Category: Home & Garden

Modern Times

Editor Debby Larsen at a photo shoot at the home of Lynne Jackson. Photo by Thomas Veneklasen.

The calendar says it’s 2019, but all over Tucson, homeowners are turning back the clock 50 or so years to revel in the style that we know as mid-century modern. And why not? With its elegant geometry, sense of space, and forward-looking feel, there is at once a nostalgic, and yet timeless, quality to it.

For our cover story on page 16 we visited a mid-century ranch home that received an extensive and beautiful remodel that has kept the bones of the structure intact, but also fleshed out the vision of modernism. Even if your place is territorial, Spanish colonial, or some other Southwestern style, we think you’ll find plenty to inspire a makeover at your casa.

We haven’t overlooked the exterior spaces, either. There are certain elements to hardscape and plantings that help to define the modern style, too. Our feature on page 22 presents a backyard that received a redesign that provides a nod to the past while being thoroughly updated and functional.

Kitchens are often the first room that becomes antiquated, and in order to help you figure out some options for new cabinets, fixtures, etc., we have compiled a pictorial, starting on page 26.

Whether or not you are contemplating redoing a home or garden space, like many of us you are probably finding ways to dress up your monthly menus. We sat down with Lynne Jackson to find out about a classic side dish that she has elaborated into an easy and tasty main dish.

Elsewhere in this issue, you can learn about a young woman who hand-letters signs for local businesses (page 34) and discover what to do to keep your garden looking its best (page 12).

A Casa Comes Full Circle

This northwest-side home merges family history with renovated amenities.

By Romi Carrell Wittman Photography by Robin Stancliff

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.

A wall was removed to create this open-concept design, which is perfect for family gatherings.

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.

Homeowners Jennifer and Sam Esparza with their dog Remy.

“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.

Columns in the original formal living room were removed, and a large Douglas fir beam was added to support the roof.

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.

Two small guest rooms were combined to create an elegant en suite master bath.

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

Feather Report

Southern Arizona is a birder’s paradise, and even in the heart of Tucson, you will experience a bevy of winged visitors. Here, we profile some of the “usual suspects” you may see in your garden.


The Mourning Dove is known for the soulful cooing sound it makes at dawn and dust. Its neutral coloration offers camouflage as it searches for seeds.


Roadrunners can be seen racing across the landscape as they chase their prey. They usually prefer lizards, but are brave enough to even take on a rattlesnake.


Gila Woodpeckers excavate holes in saguaro cacti, which provide homes for several bird species. They often can be heard as they peck at eaves and evaporative coolers (a territorial signal). Photo by Amy Haskell


The Cactus Wren, Arizona’s state bird, is well known for its brash and inquisitive nature, as it daringly perches on cactus spines.


Lesser Goldfinches have yellow breasts, and the males have black backs (females have olive ones). They feature white bars on their wings, and are particularly attracted to a feeder full of Nyjer (or thistle) seed.
Photo by Amy Haskell


The colorful Hummingbird darts around plants with brightly hued, tubular flowers in pursuit of nectar. Many species of hummers inhabit our area.
Photo by Ben Wilder

A Growing Family

These homeowners and their kids are living a mini-farm lifestyle.

By Debby Larsen  |  Photos by Justin Carrillo

Emma, Lenny, Jennifer and Sophia Fest pose in front of their goat house.

Along the Mount Lemmon highway on the far eastside of Tucson, the Fest family has embraced the farm life —in a scaled-down form.

Lenny and Jennifer Fest invested time and patience to locate the perfect property for a bucolic lifestyle with their daughters Sophia and Emma. After three years, the Fests’ spread now boasts lush vegetable and flower gardens, as well as 30 chickens of various breeds, three Welsh Harlequin ducks, three Nigerian dwarf goats, one mini Blue Heeler and one rescued calico cat.

A Barred Rock chicken, one of the Fest family’s flock.

The house was constructed by the previous owner, and had been added to in bits and pieces over many years. Although it was not their dream home, the Fests believed it had lots of potential for their family. Jennifer remarks that it was the wrap-around porch that sold them on the purchase.

However, the house reno was going to have to wait. They immediately began work on their outdoor projects, building several raised wooden beds for vegetables. Jennifer’s parents, Jim and Cindy Willis, offered help, gardening expertise and encouragement during their many weekend projects.

A collection of colorful plants spill out of a vintage wheelbarrow.

In addition to other crops, several seed varieties from Native Seed Search were utilized. Gardening has become an adventure, with lots to learn in the process. “One year we planted Dragon Carrot and Scarlet Nantes seed. They cross-pollinated and the next year’s result was a lovely, ‘ombre’ carrot in purple, pink and orange,” Jennifer says with a laugh. Each season, their garden yields bountiful produce.

After getting the gardens started, they set about acquiring hens, but first needed a chicken coop. The Fests built a shed from a kit, but added a little Southwest charm in the form of a shiny, tin roof. Their chickens now provide beautiful multi-colored eggs that Sophia and Emma sell at their flower-bedecked “Farm Stand” on their property.

Jennifer studied interior design in college, and her touch can be found in the carefully crafted signs throughout

Emma and Sophia Fest show off their wares at their Farm Stand.

the garden. She often recycles old wood and vintage windows for her palette. Photos from Pinterest were the inspiration for the recently added goat house. Leftover parts from their daughters’ pre-fab playhouse were utilized in this project. An old tractor tire became a favorite addition to the goats’ playground.

Native trees, along with shade and fruit trees (some 50 in all), dot the property, watered in large part with rainwater collected and held in a giant tank just for this purpose. Grapevines cover a hillside ramada — a lovely site for a party.

When Jennifer and Lenny are asked what is next on their long list of projects, they mention plans for a small greenhouse to nurture tiny plants during the cool season.

Daughters Sophia, now eight, and Emma, six, obviously enjoy this lifestyle. When the family entertains, the girls — in their cotton frocks and their best mini-work boots — proudly show off the eggs they have collected that morning and offer tours of the gardens.

  • 1
  • 2
About Us

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.

General Information

Phone: 520-721-2929 x 102
Address: 7000 E Tanque Verde Rd # 11,
Tucson, AZ 85715

Latest Posts
  • A Full Range: Kitchens Before & After

    A Full Range: Kitchens Before & After

    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. Before …
  • The Light Stuff

    The Light Stuff

    Here are a few restaurants that offer small plates and tapas. BY Sarah Burton PHOTOGRAPHY BY Thomas Veneklasen It’s a fresh, new year ahead. We spent the holidays saying yes to rich seasonal flavors, family recipes, and savoring those decadent …
  • Retro Ranch Remodeled

    Retro Ranch Remodeled

    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 …