Spectacular views were the selling point for the lot where this couple built their custom dream home.
Homeowner Toby Lenk remembers the comment architect and builder Kevin B. Howard uttered upon viewing a choice lot in the Catalina foothills. As it happened, Howard knew of this special parcel.
Lenk and his wife Lynn live in North California, but Lynn grew up in Tucson and graduated from the University of Arizona. They’d zeroed in on the Pima Canyon area as a second home site because of the amazing beauty, central location, and overall quality of the development.
The Lenks, who both love modern, contemporary architecture, had been stymied in their attempts to find a buildable lot in Orinda, northeast of Oakland, California.
“Tucson gave us the chance to buy a fantastic lot and build a modern house from scratch,” says Toby. “Literally 75 feet from our back door are thousands of acres of the Coronado National Forest and a beautiful view of Pima Canyon. The lot was only 1.2 acres, but it felt like it was hundreds of acres as there would never be any houses built behind us.”
The Lenks hired Howard and lead POLIFORM Services interior designer Adrienne Gamba to bring their vision to life, finding their taste aligned with the team’s style. The couple wanted the house to blend into the desert, with huge glass expanses and earth-tone interior colors.
“It was paramount that the natural beauty of the desert and the dramatic rise of the Pima Canyon ridge take center stage across the north and east sides of the house,” explains Toby.
Driven by the site’s stunning beauty, the foursome got to work creating a luxurious, but comfortable and welcoming home.
The first step in the three-year build was to excavate the property.
“You can’t build on sand and rock,” notes Howard.
Three hundred dump trucks of boulders were removed. Some were used in the land- scape design and others were sold, offsetting the cost.
Howard describes the dramatic architec- tural style as “desert Zen,” with dissolving floor-to-ceiling walls of glass that “eliminate visual noise.” The one-story, 5,000-square- foot house features 2,000 additional square feet of deep, cantilevered overhangs that provide shade against the sun.
The understated materials — steel, Egyptian limestone, custom-stained pine — convey a clean-lined, elegant structure that
Howard calls the construction process uneventful, crediting its success to a good relationship with the Lenks.
“It was a partnership. The Lenks knew what they wanted and they have great taste.”
“It worked out very well,” says Toby, returning the compliment. “Throughout the process, Kevin was able to suggest enhancements and changes that were wonderful. If he wasn’t also the builder, that may not have been possible. Having Adrienne design the interiors early in the process was critical because the interiors blended in with the overall house design.”
The monochromatic interiors are carried through four bedrooms, four-and-a-half baths, his-and-hers offices, and two great rooms, along with a kitchen and breakfast nook.
The palette, Gamba notes, “never fights with the surroundings. That was very important to Lynn.”
The Lenks are still commuting between their two homes, so Gamba focused on functional, easy-care finishes that would allow the couple to focus on enjoyment versus upkeep.
The first decision was flooring: creamy, large-scale porcelain tile was laid throughout and carried outside. To add softness in the bedrooms, wool Berber loop carpeting was chosen. Recessed lighting — unobtrusive when not in use — creates controllable ambience. A striking custom-made steel, acrylic, and bronze chandelier in the dining room provides an artistic flourish.
Gamba specified European brands. Sleek, Italian-made cabinetry doesn’t rely on a lot of detail, but communicates sophistication with matching grain that allows the eye to travel without interruption. Miele appliances and Caesarstone countertops round out the kitchen. The bathrooms include wavy porcelain tile for three-dimensional texture, while the master bath showcases sumptuous natural stone. The master bed was custom made.
The pool area has subtle lighting so as not to interfere with starry night skies. An outdoor shower and glass railing completely disappear against the desertscape.
The house was completed in March 2020, just as the pandemic hit.
“We haven’t been able to spend much time here over the past two years,” says Toby. “But now that our 18-year-old twin boys are heading off to college in Maine, we will finally get to fulfill our vision of spending winters in Tucson.”