THE CANVAS: Decomposed granite, gradual 20-foot slope, soft curves of a desert golf community

THE PALETTE: Grids of stone and tile, the poetry of light and shadow, tousled brambles alongside sluicing channels of water

THE MASTERPIECE: Quiet interplay of lines and symmetry, a courtyard displays the grandeur of simplicity

Peter M. Magee is meticulous. When the rectangular courtyard pool in the custom home builder’s latest spec home was a few inches off center, he asked that the structure, which had already been fitted with steel, be shifted. It was.

For the president/owner of Magee Custom Homes, LLC, in Scottsdale, Ariz., this attention to minutiae is necessary. Magee, a former corporate consultant turned home builder, believes such details define the home as art — a geometric masterpiece in the barren desert. “The simplicity and minimalism of the pool is what makes it unique,” he says. “It carries the whole theme of the house through to the patio.

“I think pool designers are going back to classic shapes and the use of classic materials,” he adds. “This is obviously a rectangular pool with traditional plaster. Everything is square and rectangular, with 90-degree angles.”

Suspended in air

Creating such a statement was not easy. Faced with a drop of 20 feet from the front of the lot to the back, much of the pool had to be constructed above ground. It took Mike Ferraro, president of Phoenician Pool Construction in Scottsdale, about a month to finish the rough site work. This included bringing in landfill from the excavation of the front yard to build height in the back.

The pool was brought to gunite stage and the site sat untouched for eight months while the home was constructed around it. “The house flanks three sides of the pool,” Ferraro says. “There is a 10-foot drop-off on the other side of the scuppers and 27 feet had to be self-contained from the scuppers to the end of the pool.

“We had to have it structurally engineered. We built forms out of plywood and constructed some footers,” he notes. “The structure was actually designed to hold itself.”

As you walk through the home’s front door, you face a huge glass wall that overlooks the patio. “If you look through the glass, over the pool, you can see the golf course,” Ferraro says. “We were able to build something that added length and extended the courtyard into the natural landscape.”

Geometry at work

One of the marvels of the project is the extensive use of lines and shapes. The back of the home, for example, is shaped like a fork. “There are three symmetrical prongs sticking out,” Magee explains. “One side is the dining room with the glass wall and cantilevered roof.

“Then you have the middle tier with the pool, and the third side is the master bedroom with a little sundeck,” he says.

Angles play a dominant role in the design. The pool, spa and fire pit are rectangular, each 15 feet wide to further layer the gridlike effect of the space. A long in-pool bench, which extends the width of the water at the far end of the pool, allows swimmers to sit and look over the desert. Salt-finished concrete and beige Cantera stone form a gentle pattern on the deck, while square, white ceramic tile accents the waterline.

The waterfeatures also are symmetrical. Constructed of block masonry and fitted with stone scuppers, they create a pleasant sound that reduces the background noise of the surrounding community. The tile-lined channels appear to enclose the patio by emerging seamlessly from the walls.

The two planters beside the scuppers are filled with perfectly aligned Baja slipper plants. “They get undulated and twisting when they grow, so they almost remind you of underwater plants, moving and twisting in the ocean,” Magee says.

In the line of fire

Light and shadow creep throughout the patio, creating soft, fluid motion in an area dominated by stone and concrete. Low-voltage bulbs subtly highlight the plants. The majority of the light comes from the walls of the home, which surround the patio.

On one side, tall, thin slits cut into a wall spill yellow columns of light onto the hardscaping. Opposite that, 10 small window-squares, which Magee calls “Mexican-style holes-in-the wall,” each feature a socket and a 40-watt bulb to add balance.

A gas fire pit made with lava rocks casts flickers of light and shadow on the numerous entertainment elements. These include a full outdoor kitchen and sunken conversation nook. “You can sit there with friends and look over and through the fire, and see the pool with views of the valley at sunset,” Magee says.

“I wanted the patio area to have a nocturnal feel to it because the valley [sky] is so nice at night,” he adds. “In Arizona, you can reach up and grab a handful of stars any time you want.”

Mike Ferraro, president, Phoenician Pool Construction, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Mike Ferraro, president, Phoenician Pool Construction, Scottsdale, Ariz.

  • Specialty: Working closely with custom home builders to create the challenging, unusual projects they design.
  • Inspiration: Personal drive to excel, as well as each project’s unique elements.
  • Favorite materials:Natural stone decking, stone fountains, glass tile, negative edges and slot overflows, and “smart home” automation.
Peter M. Magee, president/ owner, Magee Custom Homes, LLC, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Peter M. Magee, president/ owner, Magee Custom Homes, LLC, Scottsdale, Ariz.

  • Specialty: Designing high-end custom homes in a contemporary Mexican style, using light and shadow to create dramatic spaces.
  • Inspiration:Collective experiences, more than 30 years of travel, and the art/architecture of Mexico and Europe.
  • Favorite materials:Limestone, sand-finished stucco, floor-to-ceiling windows, glass tile and subdued lighting.