Sterling Performance

 Text by david m. brown, Photos by bill timmerman

Their 11,500-square-foot home, Sterling Ridge, reaches out to the desert, welcomes it inside — unlike many of the luxurious but fortress-like neighboring homes at Desert Mountain, one of the premiere luxury communities of North Scottsdale.

Celebrating, but also intimately engaging the desert, Sterling Ridge affirms Hovey’s position as an innovative desert architect, continually re-challenged by the complex terrain of the High Sonoran — here 3,200 feet high in the foothills.At Sterling Ridge, insulated glass, concrete, and steel — Modernist standards — serve also as the materials of art. The fully exposed structure both affirms the strength of
the architecture as well as its fragility in this rugged topography of primeval granite, saguaro-spiked mountains and deep-slicing washes and ravines.


Surrounding the home is lush terrain, which changes with the day, moving and inspiring differently at sun-up and twilight. The Hovey’s main living areas look south toward Lone and Black mountains. To the near-distant east are the McDowell Mountains, pioneered by Native Americans centuries ago. To the west is Continental Mountain, where settlers mined a century ago. In the distance are the White Tank Mountains. Behind, and up another 1,000 feet, are Apache Peak and the mountains of the Tonto National Forest.

The House That Gets Used
A Chicago native, Hovey is a distinguished Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and the architect/developer of two of the finest luxury condominium communities in the Valley: the 15-story Optima Biltmore Towers in Phoenix and Optima Camelview Village at Goldwater Boulevard and Scottsdale Road. He and Eileen split their time here in the Valley and in Glencoe, Ill., tending their architecture and development firm, Optima. They also have a home in nearby Winetka, Ill.

While the Hovey’s occasionally stay at the Biltmore community, Sterling Ridge is their real home when they are here in the Valley, Eileen notes. Here, they are, indeed, truly at home, hosting family and friends. Here they can either work or, after work, relax and enjoy the desert as the planetarium at Desert Mountain opens its nighttime show.

“We originally designed one of the downstairs rooms as a theater, but it really wasn’t us,” Eileen says. “So we took down the big screen, put in a smaller flat screen T.V., and the room is now open, full of light, with great views.”
Sterling Ridge is used, Eileen emphasizes. It’s not just an architectural showpiece. For instance, they’ve extended the upper-level deck back into the hill against which the home has been unobtrusively nestled: The home is of the hill, not on it, to recall Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous dictum.

“We’ve also added some outdoor fireplaces,” notes Eileen, who handles the marketing
for the firm, often from her office that looks out to the ridge side of the home. “We’ll just cook and sit out here and enjoy it as a conversation area.”

While the distinguished Desert Mountain community now embraces Sterling Ridge — it’s on home tours — the Hovey’s had to convince its design and review committee that homes built in the Modernist/International Style would intersect well with predominant styles such as Tuscan and Southwestern.

Those who have seen the home from outside and inside understand: Its transparency affirms an appreciation of the terrain that is, arguably, missing in so many of the community’s other

homes with their keep-it-out stucco walls, cold-weather-small windows and enclosed courtyards. Sterling Ridge, however, doesn’t confront but instead celebrates the desert.

This is, in fact, the fourth in a series of the architect’s desert homes — what Hovey calls “a desert-sensitive investigation in space and architecture, a study in transparency.” Preceding it were “Cloud Chaser” (2003), “Vanishing Rain” (2002), and “Shadow Caster” (2002), since purchased by different families. All are, as one critic observed, negotiations between an avowedly Modernist architect and an ageless landscape, between the synthetic and the natural.

“I set out with these homes to find balance between landscape and architecture,” says Hovey, whose 1992 “FAIA” Fellowship designation is an elected honor for American Institute of Architects members who have demonstrated a lifetime of achievement. “The focus and challenge of Sterling Ridge was to have the design of the house respond to the desert environment, to relate to the existing topography and appear to emerge naturally from the desert itself.


“Each of these homes is a lab experiment in design and living for the desert,” adds Hovey, a New Zealander who received his Bachelor’s of Architecture and Master’s of Science in Architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, the school whose fame was established by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. “The native desert is beautiful, and each of these homes takes advantage of the native landscape and views.”

Lifestyle Linked with the Desert
Hovey, who met the great Modernist architect just before his death, says: “Mies always said: ‘I don’t want to be interesting; I want to
be good.’” For him, as for Hovey, “good” means that the strength of visual appeal is intimately connected with the building’s strength. That means cubic simplicity, visual and structural clarity and interior flexibility adaptable to users’ needs.

Interior spaces are open, transparent and energy efficient; one space flowing into another, like the seamlessness of the desert outside. The glass walls, which, in places angle mullionless around corners, make the distinction between desert and desert structure as transparent as possible. “At Sterling Ridge, I’ve attempted to dissolve the contrast between the technological and the natural and expand the physical definition of the constructed space to the outside,” says Hovey, who also worked with Helmut Jahn, creator of signature high rises in Chicago and elsewhere.

These spaces step up with the hillside home. This dictated a seemingly gravity-defying design: “three main living levels, each united and connected vertically with two- and three-story spaces, overlapping interior mezzanines and horizontal exterior deck planes,” he explains. A series of foam-green stairways that, like the home itself, seem to float, connect these spaces.

Throughout, Sterling Ridge splashes color, like spring in the desert. Louvers are bright red, like ocotillo tips, the foam-green stairways suggest desert green, and the orange handrails ignite like desert poppies.

The Hovey’s lifestyle is the desert, and the home celebrates this inside and out; it bows to the terrain, literally and figuratively, with each level offering new views, all changing with the shifting of sun and shadow. The approach to the home, for example, passes into a courtyard, with a multi-outlet water feature, then bridges a hillside wash before the entry. Along the main level gallery corridor, an eye-level window to the outside creates a terrarium with aquarium views.

Similarly, at a below-level show window, Hovey celebrates the desert again, so that flora and fauna can be appreciated from down under.

This is a “green” house, too, committed to sustainability. On the shade overhangs, Hovey programmed 87 glass solar panels on the south, east, and west perimeters, providing about 60 percent of peak demand for the home. Arizona Public Service even buys excess energy created at the Hovey electrical generating station. Even the negative-edge swimming pool, which dives into the wash below, absorbs some of the hot water generated by the building’s heat-pump cooling system. Through a heat exchanger system, the pool helps keep the Hovey home cool.

Art and Architecture at Home
This is not cold and steely Modernism but a home suffused with light, life and color.
Simple rectangular rooms seamlessly transition to others, as the home does to the desert itself. Spaces are long and spacious and high — some three stories so. In the master bedroom, for instance, green translucent glass sliders separate space without isolating the room. Perforated steel beams express the structure here while keeping it open and fluid. The Hovey’s enjoy an expansive kitchen, equipped with Sub-Zero, Viking, and Fisher & Paykel appliances; it opens out to the expansive great room, with one of the home’s five flat fireplaces.

The Hovey’s artwork also expresses this openness: It’s hung along galleries and suspended from the ceiling. Canvases, mobiles and sculptures are multifunctional, framing space, defining focal points. For example, a bright-orange Joel Shapiro sculpture makes the visitor look up from the entrance to the open second level. Again, between David’s study and the master bedroom suite, two suspended back-to-back, floor-to-ceiling Joan Miro lithographs define space as well.

Their furnishings accomplish this, too: In the main floor gallery corridor, a long bench by George Nakashima — its free form contrasts to the Modernist space — extends along the hallway to a right-angle turn, where it, too, turns. “I actually designed the space to fit
the Nakashima,” says Hovey, the world’s largest private collector of the master wood craftsman’s work.

“Our entire family absolutely loves the house, and it couldn’t be better for us professionally, too,” Eileen says. “The light, the shadows and reflections provide ever-changing nuance
and joy.”