The desert holds a certain mystique — the kind that Charles Stinson is an expert at bottling up and turning into the tangible. The vast landscape, intricate color palette and unique climate conditions quickly became sources of inspiration for the prominent architect, who was excited to collaborate with a couple of familiar clients for their vacation home in Arizona’s high desert. They dreamt of a getaway that complemented the environs and seamlessly integrated indoor/outdoor living. So Stinson took to the rocky region to scout the site himself. “The rocks, the cacti, the mountains — it all provides a different way of relating to nature,” he shares.
Even in a contrasting environment to his native Minnesota, Stinson’s signature marks are evident: strong horizontal planes, long expanses of glass to capitalize on views and an abode situated within the landscape as if it were there all along. The team, including Project Manager Chuck Thiss and Arizona-based builder James Manship, determined from the very beginning that they wanted to nestle the structure into the mountain site. In doing so, the house is a study in prospect refuge, promising security and respite for its residents while yielding limitless vistas of the terrain and watercolor skies.
The home makes a strong yet organic first impression, much the way a mountain might. The linear exterior is bedecked in heartland limestone sourced from Oklahoma with earthy sand tones that complement the desert surroundings. It’s capped with a flat anodized aluminum roof boasting several solar panels to maximize energy efficiency. Balancing the rawness of the stone and aluminum is a custom water feature encased in stainless-steel plates. Water cascades over the edges into a lit trough, casting a dreamy glow as you near the front entry.
A closer look at the feature reveals a tile base with fiber optic lighting, illustrating a “starry sky” within. It’s a subtle but intentional design detail the team achieved through thoughtful exploration. “As Charles will say, ‘The best idea wins,’” notes Thiss of the collaborative nature of the project. “The water feature was part of the original drawings, and once we started working through it, our entire team figured out how best to bring it to life.” This nuanced element adds to the sanctuary-like feel of the space and can be enjoyed from indoors or out thanks to the glass hallways.
Attention to detail is evident in the elegant palette, refined architectural forms, and uninterrupted integration between interior and exterior. The team utilized the same heartland limestone for thoughtful touches in the living areas: Interiors are composed of vertical stone formations and horizontal wood planes, giving the home an ultra modern feel while simultaneously making it more intimate. Adding to the inviting nature are walnut ceilings and tropical olive wood walls, which immediately shroud you in a warm welcome. They’re offset by cool terrazzo flooring flecked with mosaic detailing. Custom rugs artfully lead from one zone to the next, each tailored to perfectly fit its space and provide softness with both texture and tone.
A few steps across the entry reveals the great room, dining room and, of course, that view. Sliding glass doors span 30 feet across and 10 feet high to capture the panorama. The doors slide completely into the stone walls, allowing for full connection to the outdoors. And thanks to Arizona’s climate, the owners can enjoy that sense of connection nearly year-round, soaking up the “seasons” out on the terrace.
“We knew we wanted to do the outdoor living area ‘up in the air,’” recalls Stinson. It provides protection from climate and critters while offering stunning views into the valley and golf course below. “They’re floating up there onsite; it’s just gorgeous,” he punctuates. Indeed, the terrace boasts the best of relaxation. Spanning the length of the structure, it includes a full kitchen and bar, dining room, lounge area, cozy living space with TV, plus infinity pool and hot tub. A glass railing lets the vista remain the focal point, and large roof overhangs help beat the heat while also shielding the windows from intense sunlight.
It’s a beautiful retreat for entertaining friends and family, too. A floating wood staircase leads guests down to a private suite. Step by step, a grand saguaro cactus comes into view, perfectly framed by a window between landings. In fact, every hallway is capped with a piece of artwork or met with a window to encase the sculptural landscape. “It provides a connection to the valley through vignettes,” Thiss notes. The lower level boasts similar comforts, replete with the same warm material palette, full-height ceilings and a secluded patio. Stinson is particularly proud of this home’s holistic nature, noting that even the beds, desks and storage are built in. “It was almost like building a yacht that way, with so many elements incorporated directly into the structure,” he says.
Since the house has been completed, Stinson and his wife, Carol Eastlund, have visited the clients and dined on the very terrace that was once “a drawing in the sky.” It’s all about this full-circle moment for the architect: “It’s fun to see the site when there’s nothing there and explore the possibilities, then to come back to enjoy each other’s company on this very thing you dreamed of,” he muses. Stinson’s team is actively working on additional projects in the desert and beyond, taking his award-winning architecture across the country with the support of local teams.
As for this abode, what began as a part-time getaway ultimately turned into the owners’ main residence. The team credits this success to their attention to every detail and their collaborative style that empowered the client to be a driving force in decision-making. Thiss adds: “We delivered on a home that completely fits the way the clients want to live.”