August 13, 2013
On this central Phoenix street, in the Pierson Place Historic District, one home stands out.
It’s clearly contemporary, with floor-to-ceiling windows, a wide glass pivot-style front door, and a white stucco exterior with reddish-brown wood and steel accents.
Most homes in Pierson Place are historical, built primarily in the 1920s through the 1950s. This one, completed last fall, is the work of architect Jeremy Kotter and Evan Boxwell, a local builder.
In 2009, Kotter relocated to Phoenix from Wisconsin and read about a city-sponsored design contest. Phoenix had purchased this particular lot for light-rail construction but ended up not using it.
The city’s historic preservation office wanted to make sure what was built there fit into the neighborhood with a compatible scale and similar materials. The person with the best design idea for the vacant lot would get an opportunity to purchase the land — with the stipulation that the homeowner must live there for a minimum of three years.
Boxwell and his girlfriend, real-estate agent Amanda Stricklen, both 31, now call this home. Kotter, 37, had worked previously with Boxwell’s father, a Colorado builder.
“We hit it off,” Kotter says of his first meeting Boxwell, to whom he showed the design. Boxwell signed onto the project, which ultimately won approval. “He ended up working with the city to purchase the lot.”
“I like the modern feel, the neighborhood,” Boxwell says of his home, after giving a tour of the efficient 1,530 square feet. The hub of the home is a great room with a kitchen, dining room and living room featuring glossy gray concrete floors. Both ends of the room feature floor-to-ceiling walls of glass reaching 10 feet high.
On the north end, leading to the backyard, is a wide span of telescoping doors. The doors roll open leading to a patio with a tall, sculptural fireplace, built-in barbecue and bench. The backyard also boasts a play pool, complete with a tanning deck, built-in barstools and a sitting ledge.
“We love it,” Boxwell says, adding he likes the home’s convenience to light rail and downtown amenities, including restaurants and sports stadiums. “We entertain all the time. We have barbeques and pool parties.”
The couple hosted more than 700 people this spring when the house was on the Modern Phoenix home tour. For that, Stricklen says, both the back telescoping doors and the front sliding doors near the kitchen were wide open, allowing tour-goers to experience how the design works to link indoor and outdoor spaces.
Boxwell says construction took less than five months for the home, which was complete in October 2012, and cost about $230,000 or $150 per square foot, including the garage.
Kotter, who now works with the architecture firm Shepley Bulfinch in Phoenix, spent a lot of time in the neighborhood before finalizing the design. He met neighbors, measured the setbacks and scale of their homes, and picked up on common materials (wood, stucco) and architectural details, such as the occasional picket fence.
Kotter took all those things into account, adding a front lawn and a modern wood-and-steel version of a picket fence to his design, paying homage to the neighborhood. Because few homes here have attached garages facing the street, this home has a detached garage at the back of the lot.
“I think it’s an excellent example of distinct but compatible,” says Erika Finbraaten, a planner with the city’s historic preservation office.
Finbraaten says the city didn’t intend for a new structure built here to mimic something historical; officials wanted a home that fit the scale of others in the neighborhood that made use of similar materials and a similar lot configuration — hence the detatched garage and front lawn.
“You don’t want to have a house built in 2010 look like a house built in 1945,” she explains.
A physics and math major who decided to get a master’s degree in architecture, Kotter says he studied solar charts to make sure a 4-foot overhang was sufficient to protect the home’s windows. The stucco overhang also contains recessed lighting.
“We designed it to be efficient thermally,” Kotter says.
The front entrance features a series of concrete pads set in decorative rock, leading to a large glass pivot door. It opens onto a wall of red-stained hemlock fir that extends to the ceiling of the entryway and onto the ceiling of the exterior covered walkway.
Steel slats between two steel beams form an long arbor above the walkway, creating shade and casting interesting shadows.
Inside, the great room takes up the entire east side of the home, while the three bedrooms and two baths occupy the west side. The master bedroom and en suite bath are situated toward the back, with views of the backyard and pool.
The master bathroom is a compact retreat, complete with dual sinks, a Silestone-topped vanity, a walk-in shower with a bench and a long rectangular window between the countertop and the start of the vanity mirror.
The narrow window floods the small space with natural light. Kotter says he originally designed the window to be clear, but Stricklen quickly demanded frosted glass for privacy.
The bathroom also has a floating vanity that’s lighted underneath, making the space feel larger.
All the details in the home are modern, including light-brown, slab-front American Woodmark cabinets in the kitchen and baths, beveled clear-glass subway tiles on the kitchen backsplash, and Silestone kitchen counters in gray and cream. The home is also wired for surround sound and boasts a tankless water heater.
Boxwell liked the design so much, he purchased another lot a few doors down and is building a similar design by Kotter as a spec home. When construction is done this month, Boxwell says he plans to put the home on the market for $429,000.
The spec home is slightly larger — about 1,700 square feet — and has more storage space, including walk-in closets in two of the three bedrooms. The orientation of the home is also slightly modified, with the great room running the length of the backyard.
Kotter, who originally envisioned his design as a way to create affordable starter homes on the city’s many infill lots, says he would be thrilled if he and Boxwell are able to continue doing so.
“I would love to see them sprinkled all over the place,” Kotter says.
Boxwell says he thinks the homes fill a niche for housing near the city center that makes efficient use of energy and space and boasts a modern look.
“I just wanted to do something different and appeal to a new generation,” Boxwell says.
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