An oasis of gracious living: Yuma home evokes Southwestern lifestyle
It's not just the three rustic Mexican mariachi-style sculptures standing a few feet from the front door that invite you inside. Nor is it just the color combination and feel of the old Southwest or Santa Fe that you sense with your first step inside that make the home of a Yuma physician and his wife so inviting.
Perhaps the lush desert gardening is part of the effect, or a small bridge over a makeshift wash. Or a rivulet created near the back courtyard pool.
Whatever the allure, the effect of touring the home of Dr. Louis (Lou) Miller and his wife Carolyn lingers in your memory as a pleasingly warm oasis of gracious living. Carolyn credits her husband, a plastic surgeon, for many of the home's attractive features.
“He has an eye for beauty,” Carolyn says.
Built hacienda-style (the buildings surround the courtyard), the home showcases a multicolored interior containing unique art and spacious patio and pool area outside, complete with an outdoor kitchen.
As you enter the front door, the living room greets you with its spacious vaulted ceilings. Its ceiling beams — remnants from a Tucson train trestle — blend nicely with its ornamental iron chandeliers. Other matching beams form the door and window casings.
On the east wall, your eye catches the massive fireplace, flanked high up on either side with small arched windows that admit the early morning light. Beige concrete pillars to either side of the fireplace support its mantle — another railroad trestle beam. Alabaster tile forms a picture frame around the firebox.
The dark mesquite floors of the living room, designed locally by artisan Ben Beauregard, contrast with rugs that display the predominant colors found throughout the home — deep rose, turquoise, beige, maroon and ochre.
“It's a very hard wood,” Carolyn says of the mesquite floors. “I don't know that I myself would do that surface again because it shows a lot, but when they are cleaned and shined, they are pretty.”
Although the Millers did not design and build the home, they found it to be just what they were seeking. Carolyn describes the home as “the dream house of the couple that built it.”
“Somebody really thought things through,” says Carolyn. “I don't think we could have done as well if we were planning it ourselves. We love Santa Fe. At one time we were looking at getting property over there as an escape, but it is not an easy trip.”
Throughout the home, you will see the Santa Fe influence along with primitive American antiques, which the Millers enjoy collecting. The deep, rose lamp on top of the piano, for example, was a birthday gift to Carolyn from Lou. Its globe is a deep glass bowl with protruding short, rounded spines.
“It's like an ice cream sundae to me,” says Carolyn, demonstrating how it looks when she turns the lamp on.
Another interesting living room feature is the turquoise cupboard acquired in Santa Fe. Standing about four feet tall with its base about a foot square, it is angled so that the top is slightly smaller than its base.
“We just liked the colors,” says Carolyn of that cupboard, whose top is trimmed in a maroon Southwestern design. The turquoise matches that of the old schoolhouse desk standing across the room, its paint now mostly gone.
Although it is not Southwestern décor, the 55-gallon salt water aquarium to the right of the fireplace invites you to enjoy its colorful fish, corals and sea anemones.
“This is the most interesting fish,” says Carolyn, pointing out a fish that has spikes protruding slightly from the sides of his belly. “I actually got him because he is known for eating a certain kind of anemone that I was having kind of a problem with.”
Among the living room antiques is a carpenter's table, comprised of maple and oak, complete with a vise at one end and slots in the front for tools. A Mennonite piece of the 1850 to 1875 period, this a Christmas gift from Carolyn to Lou, features tongue and groove construction, which adds to its durability.
“You could pound on that forever and never hurt it,” says Carolyn.
“Lou and I are strong art collectors,” she says. “We've actually collected some of Yuma artists around. We see pieces we relate to and we like. There are certain things that are more folk artish around.”
Indeed, the folk art becomes evident as you visit the kitchen and dining room areas, where your eye is attracted to the ochre and maroon-trimmed china hutch with its rope-designed wooden rods spiraling down its doors. Another Beauregard creation, this piece has touches of the other colors in the home — turquoise, maroon and eggplant.
The pleasing warmth of the kitchen with its two skylights draws you in for a closer look at the variegated ochre granite counter tops and the massive butcher block in the center. At the kitchen's entrance stands the maize-colored ceramic tile bar with one side gently curved to accommodate barstools. It becomes the family's central gathering area for the Millers and their two daughters: Margeaux, recent valedictorian and graduate of Yuma Catholic High School, and Lacey, a junior at the same school.
“I have always wanted the great room that is the center, used for everything,” Carolyn says of her kitchen-dining area. “Even though the girls have their own house, this is where they gravitate to; this is the center.”
Their daughters' ages was a factor in the Millers' decision to purchase their one-bedroom home, located near County 14th Street and Avenue 4E. Because the main house has only a single bedroom, the girls have their own bedrooms in one of the two outdoor guest houses.
The cabinetry in the kitchen and throughout the home is the work of artisans, too. For instance, the kitchen cabinet doors are glass with chestnut frames made strong enough to encase rustic metal grates just above each door's center. The carved crossbeam that spans the stainless steel refrigerator-freezer and oven came from Thailand. In the northwest corner of the kitchen, the cabinetry is designed around a rustic table from Italy. A carved bull head attached to the table's high back looks down on its rose marble top. Carolyn identifies the table's wood as a “painted and distressed mahogany.”
“I like all this folklore stuff,” Caroline adds. “I just love it in here.” Here and in other places in the Miller home are antique pie cases. However, Carolyn says that one near her pantry is especially interesting because of its small metal cricket for a latch, symbolic of good luck.
Aided by its skylights, the kitchen exudes a pleasing warmth. Its modern stainless steel appliances would delight any cook: a Wolf stove with its convection oven, bright red control knob and griddle in the stovetop's center, as well as an ice maker built in underneath the butcher block island to the right of the sink. The sink's hardware is bronze, just as are the bath faucets — both made by Danze. Also of stainless steel are the microwave and dishwasher.
Just off the kitchen lies another feature that Carolyn says she loves — the massive Mexican door, the entry to the walk-in pantry. A window in the casing above the door allows light to filter in from the pantry's own skylight.
“This whole door is so fabulous,” she says. “This is a whole encasement. Mexican doors are phenomenal.” Inside the walk-in pantry are drawers painted red that appear to be old, with their round white knob handles. The shelving is more modern — mostly metal.
Touring the east side of the kitchen-dining area, you will see a recessed study area. The carved beam above it is part of another plant shelf. The walls of the recessed area are maroon, a contrast to the maize walls throughout most of the rest of the house. The background also makes a striking contrast for the fold-down secretary-style study desk, painted turquoise.
Near that area of the home, you will also pass the guest bathroom, whose chandelier is comprised of crystal and ornamental iron, as is the chandelier in the nearby master bedroom.
Entering the master bedroom, you will view a four-poster bed, the work of a Santa Fe artisan who made it for the Millers. The headboard depicts art work that is reminiscent of early American tole painting. The bedposts appear to reach more than halfway to the room's vaulted ceiling. Snuggling tightly at the foot of the bed is a settee with curved, rope-style carved wooden handles. On the wall above the bed, a painting of saguaros displays the hues of the entire home's color scheme.
A few paces from the four-poster bed will take you to the spacious walk-in closet with its own skylight. Also nearby, you will find the master bathroom, whose spa tub is encased in variegated sienna and grey tile, with ochre tile surrounding the top. Across the room, the double sink vanity mirror reflects the concrete Dorian pillars of painted greys on the opposite wall. Above the vanity, a plant shelf houses small spotlights beneath it to enhance the matching outer color tile of the tub. A lowered center section of the vanity provides a sitting area between the black cabinets to either side.
Just outside the master bathroom and bedroom is one of the courtyard's patios with its stone fountain, separated by a stucco adobe wall from the pool area. The wall, like others surrounding the home, includes windows inset with carved out stone grates or other artwork, spaced periodically. The patio gate — a set of blue double doors — reflect the Spanish and Navajo cultures in which door and window casings painted blue were thought to ward off evil. The outside wall opposite the house features a full fireplace, in front of which a large wicker chair and sofa invite you to relax.
Stepping beyond this patio's doors, you view the pool and courtyard area in its entirety. Carolyn reminisces the way it appears in the spring.
“Do you see the archway over by the patio garden?” she asks. “These vines over here and over here,” she says, pointing them out, “are all Lady Banks white roses. So in May they are blooming, and, oh my! When they fall, it looks like snow.”
Toward the southwest edge of the pool, you will see “The Winged Angel,” a stone statue about three and a half feet tall. It stands guard over the pool and a small makeshift wash in its corner of the courtyard.
Continuing along the southern side of the pool, you pass the secondary guest house, now serving as an office, a spare guest room and an exercise room. The girls' two-bedroom house lies to the east of the pool.
“You may have noticed that all of the door handles are up high,” says Carolyn, pointing out the oval handles in the exterior doors of one of the guest houses. “It is that way over in the main house as well. When it was built, this house was to be for the grandchildren. There is no fence around the pool. So the idea was to put these (doorknobs) up high enough so that little kids could not open them by themselves. It's not foolproof, but we had family come in for graduation. There was a 4, 5 and 6-year-old. The 6-year-old would stand by the door and say, ‘I can't get out!'”
Between the secondary guest house and the pool you discover another artistic piece. Balancing in the center upon a wooden 4-inch-by-4-inch pole tapered to a point at the top hangs a wooden justice scale resembling a small yoke. While it shares a similarity with yokes that might have been used by oxen in the past, this yoke has iron baskets hanging by chains at either end.
To the east of the main house lies the full outdoor kitchen, surrounded by patio sections to provide smaller spaces for entertaining. The kitchen itself is no small matter, though. It features a natural gas Jenn-Aire grill, beneath which is a cupboard. Near that is the 3-foot-by-4-foot foot iron barbecue pit, trimmed in stainless steel. Its grill can be raised or lowered, depending on the needs of the cook.
“It's big enough to cook a cow,” Carolyn quips. The separate outdoor pizza oven is large, too — 38 inches deep.
The family and guests can enjoy outdoor meals at any of the various tables either on the back porch or near the outdoor kitchen, including the antique harvest table beneath the home's large picture window overlooking the courtyard.
“It is from back East, where they used to put up the canning, the farming — just an old pine, long table,” Carolyn explains.
On the south wall of the of the girls' bedroom that forms one end of the outdoor kitchen is a large scene in tile of San Ysidro, a Spanish saint, venerated as the patron of farming. It is framed to look like a window looking out onto a farm behind him.
While the outdoor kitchen area may intrigue you, the front yard also beckons you to explore its native desert vegetation, its sculptures, boulders and design features.
For instance, in the northwest section of the yard is a large metal mobile of concentric circles, resembling a lollipop on a stick. A wind/water sculpture, which reminds you of a large pinwheel, stands near the miniature wash. A tall agave contrasts with the shorter prickly pear and other desert vegetation. Two large saguaros stand sentinel outside the home's adobe walls near the curved driveway. Scattered here and there, you will discover colorful sculptures with moving parts. Robert Preston, a California artist and one of Carolyn's favorites, has designed some of these.
“We feel very fortunate,” Carolyn says about their home. “It's not easy to find something that reflects what your likes are — to find it already built and add to it — which I think we have. We have added our stamp on things, and we have been here long enough now that it shows.”