Desert Harmony

The Whisper Rock golf community in Scottsdale, Ariz., is a desert terrain development with an emphasis on blending into and preserving its natural environment. Regulations abound, including the restriction of building height to that of the surrounding vegetation, and ensuring that water must enter and leave each site where it did before the homes were built.

Master developments with rules like these are not unique. Whisper Rock has many of the same guidelines and regulations for house design and environmental preservation that others across the United States have. So uniqueness must come from the design of the homes themselves, like the one created by Calvis Wyant Luxury Homes, also based in Scottsdale.

The house began as a spec home, and was sold upon completion. The lot itself was relatively easy to design in, with only a few washes to work around, and some vegetation within the building envelope that was salvaged and replanted.

Master development guidelines, while controlling, are not restrictive. “The guidelines really just guide you toward working within a style that’s appropriate for the area. I don’t feel that guidelines like these hinder you. It’s just a little more of a challenge to design within them. They really are a good thing, to keep the community styles consistent with this part of the country,” says Gary Wyant, partner and architectural designer.

In addition to Whisper Rock’s own guidelines, the city of Scottsdale has a green building program, for which this house qualifies. The program covers issues such as sun shading and limiting the use of utilities, in addition to sustainable and recyclable materials.

Affecting utilities, and every other system and component in the Whisper Rock house, is the hot, dry climate of Scottsdale. To compensate, the design/builder shaded windows and oriented the house to minimize heat gain. “We know the west is the hottest exposure, so the garage side faces west and there’s not a lot of glass on that side. The major glass areas are looking to the north, because sun exposure is a big issue,” Wyant says.

Many building materials don’t hold up well in the dry climate, including wood, which can be a high-maintenance material to work with. The heavy, exposed wood beams and timbers in this house were allowed to weather naturally prior to construction. The beams are big and heavy enough that their structural integrity, once installed, is not significantly compromised.

Selection perfection

Because Calvis Wyant Luxury Homes is a design/build company, the product development team employs a committee approach to developing spec homes. All the architectural detailing such as fireplaces, beams, ceilings, arches and flooring are chosen before ground is broken. Tiles and cabinet material are selected with the cabinetmaker.

“We prepare homeowners’ houses for market,” says Gina Spiller, design director. “Some day the owner is going to sell their house, and because we put so much time and development into these speculative properties, we know what will sell once that day comes. It’s tricky because you want to be neutral enough in your design to create a broad appeal, but at the same time have enough interest to really build on the home’s character.”

One room that adds to the overall character is the kitchen, Wyant adds. “It features a custom-built copper range hood and 10-ft. cabinetry that includes 2 ft. of cabinets (at the top) with glass doors and lighting inside. We tried to design the island a little differently than the cabinetry to make it look like a piece of furniture that was brought in separately.”

The kitchen’s design did not come easily, Spiller explains. Back in the home’s frame stage, before electrical work began, the footprint of the island was marked on the floor. The start of a frame for an L-shaped wall of cabinets also had begun.

“I tried to visualize the room with the appliances on the walls, and the kitchen island was too tiny,” Spiller says. “I thought the kitchen didn’t feel large enough, and it was too closed in. So to fiddle with the design on paper was easier than to redesign after the physical work began.”

The kitchen had access in three areas: through a nook, to the side into a bonus room, and to the front through the dining room. “I thought, ‘Why open the wall into the bonus room? Close the wall, get rid of the L and put appliances in this opening we’ve closed up, then double the size of the island.’ I drew a sketch and told Gary (Wyant), ‘I think the kitchen feels better like this.’ He agreed this was the route to take. So we redesigned the kitchen on paper, and thanks to the design/build process, we were able to do it without much fuss,” Spiller says.

The color scheme of the kitchen and the rest of the house is steered heavily by the home’s exterior scheme. The flooring is from a quarry in Italy, with tumbled marble on the backsplash. “We took the colors found in granite — yellow, rust and soft gray-green — and put little mosaics around the kitchen,” Spiller says.

The kitchen cabinetry is made of clear alder with a light distress to it, and the island is made of heavily distressed knotty alder. The range hood, fabricated locally in Arizona, is solid copper, and has an aged antique finish.

The right finish or material can make or break a room, so when given two great materials to work with, why not combine them for an enhanced design, thought Kelly Reedy, project superintendent. The dining room, main entryway and a few other locations incorporate a wood grid inlay in a stone tile floor. The combination creates an interesting, eye-catching effect.

The wood/stone floor inlay was borne of the need to bridge the two separate materials, Spiller says. “There were two rooms where we wanted to do wood floors. We were looking for a way to bridge the two materials, so we used the grid idea, which we saw in a magazine. I like the inset wood a lot. It really is a nice feature when you can use both floor materials at the same time.”

The two materials expand and contract together but in different ways, which makes them difficult to marry, Reedy adds. “We had to build up the stone in the grid to make sure both materials were flush on top, taking into account measurements for expansion. We have a grout that expands and contracts with the floor so there’s no cracking.”

Beaming with pride

Material plays a critical role in creating the right effect for a room. The large beams in the living room, that are both decorative and functional, create a dramatic effect, Wyant says. “They’re structural, and enhance the room with decorative elements. Some of the horizontal beams are structural, and other elements in the truss are just decorative.”

The enjoyment of a room’s design is enhanced by knowing the effort that went into creating it, and these beams are no exception. The beams in the trusses were dragged behind a truck through rocks to distress them. “This made them age two years,” Reedy says. “Then we sandblasted them to age them further. It’s neat to do something different like this and have it turn out so well. The aging, distressing and making sure all the corners work nicely together was an enjoyable challenge.”

The beam theme is carried throughout the house, beginning with the front elevation, Spiller explains. “On the front of the house, we have exposed trusses and a large girder truss in the center. We carry that exposed beam look throughout the house. The beams are a decorative architectural feature, but one that is dictated by the overall style of the home, and which spaces are the most important. So we make sure the beams are in those spaces.”

Another ceiling-based element of homes built in Scottsdale is fire sprinklers. The city has one of the most comprehensive and aggressive residential fire sprinkler laws in the country, mandating that all new single-family homes — among other structures — have fire sprinklers. This is great for safety, but can mess with the delicate design of the custom homes Calvis Wyant designs, if consideration is not given to their installation.

“Fire sprinklers are not much of a design factor for us,” Wyant says. “There’s not a whole lot you can do as far as placement because of what the codes mandate. But with good design you can blend them in pretty well. In most cases, they’re not really noticeable, thanks to improvements in sprinkler design. The greatest difficulty is with a really decorative ceiling. You have to work hard to creatively incorporate sprinklers.”

Design/build cohesion

The one-stop shop spirit of the design/build process is great for homeowners, Wyant says, because if a problem surfaces there’s one person for the homeowner to look to for a solution. When the design and build processes are not in sync, determining who is at fault can create internal friction, he adds.

“We find we spend a lot of time up-front getting everything selected for the home. All the finishes and fixtures are chosen in advance. The project managers have a three-ring binder that is filled with the specs before we start building. With spec homes, it works the same way. But when doing a spec, we’re the owner and form a committee that makes those owner-type decisions, and we can make them more quickly,” Wyant says. The design/build process ensures that budgets and schedules are met, and that the most efficient and economical method of doing something is used, he adds.

The left hand has to know what the right hand is doing, Reedy says. “A lot of builders have plans but not specs in terms of tiles, cabinets and hardware on doors. They choose all that by the seat of their pants. It’s hard to build a quality product if you don’t know what is going into the building before you begin. I can give an answer to our trades within minutes if they ask me a question about specs. And when we do a build-to-suit home, we still have the answers and know what we’re doing before we start,” Reedy adds.

“Building these homes is like building a piece of art,” Reedy explains. “I probably lose more sleep about these homes than anyone else. The saddest day is when we turn over a house to a homeowner. It’s like I’m turning over one of my babies.”