An 1980s Arizona House Gets a Modern Desert Makeover

When an Arizona couple bought a 2,956 square foot, 1980s stucco one-story, it needed a lot of remodeling work to turn into a modern desert home.

When an Arizona couple bought a 2,956 square foot, 1980s stucco one-story, it needed a lot of remodeling work to make it a modern desert home. The outdated “Tuscan” interior included decorative columns, pony walls, niches, celling-high plant shelves, and faux finishes. What sold them on the house, however, were the timeless clay tile floors (Saltillo) that had character.

Modern Desert Interior

They knew the look of the desert Southwest blends together elements from the Spanish culture and other periods, and their goal was to integrate those classic elements with eclectic, modern desert design, furniture, and art. They hired a contractor, who got to work on knocking out the concrete columns that dotted the interior, and filled in the decorative niches.

To give the house a clean, modern look, crisp white paint was required. The original dark walls give Southwestern accents a cave-like feeling, while saturated earth tones can look dated. Dunn Edwards “Frosting Cream” was used in the living room, master bath, and throughout the hallways. Along with white walls, interiors in Spanish-inspired homes often have Saltillo tile for floors and trim. The existing floors in the house were a light peach color with a high gloss finish.

The homeowner hired an artisan who specializes in clay flooring. He stripped the surface and oiled the tiles to bring out the rich sienna and gray tones. This created a sharp contrast to the white walls. The floors were then coated with a matte sealant to finish off the look.

Essential Living Area

A custom floor to ceiling bookshelf was made to fit the modern desert home.
A floor to ceiling bookshelf was custom-made to fit the home.

The homeowner had been toting around a copy of The Essential House Book for years, knowing that someday she would replicate a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf featured in the book. They hired a local cabinet-maker to design and build the shelving, and it’s one of the first things that makes a statement as one enters the house. A 1970s library ladder from a demolished elementary school was installed, ensuring that the shelves at the top were usable.

Too much leather can scream Old West. But when it’s integrated in an unfussy way, leather furniture can provide a contemporary look. The furniture in the space reveals a stunning palette that mixes a pale green sofa with leather accent chairs. A large-scale cerulean blue painting anchors the high ceiling and provides scale to the space. Low-backed furniture leaves backyard pool views unobstructed.

Open Dining Room

After removing columns and pony walls, the living and dining rooms became one big open space. To bring the room together − the homeowner − who also is an art consultant, hung small-sized works of art on a key wall in a “salon style.” The grouped artwork is arranged in various sizes to give the perception of a large piece of art. This avoids the look of floating artwork on a bare wall.

The open dining room features a gallery wall and custom wood dining room table.
Each piece of art tells a unique story and creates conversation at dinner gatherings.

The couple likes to entertain, so they hired an artist friend to create a large dining room table using old scaffolding planks mounted on steel legs. Chairs covered in natural French linen complete the understated dining room.

The dining room table closeup shows the scaffold plants from years of use.
The planks, though sanded and finished, bear marks and dings from years of use.

Transitional Kitchen

The kitchen is usually the most considered space when looking to sell or buy a house. The couple struggled with what direction to go when remodeling the kitchen. The existing space had white-washed oak cabinets, plant shelves, and beige countertops. They went with a transitional design, which tied together their modern aesthetic and the classic bones of the house.

Open shelving was installed, the perimeter extended, and the width of the counter decreased. With these updates they now had room for a breakfast table which increased seating and an open sightline from the kitchen to the TV room. The new kitchen has many timeless design elements including white subway tile, quartz countertops, and uncluttered styling. This will help ensure the kitchen will look fresh and up-to-date for years to come.

Entertainment Living Area

Every desert modern room needs a wood accent for a rustic touch. The entertainment room, which is right off the kitchen, features a reclaimed wood coffee table and a simple wood fireplace mantle. A carved wood deer head, contemporary painting, and ceramic sculpture are installed above. Drought-resistant plants are another essential for the desert. The house features cacti and succulents, and a fiddle-leaf fig that gets plenty of Arizona sunlight.

The entertainment room has a fireplace, large run with sofa and accent chair angled into the space.
This room is where the homeowners spend most evenings relaxing.

Light-filled Master Bedroom

The master bedroom is the desert home oasis. The king bed is paired with a mid-century modern dresser that serves as a nightstand. The room is unfussy, with soft oatmeal, gray and white tones throughout. Black and white landscape photographs hang above the bed. The master bedroom also has French doors that open to the backyard pool area. 

Contemporary Master Bathroom

The master bath is the most recent room remodeled with black and white colors for a sophisticated look.
The dark cabinetry paired with white octagonal tile backsplash creates a timeless look.

The master bath is the most recent room to be renovated, and it’s also the most contemporary of the spaces. Sleek, dark cabinetry contrasts with white octagonal tiles and a soaker tub, bathed in abundant natural light. A 1970s embossed print hangs near the tub.

Natural light fills the master bathroom and shines through the window above the free-standing soaking tub.
Natural light fills the master bathroom and shines through the window above the free-standing soaking tub.

Cali-Inspired Guest Bedroom

The home’s aesthetic also takes a nod from the California eclectic style, so accessories such as textured pillows and varied textiles blend seamlessly in the spaces. The guest bedroom has a Navajo-inspired rug with a geometric design, a herringbone-covered window seat, and kilim-patterned throw pillows. The guest bathroom vanity is a repurposed antique table with a blue ceramic sink mounted on top.

A black and white print gives a nod to the owners' childhood and the lakes of Minnesota.
A black and white print gives a nod to the owners’ childhood and the lakes of Minnesota.

Throughout the house, works of art take center stage, evidence of the owners’ love of art. “Art makes a home more human,” they explain.

“When you love a piece enough to hang it and live with it, the story about it speaks volumes about you. It lets you make deeper connections with those who come into your home.” 


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