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Inside out

Blue Heron
Lucky Wenzel

Blue Heron Marquis Seven Hills Showhome, Henderson by Blue Heron Design Build

Desert vistas, spring weather and Las Vegas’ active lifestyle have given us homes that embrace — and sometimes merge — both interior and exterior

Radical transparencyBlue Heron Marquis Seven Hills Showhome, HendersonBlue Heron Design BuildYou get this buzzy sense of pleasant disorientation as you walk through the Blue Heron Marquis Seven Hills Showhome, because you’re never quite sure: Are you indoors or outdoors? The answer is yes. The three-story, 8,000-square-foot concept home in Henderson’s Marquis Seven Hills embodies indoor-outdoor living in a radical way: by replacing traditional interior walls with mechanized windows called “pocket walls.” At the push of a panel, a living area becomes a courtyard, an annex turns into a breezeway, a bedroom transforms into a cabana with golf-course views. The indoor-outdoor fluidity and focus on strong, clean horizontal lines defines Blue Heron’s “Vegas Modern” style.

“At its core, ‘Vegas Modern’ is an architectural response to the climate here,” says Tyler Jones, Blue Heron’s owner and cofounder. “This is the Mojave Desert. We have extreme heat, but also some beautiful times of the year. We think a home should actually open up so you can enjoy the climate — and the architecture should respond to the extremes, as well.”

The home’s 20 pocket walls might be a mere gimmick if the actual design didn’t take full advantage of their potential. It does. The Marquis Showhome’s nested-jewel-box design turns this transparency into an aesthetic experience that’s like peering through an architectural kaleidoscope, or walking through a pop-up book: With every turn, new perspectives and vantages reveal themselves — here, the mirror shimmer of the edgeless pool, there, an inviting glimpse of the cozy basement bar — teasing you with the tantalizing idea that, at just the right angle, you could take in the entire house.

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“We like our architecture to unfold in layers,” says Jones, who also develops the home designs with the firm’s architects. “It should be a rich experience, something you get to enjoy as you pass through.”

The Marquis Showhome is also a sort of comeback trophy for a local developer that not only weathered the recession, but did it while championing a crisp, bold design style in contrast to the generic Tuscan-lite look that has unfortunately defined the typical modern Vegas home. “When we started the company in 2004 and began developing our architectural style, it was very novel,” Jones says. “The real estate companies told us we were crazy. They said, ‘This isn’t what sells!’ But we were convinced that people wanted something different.” Andrew Kiraly


How their gardens grow

Jameson residence, Boulder CityLage Design, Roca LandscapingThere are seven distinct gardens on the grounds of the Jamesons’ Boulder City home. There’s the English garden, the Chinese garden and the Heavenly Garden, to name a few, not to mention a swimming pool, a labyrinth, a basketball court, a koi pond, a meditation patio and an outdoor lounge. If all that conjures a jumbled nouveau-riche montage straight out of MTV Cribs, consider that it’s all on a modest 1.3 acres — and it’s so artfully knitted together, you might even call it soulful. That’s no coincidence, given that Gard and Florence Jameson often open up their hillside home to people for spiritual retreats and reflective gatherings.

“Each part of the site represents a different opportunity to gain a quality of perspective,” says Gard Jameson, a professor of Indian and Chinese philosophy at UNLV. He means perspective both literally and figuratively. Nearest the home, the more formal, geometric European gardens brace and complement the rectangular pool. But as you walk up the winding stone stairs, Asian touches appear — Buddhist statues, a stone-lined koi pond, a burbling stream, bamboo bushes with bright red berries. Finally, at the top, a decidedly desert-inflected sense of place reigns. The foliage hides the formal gardens below, and your eye is drawn upward and outward to the view of Lake Mead.

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Tying the different areas together are deft transitional touches. “Transitions are really important so the different areas don’t clash,” explains Cecilia Schafler, principal with Lage Design. “At the top, the Spanish tiles, for instance, which continue from the house, help the styles blend together. Or when you’re coming down the steps from the top and see the pine tree, which has a very Asian feel, you get just a peek of that before there’s more to come.” And from the labyrinth to the stream, stone is an organizing motif.

The distinct but blended areas are the result of a collaborative process that’s been both organic and formal as well. The Jamesons purchased the site’s kernel plot in 1985 and gradually constructed elements, such as the pool and the meditation patio, in piecemeal fashion. Florence Jameson, a physician, conceived the gardens, and Jose Rosas of Roca Landscaping built them. Schafler of Lage Design was hired in 2011 to tie the disparate parts together and complete the vision — a work still in progress.

“I remember before I started doing anything, I had to meet Mr. Jameson,” Schafler recalls. “He wanted to make sure we were all a good fit, which, as a designer, I really appreciate. This has been not just a collaborative project, but a collaborative adventure.” Andrew Kiraly

Backyard gem

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Towner-Mergenmeier residence, DowntownDIY design and buildDoug Towner and Steve Mergenmeier weren’t looking for a home with a swimming pool. But in 2003, after two years of house shopping, they knew as soon as they saw the Downtown mid-modern split-level that it was the one for them, pool be damned. Today, following a DIY backyard makeover, the 30-foot pool bordered by a shaded cabana is the centerpiece of an ideal outdoor entertainment space.

“We had my 40th birthday party here,” Towner says, thinking back to his favorite backyard gatherings. “We had a Richard Simmons theme, and lots of family came. It was a lot of fun.”

Towner and Mergenmeier aren’t the first to see the quarter-acre space’s social potential. Their next-door neighbor, whose mother and stepfather had Towner and Mergenmeier’s house built in 1961, told them that her parents designed it with entertaining in mind. From the back porch, steps lead down to a large, square open space. On the left is the pool. At the back, a terrace level is overlooked by 20 Italian Cypress trees camouflaging a tall cinderblock wall.

The original owners had kept it well maintained, from shampooing the carpet on the back porch to hand-watering the thick lawn. But by the time Towner and Mergenmeier moved in, the yard was a shambles.

“The first thing we did was (renovate) the backyard,” Towner says.

They had the dying grass removed — along with the volleyball net over it and the basketball goal on the back terrace. Mergenmeier designed a Mediterranean-inspired garden interwoven with stone walkways, sitting areas and drought-tolerant foliage. The terrace level now holds an outdoor dining area and desert tortoise habitat. The back porch is an outdoor bar. They paid for almost everything with the rebate they got from the water authority’s turf-replacement program and did all the labor, except grass removal, themselves. They estimate the whole thing took about three months.

From their street in the pocket neighborhood of Crestview Estates (where this writer also lives), it’s hard to imagine that so inviting an expanse awaits just outside Towner and Mergenmeier’s kitchen. But they’ve hosted enough neighborhood parties now that it’s well-known in their Downtown social circle.

“I remember someone waving at me when we came to this neighborhood to look at the house,” Mergenmeier says. “I thought, ‘I’d like to live someplace where people are friendly.’” Heidi Kyser


One landscape, two approaches

Arroyo House, Blue DiamondHoogland ArchitectureLook at all these windows! Better yet, look through them. We’ll get to the rest of Scott and Laurie Lee’s Blue Diamond home in a moment, but first — man, this view! Is it bonkers, or what? A massive sweep of yucca-dotted ridgelines and Red Rock escarpment fills the two glass walls, as close as a neighbor, and is the first — and for a minute the only — thing you see as you enter their spacious, open living/dining/kitchen area.

That’s by design, of course. A dramatic reveal is what you do when you build a house on a hillside overlooking a rural hamlet. It’s why you build there. Dubbed the Arroyo House by its architect, Henry “CJ” Hoogland, it’s one of two adjacent homes he designed to capture, each in its different way, an indoor/outdoor dynamic appropriate to the grand setting.

Meeting the Lees, you see an immediate pattern: Their open, welcoming personalities are mirrored in their open, expansive main area, which merges with the expansive openness of the view. Do you think we have enough windows, Laurie Lee joked during construction. Oh, yeah. Seriously, there’s glass everywhere. With a setting like this, you put as little as possible between it and you — and then make those boundaries permeable. The floor-to-ceiling glass slides open onto a broad, wraparound patio, extending the living space outward and inviting the desert in. Take it from us: It’s every bit as homey as it sounds. Good for entertaining, too. During a New Year’s Eve dinner, some 70-80 Blue Diamond residents flowed easily in and out.

At least one glass panel doesn’t slide: It’s fitted around a flat boulder that sits half inside the house and half out on the patio. (A slot cut into the outside stone contains a fire element — a stylized fireplace.) A literal enactment of the inside-outside idea, it lends the space a bit of spectacle and required structural reinforcement and nifty work with the glass. “We built the house around the boulder,” Scott Lee says.

Smaller touches add to the ambiance. In the entry, a shelf of polished, gnarled mesquite immediately reminds you of the desert you just stepped out of, and as you stroll the passage to a rear patio, a slot suddenly opens between two portions of the home, neatly framing the most dramatic rise of Red Rock. Parts of the exterior are clad in corrugated steel, already rusting into an organic color that anchors the house to the landscape, the faint lines of the corrugation picking up the striations on nearby bluffs.

The net effect is of a light-filled sanctuary rich in pleasant interplay between inside and out — perfect for a couple of avid outdoorspeople at home in the desert.


Schneider Residence, Blue DiamondHoogland ArchitectureA few yards from the Lees’ house, Rich Schneider’s Hoogland home takes a different approach to the indoor/outdoor aesthetic, one more subdued and even, you might say, conceptual. Case in point: the shower in the master bathroom. The floor in front of it is a rectangle of smooth embedded stones, their natural colors markedly in contrast to the rest of the floor. A stylized reference to the outside, yes, but look more closely: In their placement and flow, it’s almost as if the stones spilled in from the arroyo you can see through the top-to-bottom window a few feet away. Subtle, compelling. Nearby, the tub sits in an oval of smooth rocks, another allusion to nature.

Then there are the views. The heart of the Schneider house is a two-story box — living room on bottom, bedroom suite on top — with a towering glass wall facing southwest. Where the Lee house throws itself open to the whole glorious panorama, Schneider’s house shrewdly edits its views, maximizing the impact of each. The living room and the master bedroom are oriented toward just the nearest ridgeline; in the cooler months, it showcases the setting sun (which will shift more westerly in summer, away from the glass). Another rise to the east hosts the rising sun for anyone in the guest bedroom. Red Rock is visible through a side window in the master bedroom and from a second-floor deck on which Schneider can practice his hobby, astronomy. Indeed, that hobby cued Hoogland’s design: The house is essentially a cluster of three boxes, each of which focuses — telescopes, let’s say — your attention onto a different view. And talk about bringing the outside — the waaaaay outside — in: the two-story wall inside the front door is wallpapered with an image of the surface of Mars. Like we said, conceptual. Outside, gabion walls soften what would otherwise be a hard boundary between the natural and the built.

Some of the house’s character is dictated by its site. It sits on the one-third of Schneider’s property that is pretty much the only buildable ground he had; the rest is arroyo. Funny story about that parcel: Having scouted Blue Diamond real estate, he was excited when he saw the property listed for sale online. After Googling it carefully, he thought he knew exactly which plot it was — a perfect building site. Away on an extended business trip, he was forced to handle the transaction by internet. You can see where this is going: The site he wound up owning wasn’t the one he thought he was buying. (That explains the great price.)

It took some heroic engineering — giant footings and a large sweep of rocks at the home’s base to repel desert flooding — but the house got built and Schneider, an avid bicyclist who loves the rural area, couldn’t be happier: “CJ took a negative and turned it into the best decision of my life.”

(Editor's note: Scott Dickensheets no longer works for Nevada Public Radio)