A Playful Midcentury Modern Arizona Home With Kid-Friendly Features

Designer Karen Nepacena of Destination Eichler helped a growing family in Arizona realize their creative vision.

October 06, 2020

Photo By: Christopher Dibble

Photo By: Christopher Dibble

Photo By: Christopher Dibble

Photo By: Christopher Dibble

Photo By: Christopher Dibble

Photo By: Christopher Dibble

Photo By: Christopher Dibble

Photo By: Christopher Dibble

Photo By: Christopher Dibble

Photo By: Christopher Dibble

Photo By: Christopher Dibble

Photo By: Christopher Dibble

Photo By: Christopher Dibble

Photo By: Christopher Dibble

Photo By: Christopher Dibble

Photo By: Christopher Dibble

Photo By: Christopher Dibble

Photo By: Christopher Dibble

Photo By: Christopher Dibble

Photo By: Christopher Dibble

Photo By: Christopher Dibble

Photo By: Christopher Dibble

Photo By: Christopher Dibble

Updating a Classic

California-based designer Karen Nepacena of Destination Eichler specializes in midcentury modern homes, so when a previous client relocated to a 1940s house in Phoenix, Arizona, they immediately asked her to help tackle a complete home renovation. "We had a great time collaborating on their first home, so being able to embark on a full project from start to finish was very exciting for me," Karen says.

This overhaul expanded the home's footprint from 1,360 square feet to almost 2,500, and added playful and kid-friendly elements for the client's growing family. However, since the home is located in a historic district, the owners faced the challenge of preserving the façade while creating more space. Working with an architect and structural engineers, the final plan maintained the original home's appearance, and instead added behind and below the home. Among the new additions? Nothing less than a dog-washing station and a children's playroom with an underwater view of the swimming pool.

Midcentury Fun

Inside the home, Karen unleashed a playful and relaxed vibe by mixing colors, patterns and vintage finds. (Fun fact: Karen shares the owners' love of vintage, and even joined them on a vintage shopping expedition in Phoenix and Scottsdale on her first trip to discuss their renovation.)

The entrance immediately sets the tone, where a yellow door counters the white walls. Karen chose an Eames Hang-It-All coat rack for its color and functionality.

No Wasted Space

The kitchen presented another design challenge: "The galley kitchen layout was limited in square footage, so we had to make sure we maximized every inch of space," Karen says. Instead of the more common central island, she opted for a multifunctional peninsula layout in order to optimize seating, work space and storage. "The floating style of the upper cabinet helps keep the space feeling airy and not closed in," Karen adds. Another must? Easy access to cookbooks and kids’ books, hence the peninsula's clever bookshelf addition.

New Directions

"I helped to design the homeowners' last kitchen in their former California home," Karen says, explaining how they wanted to go in a different direction with the new house. "That design had a more neutral palette, so for this home it was a goal to integrate color in a unique way," she says. And instead of limiting the fun to the kitchen, Karen used its color palette as inspiration, subtly repeating the colors throughout the home to provide continuity.

Baker's Dream

"An avid baker and home cook, the baking station in the kitchen was a must-have for one of the homeowners," Karen says. She points out the mix of open and closed storage, the easily accessible baking ingredients and the colorful elements.

What's Old Is New

Karen went with vintage-inspired features for this area, such as the Dishmaster faucet. "Keeping architectural details such as the steel windows was also key to embracing the home’s style, while bringing in new materials that blend with the old," says Karen.

Kitchen Workhorse

"The workhorse of the kitchen design is the large BlueStar range," Karen says, noting how much the family loves the built-in skillet feature. "[It's] perfect for serving up piles of pancakes."

Happy Hour

This unconventional bar area offers an array of talking points. Karen relays how the owners found the vintage bar sink on Craigslist and installed it themselves in a vintage dresser. Karen elevated the bar area by opting for graphic wallpaper instead of tile, and adding glass shelving to maintain an open feel. She explains that the wallpaper helps to create a focal point while complementing the exposed brick wall.

Preservation Goals

"Often when building an addition to a home, original walls are removed to expand the square footage," Karen shares. But not in this case, since the overall goal involved highlighting the home's original architecture. The window is another original feature.

The More the Merrier

Before the renovation, this part of the house was highly compartmentalized, and not at all conducive for hosting the big family dinners that the owners wanted, Karen explains. As a result, the dining room is now more open, yet outfitted with midcentury-appropriate furniture.

As for the background decor, Karen suggests mixing found objects, framed artwork and favorite collectibles. "When you are tired of the space, you can mix and match from other collections in the home," she advises.

Joie de Vivre

A similar philosophy applies to general decor: "The key to a vibrant space is to mix materials, textures, pattern and color," Karen notes about the family room. "The homeowners are avid art collectors and enjoy finding unique pieces through local dealers and online markets."

Good Vibes

Speaking of vibrant, the same yellow and blue accents from the kitchen and other parts of the home reappear in the main bedroom.


The home addition included a new ensuite bathroom complete with a soaking tub and steam shower. "It was important to the clients to have the main bathroom be a place for relaxation," Karen says — an easily relatable goal. She also notes the owners' vintage artwork and a Nelson cigar lamp fixture.

Stress Buster

Though it looks like concrete, Karen explains that the steam shower is actually extra-large format porcelain tile. "The extra-large glass partition allows the shower to be filled with light," she adds.

Angled Approach

"The door connecting the main bedroom and main bathroom mimics the angled roofline on the new addition," says Karen, sharing that the custom white oak vanity, storage and millwork were all designed by local furniture artist Paul Rene. Meanwhile, Karen chose a zellige terracotta tile backsplash and polished concrete floor to lend an organic feel.

Lay of the Land

Besides relaxation, the owners also wanted to capture the Arizona landscape — which this cactus represents.

Vintage Advantage

Although new materials were chosen for the kids' bathroom, the look is all vintage. "It was common to tile bathrooms from floor to ceiling in earlier eras, which was the inspiration for this design," Karen explains. She adds that the pink tile is also easy to clean.

Tiny but Mighty

"While powder rooms are often small in size, they usually act as the primary bathroom for guests, which is why I love using bold design elements such as patterned wallpaper to make a statement," says Karen. She even managed to squeeze in a corner sink as a smart space saver.

Downward Spiral

This fun spiral staircase was powder coated in bold blue and leads to the new basement playroom.

Room With a View

Welcome to the playroom of kids' dreams, where the highlight isn't the swing or slide, but the underground window looking into the swimming pool. Karen points out how the tall ceilings create an almost loft-like feel — yet another unusual basement feature.

It's a Dog's Life

"The family has three cats and three dogs, and their request for a dog-washing station was a first for us to design," Karen relates. To pull it off, she worked closely with the owners on the details, such as perfecting the ideal height for washing their dogs. She also made sure the dogs could easily step up into the shower, while ensuring the owners could easily reach the sprayer.

Creative Boundaries

"A new swimming pool is surrounded by a custom concrete block fence that the owners designed," Karen shares, adding how they used locally made concrete blocks from Our Block. ​Bright accent colors continue outside too, like this red gate.

Though it's not shown here, the backyard includes a vintage drinking fountain that the owners and Karen found during a local shopping spree.

Make It Work

Color, underground pool windows and a dog-washing station aren't the only ways Karen added fun to this home. Here, this white wall (part of the main bedroom addition) doubles as a screen for outdoor pool movie nights.

"The homeowners joke that they call me their design marriage counselor," Karen says about this renovation. "When one of them would come up with a crazy idea, I would either tell them why it wouldn’t work or help them to make it work!"

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