Using the whitest of whites to magnify light in a modernist Phoenix residence.
Classic modern furnishings—Charles and Ray Eames’ 1956 lounge chair and ottoman, Norman Cherner stools—accent contemporary furnishings in the living room.
“I’m known as a steel and glass man,” Alfred Newman Beadle told a local Maricopa County newspaper in 1988. “I won’t deviate from that too much.” And he didn’t back in 1973 when he designed this two-bedroom, two-bath duplex apartment in the Biltmore neighborhood of Phoenix, Arizona.
In true International Style—the architectural genre Beadle adapted to the Arizona surroundings from which he never strayed after relocating from his native Minnesota in the early 1950s—the apartment was rigorously rectilinear, with structural exposed-steel I-beams, poured concrete floors, and large expanses of glass. It proved irresistible for an empty-nester San Diego couple seeking a pied-à-terre in Phoenix. “They loved modern exposed steel and a clean look,” says Brad Leavitt, founder of Scottsdale-based A Finer Touch Construction. “They wanted to preserve the historic nature of the home.”
All townhouses in this Al Beadle development boast atrium entry courts.
The main issue was not Beadle’s structure, but the lack of natural light that illuminated its interior. “Homes of that era were like caves. You didn’t have lots of windows,” Leavitt observes. In this case, there was generous fenestration on the perimeter walls. The problem was what was outside those walls, which blocked the natural light from penetrating into the central rooms, namely a second-floor outdoor deck.
The double-height main space, a living room with an open kitchen, was set several feet in from the windows, separated from them by concrete-floored corridors on either side. This made it necessary for any naturally occurring light entering the space to travel further to reach it. But the deck left the area outside the first-floor sliders in perpetual shade, discouraging any light from reaching—much less passing through—the sliders and into the living area. Furthermore, a solid awning over the deck upstairs and a four-foot tall, thick-slat wood rail around it severely impeded the free flow of natural light into the upper story. These were the architectural equivalent of border control for the passage of sunlight.
A metal trellis, cable railings, and an opening cut into the new Trex deck on the second floor were key to pulling more light into the house.
Leavitt replaced the old decking with a new Trex version and the opaque awning with a metal trellis that beckoned light in but broke it up to mitigate the midday sun. New cable railings welcomed still more light, and cutting a rectangular opening in the deck floor allowed it to flow down into the first-floor rooms.
The challenge of getting light into the rooms now solved, Leavitt decided to maximize its rays with reflective surfaces off which they could bounce back into the spaces. Repolishing the concrete floors that Beadle had installed in 1973 not only revivified them, but it ramped up their reflective quality so they could ricochet natural light beaming into the entry courtyard, as well as the newly illuminated patio under the deck opposite it, back into the interiors. But, more importantly, he installed perimeter cabinetry of glossy white acrylic and used Cambria’s pure white WHITE CLIFF™ on the kitchen island, countertops, and backsplashes; the wet bar surface in the dining room; as well as all the bathroom vanities. “The kitchen cabinetry was all brown wood before,” he recalls. “All the new white surfaces reflected light and made everything clean and bright.”
Pairing Cambria’s WHITE CLIFF™ quartz surfaces (on the working-dining island and all the countertops) with glossy acrylic cabinetry reflects available light in the windowless kitchen and makes the room feel more expansive.
Additionally, the couple likes to cook and entertain friends, a pastime that Cambria’s easy maintenance material makes more carefree. The end result is a kitchen bathed in light that serves a home chef with durable and low-maintenance surfaces, while still seamlessly blending into its modernist surroundings.
All the white, in fact, cleaves more closely to Beadle’s beloved International Style than the 1970s-era dark wood finishes did. None of his intention is lost. In fact, it is enhanced in a way that would have pleased his resolutely modernist soul.