A desire for space and simplicity has taken the housing market by storm. It’s no wonder so many folks are finding their way to the Southwest and specifically Arizona. Arizonans have known the beauty of the Sonoran Desert, the spectacular colors of a warm sunset, the crisp light of a winter morning, and the amazing native plants we get to call our own. Now, with increasing popularity, the call of the Southwest has been answered by so many looking for their own homestead away from home and the longing to give up dense city living for something warm and spacious. With the influx of new desert dwellers, it has become increasingly hard to find the perfect desert home and even harder to find that quintessential adobe home you dream about when thinking of moving to the Southwest.
When Phoenix native, Zach, and his wife, Carlisle, a Mojave Desert local, felt the call to come back to the Southwest, they were eager to answer and ready to get back to desert living. They wanted a home that would give them inspiration. As the couple explained what they wanted in a home and how they were willing to wait to find it, I thought we might have to move out of their search location to find it.
Fast forward six months, we’re back with Zach and Carlisle to discuss how they refreshed and rehabbed their home to reflect their Southwestern sensibilities and learn how South Mountain rekindled their love for Phoenix.
N: Where are you from? How did you end up in Phoenix? How did you meet?
C: Zach is a Phoenix native, and I am from the Mojave Desert in California. We met right before college at a camp we both went to when we were growing up, and then we spent the first 10 years of our life together in South Carolina. We both knew the desert was home and that we’d eventually find our way back. A lot of things became clear in 2020, including the timing of our move. We came back in the summer of 2020.
N: What do you do for a living and how did that impact your home search?
Z: Carlisle is an illustrator and I work as a Mortgage Loan Officer (which helped make the purchase process super smooth!). We’ve always dreamt of a home in the west that would allow us to insert our love for design, art, architecture, and the desert landscape into it. We love homes with character. In our opinion, a space should be imperfect and full of quirks that tell a story.
N: What were you initially looking for in a home, as in style, size, location, etc.- and did this home fit the bill?
C: We had a “dream” list, and then we had our realistic list (haha). At first, we thought we would settle in Central Phoenix and looked in that area for a bit. We knew we wanted something with at least three bedrooms and some character on the inside. Everything else we figured we could compromise or make happen ourselves over time after moving in. When Misha sent us this little South Mountain gem, it checked every box, including our “dream” list! We never thought about South Mountain as a location option but quickly realized its incredible charm and access to freeways, downtown, and the mountains.
N: What were your initial thoughts after seeing the home?
C: Our initial thoughts were, “This is it.” We just knew, from the Saltillo tile, rooftop deck, adobe walls, and stucco interior, we were immediately sold. Until then, we hadn’t looked at a single home in South Phoenix. We happened to be eating breakfast at The Farm at South Mountain when Misha texted us the listing. We were there in five minutes. It was meant to be!
N: Was the house and project of redoing the interior intimidating? How did you navigate the process?
Z: Yes, it was intimidating, but we did spend the last few years poring over photos of homes in the West and dreaming of what we would do with our own. We definitely had a good idea of what we wanted to do to the interior. I think the adobe structure also kept us in a lane of design which helps. Carlisle was able to mock up a lot of decisions with her iPad, and we kept telling ourselves, “It doesn’t have to be done all at once.” Things like paint, cabinets, and structural decisions had to be set right away, but we really took our time to relax with the other details. Our paper blinds are still going strong in a couple of rooms, and there are still a few lights that need to be hung five months later. We want the home to slowly take on moments of our life that we build together in it.
N: Describe your home/interior style? Who do you draw inspiration from?
C: As a creative person, I tend to live by Mary Randolph Carter’s advice, Never Stop to Think…Do I Have a Place for This. This means maximalism – I like covering every wall and surface, whereas Zach leans more towards clean and modern, so we meet in the middle. We’re inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe’s home in New Mexico, and also Sarah Solis, Mary Randolph Carter, Giancarlo Valle, Green River Project, Luca Guadagnino, to name a few.
N: What is your favorite room in the house and why?
Z: Carlisle loves the dining room. She loves to cook, so having the dining table right in view from the wonderful galley kitchen was a must as she likes to chat with people as she cooks. I love the living room! The massive sectional couch is equal parts statement piece, as well as comfortable. It gives me the best view of my favorite piece of Carlisle’s work, “Nash in Stripes,” featuring one of my all-time favorite NBA players, Steve Nash, in a striped shirt.
N: What is it like living at South Mountain? Do you have favorite places, hikes, etc.?
C: It’s amazing. On most days, we run or walk on the trails, and it feels peaceful and undiscovered, as opposed to some of the other hiking spots in Central Phoenix. There are some great neighborhood places to go to, and we’re still discovering more, like The Farm, Cocina Madrigal, The Plant Stand, and the Arizona Fruit and Nut Stand.
N: What are your future plans for the house?
Z: We’d love to prioritize the landscaping. We are inspired by very natural desert landscapes that accent the beauty of the desert, but we also want to provide some functionality and color flair when possible.
N: What advice do you have for buyers out there?
C: If you have a feeling about a place, listen to your gut. A coat of paint and minimal updates can make a HUGE difference. Also, not everything has to be super expensive. Antiquing, yard sales, and even road-side “junk” can be perfect places to collect unique pieces that fit together for your space.
Z: Don’t be too settled on location! If you’re open, you’ll be surprised at what options open up. Your life might have an added component that might mean maybe a tad longer commute or less “cool” things happening right outside your front door, but most likely it’s only for a season. If you’re like us, and The Neighborly helped you find your forever home, nothing else will matter.
The home, originally designed by Daniel Peter Aiello in 1977, was named The Sunstone and was designed as an adaptive, energy efficient structure. The quality of the construction has enabled this home to defy its built age, and the timeless Southwestern design has transcended trends.
With its current owners at the helm, we know this home will be treasured and enjoyed for many years to come. With its spectacular sunset to crisp morning sunrise, the call of the Southwest has settled at South Mountain.
Written by: Misha Renteria
Photos by: Lauren Waldvogel