‘m a California girl–a San Francisco girl–so I love Napa Valley,” says Dana Lyon. But the Phoenix-based designer has also spent a great deal of time in rural France, a place dear to her heart and essential to her vision. For the new Paradise Valley home she created for herself and her husband, she wanted “that feeling you get when you stay in the French countryside, or in Napa.” To her that meant an open plan, simple yet elegant furnishings, abundant natural light, and plenty of French doors.
To complete the image of a rustic, wine country idyll, Lyon says, the house sits on an actual dirt road, which gives it “a rural feel, even though it’s only minutes from beautiful resorts that are located just around the corner.” In the Sonoran desert, succulents stand in for grapevines. But that substitution notwithstanding, the house handily achieves the goals Lyon set for it. Like an estate situated amongst rolling vineyards, it exemplifies and celebrates casual, comfortable style–and somehow manages to evoke timelessness despite having just been completed earlier this year.
Lyon, a former magazine publisher who left that line of work to pursue her passion for design, has called Paradise Valley home for a dozen years now, living “in three different places all within a two-mile radius.” For this home, she says, the keywords were downscaling and simplicity. She had worked with local architect Matthew Thomas before on several commissions and greatly admired his sense of scale, noting, “There’s such a refined objective to all of his projects; they’re not overdone.” He seemed perfect, she thought, for this one. Soon they were once again working as a team.
In their initial discussions, Thomas says, “Dana was really drawn toward a Colonial style of architecture–the rhythm and symmetry.” The front faÃ§ade certainly distills these ideas, presenting them with an almost Georgian discipline. At the entry, says landscape designer Jeremy McVicars, “The form of the house is complemented by two extraordinary specimen olive trees.” But if the model is classical and European, this iteration of it has been altered and updated to reflect life in the 21st-century Southwest. Thomas and Lyon “homed in on the graphic quality of crisp white stucco contrasted against the black of the roof and the window and door openings,” says the architect. Working with general contractor Brett Brimley, they recessed doors and windows deeply to provide a sense of permanence, as well as to mitigate some of the solar heat gain of the southern exposure.
Of paramount importance was keeping the detailing as simple as possible, by removing ornamentation where possible in order to establish a simple and clean aesthetic, explains Thomas. That directive became the project’s conceptual lodestar, and inside, Lyon let it guide her through each room. The circumscribed color palette of black, white, gray and tan is designed to soothe and restore. A Lyon trademark is the use of reclaimed materials, especially older wooden doors, which make several appearances here. She likes them for their weathered integrity but also for their scale: Simply put, doors used to be bigger and more interesting looking. “You just can’t really find anything like that today,” she says.
Other instances of creative reuse include a mid-19th-century French limestone cooking stove, now assuming the role of the living room fireplace, and a remarkable 800-pound trough of rusticated stone that’s been called into service as a powder room sink. Lyon found it through a friend–“a woman who’s part of my tribe here and an importer of European mantels and troughs”–and surmises that it was, at one point, “possibly a planter, but even more likely an animal trough, probably for goats. We bought it and designed the base to go underneath it, hoping and praying that it would support it…and it did!”
Downscaling often means getting rid of things, but Lyon was determined to hold on to an arched and paned mirror that she’s owned and loved for years. “It didn’t have an obvious spot in the new home,” she says, “but I didn’t want to let it go. I thought maybe I could turn it into a kind of headboard in the guest bedroom. I wasn’t at all sure it would work, but it did–and the way it reflects natural light and spreads it throughout the room is so, so pretty.”
All of these touches, says Lyon, are examples of “things that feel very special without feeling overdone.” In this house, they combine to create a natural elegance that’s emblematic of the rolling countryside of California or France. “As a designer doing your own home, your expectations are so great,” she says. “It can be hard to be true to your authentic self. I feel like I got there.”
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