The Shanholt Desert Mountain Home
5,500 square feet
When John Shanholt and his wife, Gail Kern, were looking to build the home of their dreams in the Sunset Canyon village of the Desert Mountain gated community in Scottsdale, the couple didn’t reveal that they were talking to five different architecture firms. Technically, it’s not an unusual practice, but it’s one that many firms don’t like partaking in. After essentially auditioning for the job for a year, though, Brissette Architects won the bid, and once the excitement subsided, Brissette and Kamtz got started on fitting their vision to that of the clients—and to the site itself.
According to the pair, any successful project responds to the clients’ needs while also growing out of the sights and culture of the surrounding area. In this case, not only did Shanholt have a strong opinion about how the house should look and feel; there were also strict rules and regulations to contend with from the gated neighborhood’s Home Owners Association (HOA).
“Desert Mountain is a recognized community, and we understand that they want to maintain a level of quality,” Kamtz says. “For some architects, dealing with the HOA can feel very constricting—and in many ways, it is. But we’ve done enough projects in the area to know how this works.”
Above all else, Shanholt stressed one thing: simplicity. “Keep it simple” became the project mantra, and Brissette and Kamtz relied on it to design an elegant, sprawling home that is rich and contemporary in feel and infused with natural light. The idea behind the design was to use simple forms—rectangles and circles—to build hallways and open spaces around a switchback staircase. Kamtz and Brissette wanted to create a more intimate relationship between the home’s interior and the desert landscape outside, so they incorporated large windows and sliding glass doors that, when opened, make it difficult to tell where the interior of the home stops and the backyard begins.
Brissette and Kamtz graduated from the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, and although they’re quick to point out that their projects are not Wright replicas, the designers do still adhere to some of the architect’s famous principles, including his belief in the honest expression of materials. Because of this, the Shanholt home is simply and strictly composed of just four main substances: stone, stucco, steel, and glass. Native Arizona flagstone flooring was laid in random patterns throughout the house, and Shanholt himself chose walnut doors and cabinets for the kitchen, which lend a great deal of warmth to a space usually filled with cold steel appliances and marble countertops.
For the Shanholt home, Brissette Architectects also adhered to the Wright principle regarding simple, honest expression of the structure. This meant Brissette and Kamtz didn’t hide columns and beams but instead fit them to the aesthetic of the structure itself. And, a final Wright-ism the team applied to the Shanholt residence was making sure the home was of the site instead of on the site. There’s no denying that the home is gorgeous, both warm and elegant, but Brissette makes an astute distinction about its function: the Shanholt residence is not a “look at me” house but rather a “look how I live” house.
“Sometimes it’s a really delicate balance,” Brissette says. “You have to give the client what they want while also satisfying the HOA requirements and delivering a project you can be proud of. Does this house have a simple design? Yes, but it’s also rich and crisp and full of life and light. This house says something about its surroundings by incorporating them everywhere you look. It’s very representative of our region, and it encompasses everything the clients wanted.” ABQ
Update: Brissette Architects is now available via the following contact information:
10229 N Scottsdale Rd., suite F
Scottsdale, AZ 85253
e-mail: [email protected]