Connecting Back to Nature

When a Phoenix couple wanted a retreat from city life, they asked architecture firm The Ranch Mine to design a sustainable, minimalist home on a 1.7-acre horse property in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.

The result: A solar-powered, low-lying home that rises just 12.5 feet above the landscape, surrounded by Sonoran Desert plants. The house spans 4,090 square feet and was designed in an O-shape with a courtyard centerpiece.


  • Residential


  • Series 600
  • Multi-slide door
  • Window wall
  • Series 980
  • Pivot door
  • Classic series


  • Arizona
The Series 600 windows in the master bedroom look out into the Sonoran Desert landscape.

The Series 600 Sliding Glass Door in the master bedroom look out into the Sonoran Desert landscape.

“One of the first things we did was to look at ways to live in the desert that have been happening for thousands of years and even just a few hundred years here in the desert Southwest, and that was to create a courtyard-style home,” explains Cavin Costello, principal architect of The Ranch Mine. “By creating a courtyard, you create a mini micro-climate inside the house.”

The 18-foot by 58-foot courtyard not only gives the homeowners’ dogs an outdoor space that’s safe from desert predators, but also facilitates better ventilation throughout the home and gives the interior spaces indirect natural light. The courtyard is accessed through Series 600 Multi-Slide Doors and framed by floor-to-ceiling Series 600 Window Wall all around. “We want to create places that honor the past, challenge the norm, and then inspire the future. Windows and doors are really critical in allowing us to do the latter part of that, which is challenge the norm and inspire the future,” Costello says. The front door of the home opens to views of the courtyard, which Costello says replaces traditional accent walls or artwork with a large glass opening displaying desert flora around a 500-year-old ironwood tree. Behind the courtyard is an 860 square-foot in-law suite with its own entrance and outdoor spaces.

When the multi-slide pocket doors are open, the indoor living space is transformed into an outdoor living space.

Wooden slat walls enhance the acoustics in the main space, where the homeowners enjoy playing their grand piano. Hidden in one of those slat walls is a Series 980 Pivot Door that leads into the master suite. Series 600 Multi-Slide Doors on either side of the main living space channel fresh air through the home and quickly convert the interior into a covered open-air space.

“When the doors and windows of the main living space are open, it essentially transforms the indoor living space into an outdoor living space,” Costello says.

“Western Window Systems provides doors with minimal sightlines that are very easy to operate,” Costello continues. “Because these are being opened and closed relatively frequently, we want to make sure it’s a very seamless open-and-close situation.”

Floor-to-ceiling fenestration, featuring the Series 600 Multi-Slide Door and skylights create an airy, bright kitchen and dining area

Because temperatures in Phoenix frequently exceed triple digits in the summers, mitigating heat from solar radiation was critical. One solution Costello employed was to completely forgo any west-facing windows in the home, and instead install windows on the west elevation facing north and south. Western Window Systems products with low-e, argon-filled glass helped Costello meet his energy objectives for the home.

“The solar heat gain coefficient is really critical here in Phoenix. We get so much solar radiation that we really need to keep a high majority of it out,” he says. “Western Window Systems does a great job of that, and then the U-value is great, as well, in terms of minimizing the heat gain through the window frames.”

The glass-enclosed courtyard creates a mini micro-climate

The glass-enclosed courtyard creates a mini micro-climate

The pool projects out from the O-shaped design, an elongated oasis oriented toward the desert mountain views to the south. The pool features a fire pit bench on one end, to further draw folks outdoors and into the landscape.

“Traditionally, homes were created as shelter,” Costello says. “We want to take that idea but also wanted to connect humans back to nature.”

Architect Calvin Costello, The Ranch Mine

Photographer Roehner + Ryan

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