12 Mar A Southwest Jewel
GROWING UP ON THE EAST COAST, MARION AND BOB AURAY were used to traditional architecture, the kind that depends on right angles and clean, classic lines. So when Marion walked into a home at an open house in Scottsdale, Arizona, that was designed by architect Lee Hutchison of Urban Design Associates, she was floored by a style that was unlike any she’d seen before. “I said, ‘What is this, and where can I get one?’” she recalls. “It was not big or showy, but it was finely detailed, with curved walls and organic materials. That day, my mind was blown, and my heart was set on building a house with Lee.”
Marion and her husband Bob had purchased a second home in Scottsdale 13 years earlier as a place to vacation, a getaway from their primary residence in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Not long after, Bob sold his business and Marion’s job allowed her to work from afar. The couple decided to spend half the year in Scottsdale, but they knew their current home was not their forever home.
While looking for alternatives, they discovered the gated golf community of Desert Highlands, and, in particular, a lot that featured 160-degree views overlooking the city lights and surrounding mountains. “The neighborhood is quietly elegant but not ostentatious,” Marion says. “When you pull in, you almost don’t see the houses; they’re recessed back and have a lot of vegetation.” With relatively small lots, the semi-custom, patio-style homes are close together, yet the wide-open view creates a sense of spaciousness. And while the lot was spectacular, the existing home, a basic builder’s model, was anything but. It was time to call Hutchison.
Upon meeting Hutchison for the first time, Marion presented the architect with six pages of notes — design ideas she’d gathered over time — and a hug. “It was like meeting Santa Claus,” she says, laughing. “I was pretty excited that my dream might come true.”
Working closely with his daughter, architect Jessica Hutchison-Rough, Hutchison and the Urban Design team created what they call an organic Pueblo-style home that uses the firm’s signature curved lines while embracing and maximizing the view. “Our designs are very flowing in space,” Hutchison-Rough says. “We use open floor plans, but define the open space with lowered or textured ceilings, and use a lot of organic materials.”
They leveled the sunken living room, which serves as the formal great room, and added a casual space to the other side of the open kitchen, allowing for two distinct living spaces. “They were designed to be seen at the same time, so they’re similar, except for the fireplaces,” Hutchison-Rough says.
“In the living room, the fireplace is in a sculptural wall, with niches for art. It has a slightly more formal wall and large viga beams that project out to the city views,” she adds.
In contrast, the family room features a fireplace that’s more linear with a TV above it. “That’s their everyday, drinking-coffee room,” Hutchison-Rough says. “Both are comfortable together, but have different styles.”
The ceilings and walls throughout the home add a sculptural element while defining spaces and creating nooks for hidden lighting, which is another signature of the firm. “We build in a significant amount of lighting and do all of our lighting plans ourselves,” Hutchison-Rough says. “The object is to never see the source of light, but feel its impact, so it’s like magic. It’s very subtle; you wouldn’t pick up on it immediately, but it changes how you interact with the architecture.”
The exteriors were also opened up, including the entryway courtyard with 10-foot walls that create an intimate space and lead toward a towering custom door.
The architects referred the couple to the Scottsdale-based builders R-Net Custom Homes and interior designer Paula Den Boer, owner of Ashley P. Design, and everyone was involved from the project’s start. “When brought in from the beginning, you can really work on the plumbing, cabinets, and appliances much more closely to get things where the homeowner is happy, and it all works in unison,” Den Boer says.
The couple started collecting art when they arrived in Scottsdale, and Den Boer helped them select accessories and furnishings. She appointed custom upholstered couches for the living room, along with a hand-carved coffee table. “Their taste is extremely eclectic and very artistically driven,” she says, explaining that the elements she brought in were “very textural, very tactile, and very colorful in a muted way. Not primary colors, but soft desert colors, and a great blending of color.”
The end result was better than Marion imagined, and it was also the antithesis of the traditional East Coast homes the couple was used to. “They did a phenomenal job; the term is jewel box architecture,” Marion says, referring to what Urban Design calls smaller projects where every detail counts. She adds, “Without anything in it, the house — the home itself — is a piece of art.”