Historic Highlight: The 23rd Annual Willo District Historic Home Tour

As a designer, this is one of my favorite times of year. The weather is beautiful and it’s so nice to swing by a Starbucks, pick up a venti skinny vanilla latte, and head over to the Willo District for the annual home tour. Walking through the neighborhood, it’s hard to remember I’m in Phoenix. The streets are surprisingly quiet for being situated between Thomas and McDowell, 7th Avenue and 1st Avenue, and it is refreshing to escape the ticky-tacky track home neighborhoods that I grew up in (sorry Dad!) There are Tudor Revivals, Ranches, Bungalows, and Spanish Missions, and while there are strict guidelines one must follow when renovating one of these homes, each has its own individual personality.

It is a personal ambition to one day own one of these homes (or a historic home elsewhere) and restore it to its former glory, much to the chagrin of many of my family members. It is intensely difficult, time consuming, and expensive to renovate a home, add to that the fact that many of these homes were built before the 1930 zoning ordinance, which means plumbing and electrical also need to be updated to current building codes, I understand their apprehension for me to take something like that on. But, what can I say?! I love historic homes! I, personally, am a fan of Ranch and Bungalow styles, especially Ranches, given their stronghold in our Southwestern history, but this year it was a Spanish Mission style home that caught my particular attention.

I recently studied the work of Luis Barragán, the 1980 Pritzker Prize winning Mexican architect who forever changed my understanding of the use of color. His poetic use of space, light, and especially color, and his deep Catholic faith, work together to create vibrantly intimate spaces for contemplation and prayer. I, myself, growing up Catholic and more recently becoming very involved with yoga, connected with his need for silent reflection and appreciated his theory that reflection does not require stark, staunch, sterile surroundings. His influence was very obvious in the color choices of the homeowners of 529 West Granada.

The home was built in 1936, and has beautiful architectural detailing on the interior, including original moulded doorways that lead visitors through a circular floor plan and back to the dining room that overlooks the interior courtyard – the 1930’s version of air conditioning – but it was the back yard that took my breath away. Unfortunately, the homeowner’s did not allow any photography, so I’ll do my best to describe it.

Being a historic home, the lot is big and the home itself is relatively small. The larger back yard allows for a compartmentalized sort of layout. By that I do not mean that it was closed off in any way, rather that there were separate and distinctive areas for different activities. The paved east side patio, perfectly set up for al fresco dining, had a backdrop of a beautiful stucco wall fountain, with glazed blue tiles – so indicative of Mexican design, and something eternally endearing to me – and cantera bowl. Now imagine it exploding with color. The vibrant warm gold of the stucco, the shimmer of the Arizona sun glittering off the water as it splashed quietly into its basin, the cool breeze that blew through the eastern side of the house.

traditional cantera wall fountain

traditional color choices

It reminded me of a birthday dinner I recently attended at a friends’ home. The seven of us grouped around the long table, covered in and surrounded by the beautifully mis-matched accoutrement that one collects over time (eclectic, not cluster…); candlelight flickering off the glass of the decanter and our almost empty wine glasses; the clanking of silverware, laughter, gluttonous moans of joy over the incredible food, even a few happy tears. It was family. Communal and intimate. It may be coincidental that the home is also a historic home – a Bungalow that also has been injected with vibrant color, reflecting the lives and hearts of its inhabitants.

The personal reflection in a home is one of my favorite challenges when working with clients. Yes, people hire designers because they may not know what they want or how to get it, but I believe (and not all of us do) that someone else’s home has nothing to do with me or my taste. I want to create spaces that are the visual interpretation of my clients; a sentiment I share with the greatly missed Barragán.


The Gilardi House by Luis Barragán

Gilardi House - dining room

Gilardi House - "pool"

About Lady O

Designer with a passion for all things cultural, textural, and delicious. View all posts by Lady O

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