This article appeared in the November 1995 issue of Phoenix Home & Garden.
“It doesn't get any better than this,” Peter Magee told his wife, Marti, when they saw Desert Mountain in 1991. When the couple began planning their home that same year, they wanted to bring that beautiful desert inside. They also wanted vast, open interior spaces that would serve as a setting for their Southwest art collection. Today, they've achieved those objectives in a 4,850-square-foot home that sits majestically in the desert north of Scottsdale.
Architectural designer Stephen Schwarze spent hours with the Magees, claiming the initial interview with a client is as important in home design as the climate and land forms: “My interview with the Magees suggested a blending of simple geometric forms from antiquity, to subtly depict strength and majesty yet remain open and sheltering.”
The resulting house was built low to take advantage of a natural wash. Floor-to-ceiling glass walls bring the desert, and its assorted wildlife, into the rooms. The Magees often see javelina, coyote, deer, or bobcat at the windows.
“I grew up near the ocean and people can't understand at first why I would want a house in the desert,” says Peter. But in a way the desert is a lot like the ocean. Both are teeming with life, forever changing and evolving. The desert is incredible to watch. We come here to escape.”
The house is designed around two dramatic pyramidal forms and combines Southwest lore and legend with ancient Egyptian culture. It provides an almost mystical bridge between today's society and ancient civilizations. The apex of the pyramidal form is over the great room, where a Craig Goseyun sculpture, Apache Mountain Spirit, sits bathed in light under the watchful eye of JD Challenger's painting of a warrior.
Like a secret chamber found deep in an ancient pyramid, the master bedroom is tucked away under the smaller pyramidal form. The atmosphere in the bedroom is hypnotic. Despite its large windows, the room is hushed and peaceful. A John Nieto painting of a gray wolf dominates one wall, again tying past to present. Marti is especially fond of the bedroom. “Sleeping under a pyramid is so very peaceful and calming, and I can see my puppy dog from the bed,” she laughs, pointing to the Nieto wolf.
The home is a study in contrasts, from the juxtaposition of contemporary and traditional elements, to the bold use of color, detail, and striking architectural lines. An Ed Moulthrop lathe-turned wooden bowl sits atop a sleek-lined steel table. A granite sculpture, Spirit Inner Column by Jesús Bautista Moroles, overlooks the desert. Amid sparse furnishings, oversized chairs turn open spaces into cozy retreats. Natural fabrics combine with wood, stone, glass, and stainless steel. Limestone stairs just off the driveway continue into the entrance and throughout the house. A massive front wall of glass provides an unbroken view through the great room into the desert beyond. The brilliant colors of paintings and accent tones offset the natural hues.
“People laugh when I tell them I have red granite countertops in the kitchen, but it works,” says Marti. The Magees, both avid cooks, wanted the perfect kitchen. “For the cabinets, I had in mind a specific color that I call Texas driftwood,” says Marti. The cabinets conjure images of wind-tossed seas, while the rich red granite countertops, reminiscent of adobe brick, add the sharp contrast that makes the house remarkable.
The smallest details were finished with precision. The computer-controlled lighting was designed by Roger Smith of Lighting Dynamics. Switch plates, streo speakers, even light fixtures have been painstakingly painted to match the surrounding surfaces.
Outside, the front façade's curvilinear colonade, and an opposing curve at the back of the house, were designed to soften the strong rectilinear planes within. When Marti Magee noticed that there were eight columns in Schwarze's plan, it corresponded serendipitously with her knowledge that in Egyptian mythology, eight columns signify eight of the gods. That, plus the bronze-topped pyramidal forms, imbue the contemporary desert house with echoes of ancient Egypt.
Schwarze says the biggest challenge he faced was nestling the house low in the desert without having it appear monumental—an objective served by the opposing curvilinear forms. That he and buider Phil Smith of Phil Smith Custom Homes accomplished that goal was validated when the house was awarded a 1995 Gold Nuggest Award of Merit as Best Custom Home Under 6,000 Square Feet.
“We realize how lucky we are to be able to enjoy something like this,” Peter says, looking through the house at Pinnacle Peak in the distance. “We think of our home as a piece of sculpture,” says Marti. “We're very proud of it. The pyramids offer a tranquil retreat from our busy lives.”