Cool Home: Ahwatukee house blends in with desert

Cool Home

By Ottavia Zappala | November 30th, 2017

Eddie Jones clearly enjoys breaking records.

He owns what may be the largest window in Ahwatukee, at 40 feet wide and 18 feet tall.

His 17,000-acre backyard is South Mountain Park, the largest municipal park in the country.

Yet from the street, the home is inconspicuous. It blends in with the surrounding desert, to the point that the front entrance is hard to find.

“The fact that you had to search for the front door ... I think that’s kind of interesting,” Jones said. “You just went through a sequence of experiences.”

That’s correct. Part of the experience, in fact, involved feeling stupid.

Once you’ve walked back and forth a few times, you might notice the giant rammed-earth mailbox and concrete cylinder stepping stones ascending the hill leading toward a weathered oak gate. Like at a modern Spanish hacienda, the gate opens into a courtyard that in turn leads to the front door.

Respecting the mountain

Before building his home in 1998, Jones never thought he’d embrace suburban living. Perhaps the compromise was reached through the design of a home that clearly falls between the cracks of suburban conformity.

Picture a cubic structure of rammed-earth walls and large expanses of glass, topped with a butterfly roof. On one side is a cylindrical turret. And all around the property, curved concrete block walls enclose the home’s numerous patios.

Jones, an architect and the owner of Jones Studio, and his wife, Lisa Johnson, take pride in their authentic Sonoran desert landscape. Designed by Jones’ good friend and landscape architect Bill Tonnesen, it respects the mountain.

“And because we have an authentic Sonoran desert landscape, it blends into the mountain and I don’t have to do anything,” Jones said.

“Isn’t that ironic? People spend all this money on their landscaping, and it’s a burden. It’s a maintenance burden, it’s a financial burden. And Lisa and I really don’t have to do anything. It just gets better as the desert reclaims its property.”

When it came to choosing the lot for their home, Jones and Johnson were able to call dibs on this prime spot on the foothills because it was overlooked by many other potential homebuyers, with good reason. The chlorination tank for the entire subdivision is practically in their backyard.

“So people, because they lack imagination, think ‘We can’t buy that lot!’” Jones said.

But as an architect, Jones knew that he could circumvent the problem of the proximity to the tank. Turning the home sideways and positioning the walls to block the views of the tank, he positioned the giant glass wall with a view toward the northeast, facing the rock formations.

Jones took it a step further. By designing all of the outdoor spaces as cylinders, he actually embraced the tank, which he refers to as “the mother cylinder.”

The play of light and glass

The residence has had so many tours over the years that the homeowners can’t keep track of them any longer. But it is not suitable for those who are afraid of heights. Or perhaps for those wearing a skirt.

The second floor hallway is a 40-foot floating glass floor, meaning you can see the ground floor below your feet.

The roof above the hallway is a large skylight, which explains the use of a glass floor on the second story. Jones didn’t want to waste the light coming in from the skylight by trapping it with an opaque material. Instead, he allows it to flow all the way through to the otherwise dark ground floor hallway.

During the day, the reflection from the skylight turns the glass into a mirror.

“We talk about bringing the outside in, and typically it’s done in a lateral fashion,” Jones said. “But with this ... if you’re lucky … I’ve been walking here and a 747 has flown under my feet. And that is bringing the outside in!”

At night, when the lighting levels are reversed, the glass floor disappears, leaving one with the impression of walking on air.

According to Jones, he grew up in a “normal” home, with “normal” parents. When at a young age he discovered architecture. he never looked back.

“It’s become my entire identity. I will never retire. There’s nothing to retire from. I haven’t worked since I got out of college,” he joked. “I play every day.”

Almost 20 years after moving in, Jones and Johnson still find joy in their home on a daily basis.

“A streak of light … a coyote ... herds of javelinas. … And just the magic of the shadows that happens in this house.”