Thomas J. Story
"Less is more" is an often-repeated design motto. Seeing the phrase boldly trumpeted across a home's entry, however, is something else entirely. A tribute to influential modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who coined the phrase, the statement sums up the design principles that guided Bobby Costa and Daniel Germani during the remodel of their 1953 ranch-style home in central Phoenix.
Although both Costa and Germani are fans of the midcentury-modern look, their house is neither minimalist nor sterile. In fact, it's downright cozy, both indoors and out. "We didn't want a museum or a showcase," Germani says. "We wanted a place where you could sit down comfortably and have a cup of coffee."
Germani, who studied architecture in his native Argentina and now works in corporate branding, and Costa, who's in the mortgage industry, had been looking to buy a home for some time. Two years ago, they found what they'd been searching for in a 1,700-square-foot, three-bedroom house in Phoenix's Marlen Grove neighborhood.
The house, along with many others in the area, had been designed by Ralph Haver, a Phoenix architect known for his post–World War II ranch homes. Germani and Costa loved Haver's signature style of low pitched roofs, carports, and clerestory windows.
"We put an offer on the house without seeing the interior," Germani says. "We knew it had good bones."
Next: Back to the '50s
The couple wanted to strip the home back to its 1950s roots and open the interior more fully to the surrounding yard. Existing slate flooring was kept in place, and the interior of the concrete block walls was sandblasted to add texture. The kitchen got a bigger island, a stainless steel backsplash, and a series of bookshelves that serves as a divider from the living room.
Exposed beam ceilings were repainted in the open kitchen, living, and dining rooms. The master bedroom was reconfigured to add privacy and a new closet ― a freestanding walnut cabinet designed by Germani that floats between the bedroom and the home office. The couple stripped the paint from original wood window frames and replaced sliding doors and small bedroom windows with 6-foot-wide, aluminum-framed pivot doors, opening the house to the garden.
After three months of renovation, the two moved in, bringing furnishings and art from their previous residence. But they found themselves weeding out items and adding pieces that better reflected the home's '50s character, including several walnut tables and a console designed by Germani. While the couple chose a few iconic 20th-century pieces of furniture ― like the Mies van der Rohe glass coffee table in the living room ― they managed to keep the classic pieces from looking clichéd by working in their favorite collections.
Costa and Germani enjoy cooking and entertaining, especially outdoors, so they also transformed their landscape, particularly in the back and side yards. Working with landscape architect Chad Robert, they added a rectangular pool, a ramada, and a back patio large enough to hold tables and chairs for conversation and dining. The front patio serves as another spot for alfresco entertaining.
Even though he and Costa both loved the house from day one, "we're really happy with the results of all our hard work," Germani says. "Ever since the remodel, it's everything we wanted it to be."
Next: How to make modern cozy
LESSONS IN KEEPING MODERN STYLE COZY
Homeowners Daniel Germani and Bobby Costa offer their tips for creating an inviting environment.
Use texture and pattern
Stark, unadorned surfaces can seem icy without a balancing element. "We used sandblasted block, raised-pattern wall panels, and funky, fun wallpaper to counter the slick decor and create casual, interesting backdrops," Germani says.
Don't hide your stuff
Books, stacks of magazines, photos, and fun objects can be on display without looking cluttered. Show off your art collection, even in unexpected places like bathrooms. Make sofas and chairs more inviting with throw pillows. Use plants and area rugs to add warmth, color, and vitality.
Light rooms with table lamps
Place groupings in varying heights, shapes, and materials on side tables or credenzas to create soft, low pools of light.
Mix in woods
The 1950s aesthetic was hardly limited to stainless steel and molded plastic. The use of wood, especially walnut and mahogany, was a main design feature of that era; it adds tactile depth to any room.
Let the sun shine
Nothing warms up a room like natural light. Bring it in through glass doors and windows wherever possible.
"We don't like to take ourselves too seriously," Germani says ― which explains the lighthearted black-and-white portraits of pop icon Madonna that take pride of place on a living room wall.
Connect indoors and outdoors
Extend the warmth of your house into the yard by adding colorful accents and inviting seating areas outdoors.
Design: Daniel Germani, BD&M, Phoenix (602/466-3820).
Landscape architecture: Chad Robert, Exteriors by Chad Robert, Phoenix (602/252-6775).
Resources: Living room Brady armless sofa ($1,880–$3,190) and chair ($870–$1,360) from Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams (323/651-0200). Barcelona table from Knoll ($1,183; 800/343-5665). Atlas vase ($100) and bowl ($150) from Tiffany & Co. (800/843-3269). Remington 56-inch round mirror from Z Gallerie ($395; 800/908-6748). FL/Y lamp (red pendant lamp reflected in mirror) from Kartell (item 9030; $266; 415/839-4025). Hazel 8- by 10-foot New Zealand wool rug in Chocolate from Angela Adams ($1,699; 800/255-9454). Pool area Liguria chaise longue in white and gray from Modern Homes Design Showroom (760/320-8422). Lounger cushions (in foreground) in Wasabi weather-resistant polyester canvas from West Elm ($99 each; 888/922-4119). Custom cement block wall by homeowner. Master bedroom Hotel Collection Pintuck bedding from Macy's (800/289-6229). Nelson platform bench from Herman Miller ($814–$981; 888/443-4357).