RIMMED BY TOWERING ROCK FORMATIONS OF STRATIFIED LAYERS of limestone and sandstone the landscape around Sedona, Arizona, is painted in oxidized tones of red and coral. The visual strength of vertical cliffs jutting up through the fragile landscape contrasts with white wisps of clouds drifting across a bright blue sky. The natural untamed ruggedness of the native landscape draws to it those with an artistic spirit, environmental conscience and exuberance for the outdoor lifestyle.
Founded in 1991 by licensed architects Mike Bower and Max Licher, Design Group Architects is renowned for its commitment to design homes which achieve more than architectural artistry. Its structures are equally respectful to the environment and luxurious interpretations of the regional aesthetic. Jennifer Aderhold, the firm’s interior- and furniture-design expert, completes the team’s ability to create homes truly customized to the individual client’s dream.
One such home, a 5,800-square-foot dwelling not far from the bustling center of Sedona, exemplifies the way in which Bower, Licher and Aderhold bring to life a spacious family home that is as spectacular as the scenery, yet still a subtle presence on the landscape.
The Design Group Architect’s Eagle’s Nest House blends so harmoniously into the landscape, it is almost undetectable, completely nestled within its surroundings. The question arises immediately: “Where does the house end and the mountain begin?”
Beyond the stepping rooflines, the striking eagle-like rock formation appears as if part of the architecture, rising above the varied stone parapet walls. Surface weathered sandstone walls and indigenous plantings tuck the home into the landscape.
The layering of natural materials and arrangement of shapes related to the natural world dress the home in camouflage. Careful excavation into the natural terrain allows the home to make a discrete first impression to the outside world. The entrance is scaled to the native piñon pine and juniper trees, making the building appear deceptively diminutive compared to the home’s true size.
The architects chose local, surface-weathered sandstone to construct the perimeter walls. This stone is laid in a horizontal pattern, echoing the geologic layers and honoring historic cliff dwellings preserved in nearby canyons.
Beyond the stepping rooflines, a distant rock formation of an eagle juxtaposes a view of stone on stone. The geologic feature in the background appears to be part of the home’s architecture. The home feels timeless in its surroundings; it is easy to imagine that the Eagle’s Nest House grew organically with the vegetation.
Both the designers and owners share an ethos of sustainability and value green building practices. Before beginning to draw the first line for later blueprinting, the relationship of the sun to the site’s geography was plotted. The angle of sunlight at different times of the year and the abundance of dramatic views determined the strategic placement of panoramic windows. The depth of copper roofing overhangs and thick sandstone window lintels were calculated as part of the plan.
Featuring kiva style ceiling beams, hand plastered ceiling dome and walls and a custom bed of mesquite and wenge woods, the master bedroom is a modern day southwestern retreat. The bed is a custom design by Jennifer Aderhold, fabricated Randy Plapp. Bedside light fixtures are by Terzani.
The home resonates place and is authenticated through the visual relationship of interior and exterior spaces. A courtyard, rimmed with floor to ceiling glass, radiates natural light throughout the center of the home. The courtyard is organized on an east/west axis and has the geometry of a “vesica,” the shape formed by the intersection of two overlapping circles of the same radius. This herb-filled space serves as a quiet outdoor retreat and also functions to orient the organic floorplan to the compass directions, thus functioning as a large sundial.
Downplaying its size, the home has a sense of intimacy enhanced by organizing the main living spaces into five “pavilions,” each with its own raised ceiling/roof structure. Posts, individually selected then crafted from hand-sanded juniper tree trunks, support sinuous curving wood beams of resawn douglas fir. The perimeter beam detailing is reminiscent of the beams used to construct the roofs of Navajo hogans — with beautiful structural patterns originally inspired by how the Anasazi Indians constructed their kivas — the underground communal meeting rooms in an Anasazi pueblo. In modern architecture, such patterns are a means of enhancing structural strength while highlighting the unique shape of each pavilion with the beauty of their visually woven qualities.
Opportunities for integrating art — both functional as well as purely decorative — abound. The view itself is art. By orienting panoramic-size windows toward the grand geologic features, the Western landscape becomes an organic mural of the grandest scale.
Floor to ceiling glass integrates the courtyard and hallway, encouraging daylight to naturally radiate the home while allowing the artwork to be enjoyed when tending the courtyard herbs. The acrylic on canvas image of the Indian by Ben Wright of the Panasiti-Wright Art Studio reinforces the timelessness of the art collection when paired with the very contemporary assemblage in the foreground. At night, artful slumped glass and copper sconces by the late Thomas Aderhold warmly illuminate the hall.
Partial height walls placed at the entryway to the bedrooms resolve several issues. Viewed from the entrance side, the walls provide privacy and offer a surface on which to hang art. On the inside, they provide a logical anchor for the bed, allowing it to auspiciously face the commanding vista.
Blacksmith Tom Joyce, a 2003 winner of the MacArthur Fellowship, crafted the large suspended pot rack in the kitchen and the ironwork for the front door. His light fixtures of bent mica shades held by hand-forged iron, reminiscent of African ladles, grace the front entry and largest room. Custom-designed lighting and cabinet pieces reinforce architectural themes. Canadian artist Andrea Marcus, who has worked with the owners previously, was asked to create a ceiling fixture for the gentleman’s office. Knowing the couple’s appreciation for the natural world, she developed a nest-themed fixture, whereby a clutch of her blown glass eggs are suspended from an inverted hand forged iron cradle.
Frank Lloyd Wright must have been a clairvoyant channeling this much-later-built home when he opined, “No house should ever be on a hill or anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together, each the happier for the other.” For in Eagle’s Nest House, art and architecture are one with the landscape. Man’s dwelling is joyfully one with habitat.
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