
Another issue was the overwhelming smell of natural gas. “The pilot lights on a commercial stove … you could smell gas all the time,” Billy says.
The couple came up with their new kitchen wish list and provided that, along with their budget, to Prideaux and Papanikolas.
“I gave them an idea of what was involved with each wish list item,” Papanikolas says. After three or so visits, the couple decided on a design, then decamped to a friend’s home in Oro Valley for the duration of the four-month-long renovation. “We donated a bunch of our stuff and used it as an opportunity to declutter,” Helena says.
Fortunately for the design team, the home was in pretty good shape from a systems perspective. There was little required in terms of correcting bad wiring, plumbing or other issues. That meant the bulk of the budget could be devoted to the remodel itself, which included the construction of a huge kitchen island, a wall of northeast-facing windows and new cabinetry.
The island, which runs nearly the length of the whole kitchen, draws the eye first. With its white quartz countertop, ample storage and built-in seating, it makes a gorgeous statement while remaining accessible, inviting and imminently usable.
In addition to the island, J-Swiss & Company custom cabinets (made of straight-grain white oak) were installed, providing both functionality and a form consistent with the home’s style. An understated, hand-made Heath Tile backsplash perfectly complements the white quartz.
The north wall of the kitchen was converted into windows, bathing the space in natural light and amplifying its size. It’s easy to imagine both large parties as well as more intimate gatherings congregating here. To anchor the design, the homeowners selected a 24-inch gray porcelain tile, which was installed throughout the home.
When it came to selecting furnishings, Prideaux directed the couple to newly constructed pieces with a retro feel. “They didn’t have time to hunt for the perfect pieces,” she says, “and vintage pieces often need to be refurbished.”
Prideaux looked toward modern furniture brands like Blu Dot, Room and Board, West Elm and even Ikea to furnish the space. The result is a clean, stylish home that’s not only attractive, but also livable for the couple and their children.
“We really like it, but not necessarily because it’s mid-century modern,” Billy says. “We just like the home overall.” HG
This homeowner has a passion for planting colorful annuals to enliven her patios.
BY ROMI CARRELL WITTMAN | PHOTOGRAPHY BY AMY HASKELL
Floral displays add splashes of color to this seating area adjacent to the pool.
Tucked away on a northeast-side cul-de-sac, sitting amid two lush acres, is the home of Perri and Steven Touche. The highlight of the property is Perri’s garden, which bursts into life from winter through spring. An avid gardener, Perri begins prepping her beds each fall, cultivating and nurturing an explosion of colorful, flowering plants that provide the perfect backdrop for get-togethers with family and friends.
The Sonoran Desert is a veritable paradise in wintertime, when mild temps and sunny days mean outdoor activities take center stage. This is especially true when it comes to gardening — with some planning and elbow grease, year-round color and lush gardenscapes can result.
Perri has been gardening for 30 of the 33 years they’ve lived in their home, and says that the key to it is understanding the region in which you’re working. “I’ve taken classes to learn what works and what doesn’t,” she says. “I call it ‘Plant Camp.’”
The gardening classes are tailored to Tucson’s specific needs, as well as those focused on the Lake Tahoe region, where the Touches also own a home.
One of the tricks she learned from “Plant Camp” was watering her plants before covering them in advance of a hard freeze. “The plants will never freeze if you do it that way,” she says. “If you don’t water them, they will freeze and probably die.”
Perri has created pretty and tranquil garden spaces in both the front and rear of their home. An array of colorful pots greets you as you approach the front door. This gorgeous display extends to the backyard, where multiple seating areas and relaxing nooks are framed by vibrant plantings. The brick patio area includes an outdoor fireplace with cooking space. Down a dirt path, there is a larger fire pit, perfect for fall nights and s’mores.
“It’s a great place to sit and relax with friends,” Perri says of the backyard garden. “We’ve hosted as many as 300 people here.”
Although Perri hires a landscaper to maintain the “big” areas, like the grass and trees, she is hands-on when it comes to her flowers. Every fall, usually in mid- October, she purchases as many as 50 flats of geraniums, snapdragons, gerbera daisies and other blooms. She gets most of her plants from Harlow Gardens, but also buys a few from Home Depot and Lowe’s. Gardening, she says, isn’t a cheap hobby, “but it’s a pretty one.”
Most days, she’s up at 4:30 a.m. and out in her garden by 5:15, where she spends up to an hour and a half deadheading and pruning. “When it’s dark, I usually start on the front patio where I can turn on lights,” she says with a laugh.
The Touches travel both to their home in Lake Tahoe and to Dallas to visit their daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren — but Tucson remains home base.
Perri’s flurry of gardening begins in October but ends April, when it’s time to prune, pull and prepare for the next planting season. Still, the high point of the season for her are the gerberas. “I just love gerberas in Spring,” she says with a smile. HG
Tucson Lifestyle Magazine is Tucson's only glossy, monthly city magazine, targeting Southern Arizona’s affluent residents. With over 35 years of publishing experience, Tucson Lifestyle is committed to showcasing the people, places, local flavors, and attractions that make our city unique.
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