Most of this Phoenix desert home is below grade, but what’s above provides glorious views
Located at the end of two dead-end streets in a 1950s neighbourhood, the Xeros residence rests at the intersection of Phoenix, Arizona’s urban and Wild West landscapes. The odd shape of the lot gave architect Matthew Trzebiatowski “the opportunity to go narrow and tall” for the 1,650 sq-ft house (2,250 sq-ft including covered outdoor spaces).
“We love to call the neighbourhood the ‘Hollywood Hills of Phoenix’. There are a lot of things going on here,” he says. Trzebiatowski designed the residence, giving it a Greek name that means ‘dry’ in honour of Arizona’s desert climate. He uses it as his home and architecture studio, after having spent some time on the project, living in a ramshackle house left on the site while he acquired the lot piecemeal and had the design built.
The no-nonsense, efficient yet playful and user-centred abode rises three levels. The lower two below-grade levels house his studio and client meeting space. The community areas and bedroom comprise the upstairs, where the almost totally glass-enclosed house maximises the night skyline views of the city.
Trzebiatowski’s material selections make the house appear like a desert jewel, but they do serve a functional purpose too.
“The possibilities of steel are endless. I wanted this uniformity of materiality to tie everything together. I used everything from corrugated metal to steel mesh. It all weathers and patinas the same way… this material will long outlast me,” he says. “It gives a lack of clutter. It was one of those materials where I didn’t have to think too much about it. The woven wire mesh on the outside of the building prevents heat, light, and glare from entering the house. That means I don’t have to use the air conditioning as much.”
Having placed the work space below-grade will help minimise air conditioner use during the day, while having his residential rooms upstairs works well for the cooler nights. Given his location in the desert, that translates to savings.
Guests going to the studio level must pass behind a mesh screen that’s part of the house’s façade and descend a short flight of stairs into an exterior, mesh-enclosed forecourt. Access to the private areas also works on the spiral theory. From grade level, one arrives via a long exterior staircase which emphasises the length of both the home and the lot. It leads to a balcony, one of the house’s multiple outdoor spaces, and the sitting, dining, and kitchen areas.
Further in, from the cantilevered master suite/media room, a cantilevered yellow-glass framed ‘Romeo and Juliet’ balcony allows views back to the city and across the long axis of the building. From there guests have a prominent view of warm xeriscaping.
“There’s always a mystery awaiting you around the corner... makes the space feel bigger when you’re walking through it. I call it ‘expanding the experience of the house’. By doing that, you slow people down and show them how to enjoy the path,” says Trzebiatowski, who’s on the faculty of Taliesin West, the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, in nearby Scottsdale.
“In a way it’s a spiralling experience because it pulls itself apart and you enter a room obliquely and see its long axis first. You’re either spiralling down into the lower levels to come see me at the studio or you’re ascending up. That expresses movement.”