At first glance, the glass-and-stone house is virtually invisible against its desert landscape. And therein lies its natural beauty. Nestled amongst the Tortolita Mountains in Oro Valley’s Stone Canyon golf community just north of Tucson, it’s designed to take in all of the spectacular views without intruding upon the scenery itself.
And it all started with an apology of sorts. The owners, a retired Chicago couple, told their Tucson-based architect Ron Robinette that they knew their plot wasn’t the most desirable and wondered whether he could turn it into something special. “I had to take them up on a ladder to show them what they had,” Robinette says about the hidden vistas he discovered. “The trees and the mesquite were the only things blocking the views.”
Although most of the houses in the development are traditional, the owners wanted something with a crisp, contemporary edge. Robinette created an inside-out hidden gem that comprises three rectangular forms—one glass, one metal, one quartzite—that live and breathe the desert aesthetic. Each form has a function. The metal box holds the private living quarters; the quartzite box contains the guest suite and service laundry; and the glass box cradles the living area. “It’s sculptural and simple,” Robinette says. “It’s designed to capture the beauty of the site and be as open to its surroundings as possible.”
The front of the one-story house cuts into the canyon, which was quite a feat. “It looks 100-percent natural,” says builder Scott Koktavy. “We had to build up the back eight to 10 feet to nestle it into the canyon and provide space for the yard and home. The most challenging aspect was hauling off soil and building the huge retaining walls and fill.”
The natural setting flows to the back of the home, where a waterfall spills into the swimming pool. “Using the existing stone face, we sealed and diverted the water down the face of the cliff,” Koktavy says. “It’s one of my favorite features.”
Interior designer Lori Carroll used a neutral, earthy color palette in furnishings and finishes to bring the outdoors inside. “The owners weren’t bringing any furniture from their previous home, but they have an eclectic contemporary art collection,” Carroll says. “The house became a gallery for their heart and soul—their artwork.”
The interior-exterior merger of architecture and interior design is particularly apparent in the stunning 1,500-square-foot glass great room, whose domed roof arches over the living room, dining room and kitchen. Each of these spaces is defined by architectural installations: The fireplace anchors the living room, a custom buffet marks off the kitchen, and a pedestal table, bolted to the floor, delineates the dining room.
To ward off the intense desert heat, Robinette surrounded three sides of the airy great room with a covered porch to shade the home and added clerestory windows to bring in more light from above. “There’s no direct sunlight in the space,” he says.
For the floor-to-ceiling fireplace, whose flames are visible inside and out, Carroll created a surround from deep chocolate porcelain tiles. Their shimmering bronze accents turn them into sparkling spirals that reflect the diffused sunlight.
The owners say the house is perfect, whether it’s just the two of them watching a sunset or a whole crowd relaxing in the backyard spa. “It gives us everything we want,” says the husband. “It has spectacular architecture, it’s tranquil and private, it has incredible views—you can see the Santa Catalina Mountains and Mount Lemmon—and it fits perfectly in the setting.”