Alison King and I first became acquainted when she was looking for some vintage St. Charles kitchen cabinets. Being a humble, patient and deserving retro renovator, Alison had her request answered almost immediately by the retro design gods, who awarded her with a set via our Forum (now defunct).
Not only is Alison an avid home renovator, she also is the force behind modernphoenix.net. This site is one of the best around to document a city-region’s midcentury domestic architecture. And, it also is at the epicenter of the region’s growing mid mod community. Fascinated, I asked Alison, who calls herself PixelPixie and a “design dork”, to tell us all about herself and what’s going on down in Phoenix. And of course – she sends us lots of photos of the house that she and husband Matthew are working on.
Alison, you look quite young in that photo on the About page. How did one so young get so into midcentury modern…your house…the website…the community?
I was born and raised in Scottsdale, Arizona, which is a mecca of midcentury modern architecture; it was my native architecture so I was taking it for granted for 17 years. I just didn’t realize how rich my city was until I went to art school in NYC and really learned what Modernism with a capital M was. The Museum of Modern Art was a required field trip at least once a semester and I think I saw every major exhibition there for five years straight! When I came back to Phoenix, I had the formal vocabulary to wrap my mind around it, instead of just my heart.
I have always been a disciple of Andy Warhol and still consider him a role model, mostly for how he thinks, not his products. Mass production of good art and design fascinates me, which explains my fondness for Modern-styled tract housing as a noble pursuit.
When we moved back to Phoenix we thought it was only temporary but we literally fell back in love with the city again and started shopping for a real home, not the placeholder we’d landed on out of convenience. However all the while we were wondering: where are our people?!?!
We stumbled into being website curators quite backwards, as ModernPhoenix.net was truly intended just as a private inventory for myself and my husband as we searched for our ultimate Midcentury Modern home. Being a web girl, it was really natural at the time for me to catalogue the photos hypertextually. Then people started stumbling upon the site and writing me, and the exchange just snowballed from there!
Tell us more about your house. How did you end up there?
Our Haver Home came to us in what can only be described as an act of karma. We had been running the Modern Phoenix website for a few years — essentially window shopping that whole time — and decided to finally place our stucco crackerbox on the market to push us toward finding a suitable MCM home in our price bracket, which was quite a challenge. Ironically, it found us. The week we placed our old home on the market, one of our message board members wrote me a note saying that they had to let go of their 1946 Ralph Haver designed home in Uptown Phoenix. Would we like to come see it? There was much more restoration needed, but we said Hold Everything, we’ll be right over.
It was clear within minutes that this was the perfect place for us— all 882 square feet of it! We had been tinkering with the idea of acquiring a home in a historic district, but at the time most Ralph Haver Homes did not qualify. Being of extraordinary provenance and over 50 years old, this home had it all. The owners happily put the hammer down and pretty much sold the place as-is. They had taken care of all the difficult, dirty work like insulation, wiring, security, and lighting. All we needed to do was dress it in our own style. It has taken three years to get it over the hump to where we can truly call it our own.
At first glance the home may seem rather plain and un-modern with its red brick and white wood accents. But once you understand Haver’s body of work, it comes into focus that it all started here. There are hints of that all over the place, from the slope and construction of the roof, to the wall of glass and the angled porch posts that appear to be the first of their kind in this region. It’s a Proto-Haver, and truly one of a kind.
What projects have you completed since moving in?
With their minor nicks and dings the steel cabinets look like they have been there since 1946! The kicker: reclaiming the St. Charles cost way less than the brand new Ikea would have. We had enough cabinets left over to install them in the laundry / shop as well, we STILL have cabinets left over, and the steel is 100% recyclable when their life cycle is over. Our old cabinets were hauled away or picked apart by savvy gleaners during Bulk Trash week.
We are also halfway through a bathroom renovation. This is a one-bathroom house right now, so no pressure, right?!?! Linda Knight contacted me out of the blue about some new-in-wrapper vintage aluminum tile veneer called Bestile that she had sitting in stacks in her garage. They fit exactly over any Daltile with silicon caulk. I took the whole contemporary look of our bath back 50 years in 90 minutes by covering navy blue tiles with celadon green aluminum. One year later, I highly recommend it for any stopgap renovation. We’ll see how they hold up for the long term! Contact Linda directly for these awesome vintage finds.
You seem at be at the epicenter of the Modern Phoenix community. I would think that, like LA and Las Vegas, Phoenix would be a great place for MCM. Is that true, and is there a good solid appreciation there for the era, or is it still growing?