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Off the Grid Luxury: A Spare Weekend Home in the Arizona High Desert

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Off the Grid Luxury: A Spare Weekend Home in the Arizona High Desert

May 14, 2018

When a client requested an indoor/outdoor weekend house with separate living and sleeping zones, Tucson, Arizona–based architect Cade Hayes and designer Jesús Robles, founders of Dust, looked to local architectural vernacular for inspiration. They rediscovered a housing typology called a zaguán—a Spanish word meaning “hallway,” which refers to a central walkway running through the center of a house, typical in Spanish and Southwestern American architecture. The zaguan became the organizing principle for the holiday home, which would be small, sustainably built, and designed to close down completely when not in use.

Sited in the hills above Arizona’s San Rafael Valley, just 15 miles north of the Mexico border, the 945-square-foot home was designed to blend into its surrounding environment. It’s made of Lavacrete, a mixture of cement, lava rock, and water that is poured and pounded in a process similar to the formation of rammed earth. The resulting color and texture, say the designers, makes the house “appear as if it belonged there with the grass, oaks, manzanitas, and rocks.” Join us for a tour.

Photography by Jeff Goldberg, Cade Hayes, and Gabriel Flores, courtesy of Dust.

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Above: The central hallway is designed to frame views on each end and allow breezes to channel air through the space, and it occasionally plays host to dinners and parties.
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Above: There are separate zones on each side of the house: The living zone, shown here, contains the kitchen, dining, and living area. The sleeping zone, across the hall, has two bedrooms and one bathroom.

The ceilings and several walls are lined in reclaimed sassafras wood.

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Above: There are two sources of heat in the house: the fireplace in the living room and a woodstove adjacent to the private spaces. According to the architects, “Experientially, in the winter, the first thing one thinks of when they wake is fire.” The firewood comes from the property’s emory oak trees.
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Above: A live-edge wood bench with canvas pillows and leather throws serves as a sofa.

All windows in the house are operable, designed to pull cooling air through the house. The exterior-facing windows are intentionally small, to minimize heat from the scorching summer sun.

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Above: The house is off the grid, so electricity used to power the lights, ceiling fans, and kitchen appliances is all drawn from a small set of nearby solar panels. Water is pulled from an existing well, and heat for cooking and hot water is by propane.
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Above: The view from the living area through a bank of steel windows toward the private spaces. The architects installed as little lighting as possible throughout the house; most are square recessed overhead lights, and all are LED.
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Above: The Lavacrete that forms a bedroom wall is 18 inches thick, which helps to keep the house’s interior cool.
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Above: Capping the zaguan on each end are bifold metal doors that can be configured in a variety of ways to block or welcome wind and sun.
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Above: The doors have leather handles custom designed and made by Dust. The doorway facing the hillside has concrete steps leading into the main hall.
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Above: The house sits almost 5,000 feet above sea level in southern Arizona, with views of the San Rafael Valley and the Patagonia Mountains.
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Above: The house is hidden in high desert, surrounded by manzanita bushes and emory oak trees. “You are not aware of the structure until you are upon it,” say the architects.

For more style from Mexico and the American Southwest from across our sites, see:

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