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Phoenix Remodel Rising

Civic-minded homeowners help resurrect a 1903 house in the heart of downtown, enlivening it with color and pattern to spare

Colorful Back Porch

Photo by Ellen McDermott

Four years ago, Caroline Van Slyke was at a meeting in downtown Phoenix when she looked out the window, saw a forlorn little house, and decided “it needed some love,” she says. “It was like the house was speaking to me, telling me to adopt it. I know it sounds crazy.”

Shown: Glazed Talavera tile in a dozen patterns, glossy Tolix-style chairs, and strings of cheery pennants embellish the 1903 brick house’s new back porch.

Chairs: Flash Furniture

Energetic Florals

Photo by Ellen McDermott

Today, the old Tharaldson house—now the Van Slyke place—is a must-see on the annual neighborhood house tour, and its lively new terrace is something of a local watering hole, complete with an 8-foot-tall wood-burning pizza oven crowdfunded by happy regulars.

Shown: Homeowner and designer Caroline Van Slyke’s love of exuberant color and pattern unites the rooms of the house and backyard guest cottage with energetic florals, bold checks and stripes, and lively green accents. The guesthouse’s colorful downstairs bath serves Caroline’s office/workshop.

Bath tile: Merola Tile

Bold Checks

Photo by Ellen McDermott

The story of how all this came to be is one of personal renewal, urban renewal, and homage to the city’s pre-statehood days.

Shown: The office includes this sitting area.

Curtains: Pottery Barn

Striped Entry

Photo by Ellen McDermott

While very much a modern metropolis, Phoenix has lately trained its sights on its old downtown and its shrinking supply of neoclassical cottages, some abandoned so long ago they became wards of the city. The one Caroline spotted was just 1,733 square feet, with a sagging front porch, on a bare lot. It sits in the Roosevelt historic district; a leafy streetcar subdivision when the 1903 house was built, it was a shrinking dot in the urban orb by the 1970s.

Shown: The house’s entry foyer retains its door and transom.

Piano in the Library

Photo by Ellen McDermott

Walk by the house today and it’s hard to believe this is the same one Caroline fell for. The porch stands erect, its fluted columns freshly painted, its front door an upbeat apple green. Step inside and you find high-ceilinged rooms finished with period trim and warm, old-world touches, “like the macaron shops in Paris,” says Caroline, a self-confessed Francophile.

Shown: the main house’s library holds treasured books and a piano.

Paint: Sherwin-Williams’s Indigo Batik (library walls)

Living Room

Photo by Ellen McDermott

While some house hunters seek out a finished product where every sink and light switch has been taken care of, Caroline prefers to strip a find to its worthy bones and refinish it inch by inch. The process may be messy, costly, and a challenge to one’s sanity, but when you’re done you’ve got everything the way you want it—from the size of the kitchen island to the tile on the back-porch stairs.

Shown: The living room’s wood-burning fireplace survived decades of neglect, needing only a scrub-down. Roman blinds on the original single-pane windows blunt the Arizona sun.

Curtains: World Market

Paint: Dunn-Edwards’s Spanish Olive (lower walls) and Benjamin Moore’s Seashell (upper walls)

Texture & Color

Photo by Ellen McDermott

Flash back to 2014, when Caroline, her husband, David, and their two kids were in a 1951 ranch house on a generous lot in a neighborhood 40 blocks away. The couple had renovated the whole house and garden, right down to the duck pen, but “that house was twice the size of this one and it was more property—we didn’t want to take care of it,” Caroline says. Their daughter was a year away from going to college, leaving behind a single younger sibling, so the household, two cats and a dog included, soon would be ready for a smaller, easier-to-care-for nest. The couple were also craving a more civic-minded existence that would allow them to give back—and downtown needed a hand.

Shown: The kitchen finishes are an artful mix of texture and color. Rough exposed brick meets a velvety blue-gray wall with a custom range hood and a ceramic-and-marble-mosaic backsplash. The glossy black island has a smooth Italian-marble top and glass-front cabinets for dishware.

Pendant fixtures: Schoolhouse Electric

Paint: Dunn-Edwards’s Blue Steel (range wall)

Custom cabinets, island, and range hood: Rysso Peters Handcrafted Cabinetry

Countertop: Arizona Tile

Faucet: Perrin & Rowe

Green ceramic mosaic backsplash tile: Merola Tile

Dining Area

Photo by Ellen McDermott

“We were ready to simplify our life,” Caroline says now. “We had to decide, are we going to do something different while we still have the energy?”

Shown: Wicker chairs easily slide outdoors in good weather and give the dining area a warm, informal air. The adjacent living room is a favorite gathering space for the family—a TV hides in the armoire.

Wallpaper: A.S. Création

Chandelier: Pottery Barn

Table: Sweet Salvage

Chairs: World Market

Contemporary Complements

Photo by Ellen McDermott

Their move was well-timed. The city was striving to revive its historic districts—historic being relative in a city that wasn’t incorporated until 1881, but meaningful when office towers are on the march. City Hall had partnered with a developer, Matthew Seaman, to get the house, its fire-damaged dirt-floor carriage house, and the building next door back on their feet. Or rather, back on their foundations—the structures’ various sides, tops, and bottoms “were not properly bonded together,” as Seaman puts it.

Shown: The master bath blends traditional finishes in a fresh, contemporary way. The vanity was retrofitted with a marble top and a pair of brass bin pulls to complement the vintage Italian sconces. A glass-front cabinet holds baskets of towels.

Floor tile: Arizona Tile

Wallpaper: Cole & Son

Sinks: Kohler

Faucets: Newport Brass

Dramatic Sconces

Photo by Ellen McDermott

To make things interesting, the city would take care of some of the advance work on the house, mostly on the exterior, including windows and the foundation, then sell it before it was livable. And as an incentive to new owners to maintain a house’s period integrity, an existing state program would reduce the property taxes. Working with general contractor Mike Cefaratti, Seaman tackled structural problems, reinforcing the foundation, replacing the roof, rebuilding the porch, and adding an electrical panel. The Van Slykes would finish the renovation with Cefaratti, and, in time, replace the old carriage house.

Shown: Giant candle sconces add drama to a master bedroom dressed in layers of color and pattern.

Headboard: West Elm

Paint: Benjamin Moore’s Seashell (walls)

Contractor: Outstanding Construction Service, Scottsdale, AZ

Bed Checks

Photo by Ellen McDermott

The exact style of the low-slung house is hard to put a label on. Architecturally, it’s a “confab,” says Lynn Tenney, a building designer who contributed to the renovation plan. But it embodies a historical time and place—and today, a public-private effort to transform half a city block that had been fenced off since 1985 and was threatened.

Shown: Gingham checks travel into a kid’s room and onto a bed crafted from antique French doors.

Paint: Seashell (walls)

Front View

Photo by Ellen McDermott

Seaman was drawing up his to-fix list when Caroline and David appeared on the front stoop. “And less than a week later we contracted to buy it,” Caroline says. “The house found us.”

Shown: The durable little 1903 house is prized for its frontier spirit and eclectic architectural style. The original door’s new hue is echoed inside.

Paint: Dunn-Edwards’s English Forest (trim) and Early Harvest (door)

Outdoor Rooms

Photo by Ellen McDermott

A commercial banker who is so used to his wife’s nonstop home improvements he’s been known to walk in the door with an amiable “Oh, this is green now!,” David knew taking on the project would mean juggling two houses long enough to renovate, but it also meant that he would be able to walk three blocks to work. “We saw the house on a Monday at 10,” Caroline says, “and by 10:30 we were shaking hands with this developer.…”

Shown: The homeowners turned the formerly barren quarter-acre lot into a series of outdoor rooms, complete with a salvaged-brick terrace, a pergola, and a wood-burning pizza oven. Out of view are the orchard, vegetable garden, and henhouse.

Farm Stand

Photo by Ellen McDermott

It helped that David had grown up in construction—his father ran an insulation business—and that Caroline had spent years helping clients with their decor. It would take nine months to get past stage one in the overhaul of the new place. Crews replaced framing and joists; repaired a chimney; installed new plumbing, wiring, and ductwork; and restored existing plaster. They also turned the small basement into a wine cellar with a spot for a tankless water heater and built a new back porch.

Shown: The farm-stand sign is a holdover from the homeowners’ previous place and a reminder of their love of homegrown, home-cooked food.

Meet the Family

Photo by Ellen McDermott

The couple commissioned two replacement baths, an open kitchen, and a laundry room. They strove for authenticity, restoring original transom windows, matching trim, hanging solid-wood five-panel doors, and putting down domestic-oak floor planks with a hand-applied oil finish.

Shown: David and Caroline Van Slyke, with their son, David Jr., 11, and Henny Penny, a 10-year-old Buff Orpington hen.

Apple-Green & Gingham

Photo by Ellen McDermott

The cozy size of the house stayed the same, now neatly organized and functional, with the kitchen at its psychic center. An 8-by-5-foot island acts as a staging ground for two gung-ho cooks; one of Caroline’s few regrets is a white apron sink that has a hard time standing up to the couple’s enameled cast-iron cookware.

Shown: Apple-green paint and gingham grasscloth add charm to the kitchen and dining area and unite them with other spaces in both the house and garden.

Cabinet paint: Benjamin Moore’s White Dove

Buffet countertop: Arizona Tile

Guest House

Photo by Ellen McDermott

When she isn’t busy helping crank out pizza for her fund-raisers, Caroline serves on the board of the Roosevelt Action Association and teaches classes in jam-making and sustainable living. She has even shared tips on how to kill and pluck a chicken.

Shown: In homage to the original 1903 house, the new guesthouse is clad in brick and cedar. Stairs outside give guests their own entrance to the second-floor suite. A traditional striped awning, painted shutters, and flower-filled window boxes reinforce the reigning cottage style.


Photo by Ellen McDermott

It helped that David had grown up in construction—his father ran an insulation business—and that Caroline had spent years helping clients with their decor. It would take nine months to get past stage one in the overhaul of the new place. Crews replaced framing and joists; repaired a chimney; installed new plumbing, wiring, and ductwork; and restored existing plaster. They also turned the small basement into a wine cellar with a spot for a tankless water heater and built a new back porch.

Shown: The farm-stand sign is a holdover from the homeowners’ previous place and a reminder of their love of homegrown, home-cooked food.

Open Plan

Photo by Ellen McDermott

Parisian influences aside, “it was the space dictating how it should look,” she says. “I didn’t want it to look new; I wanted to keep the existing original details and restore ones that were missing.”

Shown: A wall was demolished to connect the living room to the large kitchen/dining area. The open plan and nonstop white oak flooring add a sense of spaciousness to the small, one-story house.

Buffet cabinet: Rysso Peters Handcrafted Cabinetry

Leafy Greens

Photo by Ellen McDermott

When the family moved in, plans to replace the old carriage house were still being drawn up, and the scoured yard still awaited the couple’s green touch. What visitors see today is a brick-and-cedar backyard beacon with a cedar-shake roof that matches the main house’s. It holds garage, office/workshop, and guest space, and sits in an edible landscape, complete with fruit trees and a chicken coop. The couple put down the terrace using vintage bricks salvaged from Seaman’s dumpster, and also added a pergola, now a setting for farm-to-table dinners and a symbol of what can be done to save an urban downtown.

Shown: A salvaged door in leafy green inspired the palette in the guesthouse’s first-floor bath. Green accents enliven the hex-tile floor and continue right up the walls to the ceiling.

Paint: Dunn-Edwards’s Trailing Vine (ceiling)

Exposed Brick

Photo by Ellen McDermott

Polished finishes, inside and out, could serve as Caroline’s business card. “There’s nothing like having thousands of people parading through your home to motivate you to get all those little things done,” she joked on her blog, exaggerating only a little, after last year’s Historic Roosevelt Home Tour.

Shown: The dining room gives dinner guests full view of the hardworking kitchen and its newly exposed brick wall. Caroline Van Slyke used a light wash of taupe to tone down the “beachy” wicker chairs.

Chairs: World Market

Honed Tiles

Photo by Ellen McDermott

Waxing a bit about the new oak floors, which creak convincingly, she added, “This home had a life before us and it will have a life after us. We are just its stewards for now, and we have tried to make our decisions accordingly.”

Shown: The master bath is paved in honed-marble hexes, while light-reflecting subway tile rises to ceiling height on two of the walls. The cast-iron tub is original.

Tile: Arizona Tile

Floor Plans

Floor plan by Ian Worpole

The 1,733-square-foot one-story house lost a wall to open up the living area; walls were added to create a laundry room. The two bedrooms are original, the two baths are replacements, and the back porch is new. The two-story guesthouse holds a garage and office/workshop downstairs.