Paradise Valley, AriZona

Relaxed European Style in a stunning desert landscape

Daron and Ron Barness had no intention of moving, let alone leaving Scottsdale — until the day Daron happened to drive past a charming new French-Italian villa in Paradise Valley. “When you stumble across something so beautiful . . . well, we just decided to make it work.”

Though the location ultimately proved disappointing, she and Ron got in on the ground floor of a similar house nearby. “Since the house was still in the framing stage, we had more choices right from the start. Once we got our fingers on all the decisions, it really became ours.”

Yet there were so many decisions to make: flooring, tile, countertops, paint colors, furnishings . . . ! Overwhelmed by the enormity of the project, Daron and Ron enlisted the services of designer David Michael Miller. “I didn’t want to make any mistakes and find myself wanting to change this or that a year later.”

With its soaring ceilings and grand columns, the living room is grounded by carefully chosen floor coverings that complement the room’s neutral tones.


From the outset, Daron strove to establish just the right balance in working with her designer. “I didn’t say, ‘David, do our house.’ I wanted to be in on the process. I felt very much at ease with him. I could be totally honest and say ‘Yuk!’ if I didn’t like something. He guided me, but we worked hand in hand.”

Which is not to underestimate Miller’s role in making the home what it is today. “David was such a huge part of this whole thing. He was crucial throughout.”

“We go to a fine hotel and find we don't want to be there. It really does feel like paradise here.”

Here’s what Ron and Daron knew for sure: they wanted their home to exude a warm, friendly feeling. The house itself was intentionally aged to resemble a centuries-old villa in rural France or Italy. Exterior columns were sandblasted, canterra-stone fireplaces tinted, and doors stained and distressed. Taking his cue from this architectural style and mindful of Ron and Daron’s preferences, David recommended floors of white oak and rustic Mexican sandstone, countertops of honed granite and polished marble, interior doors and trim milled from tight-knot alder — and lots of texture.

“We furnished the house in keeping with the Old-World architecture,” Daron explains. Only a few pieces of furniture made the move, mostly for sentimental reasons, including one not-to-be-left-behind pine table the kids sat under when they were small. Most of their furnishings, however, didn’t fit into the new scheme of things owing to their incompatible style or too-small scale.

“David and I talked a lot about shape and size. He had looked at our other house to see what would work. He’d measure and plot it out, then do all the space planning on his computer. Since we were dealing with higher ceilings and larger spaces, most of our other furniture just wasn’t the proper size.”

The two of them soon got “a color thing going,” choosing a mid-tone color for the walls that Daron and Ron would never tire of, a color that would allow them to “change the soft finishings over the years but keep the background the same.” Accents ran to rust, light mustard, and sage green.

Together, Daron and Miller visited quarries to select stone and took buying trips to Los Angeles and San Francisco in search of furniture. “We’d go into sales rooms and sit on something, and he’d say, ‘How does that feel? Where does it hit your back?’ Ron and I didn’t want anything that wasn’t easy to live with. And we wanted to sit as comfortably in the living room as any other room in the house.”

Daron and Miller also scoured the design centers for fabrics to be used in draperies, bed covers, upholstered sofas and chairs. “We came home with a ton of fabrics,” Daron recalls. “David’s job was to package them in envelopes. He had it in his head which fabrics went in which rooms. My job was to say, ‘I like this one and this one and this one.’ I spread them all out on the floor and played with them . . . this might be good for the couch . . . then packaged them by rooms. Some fabrics my husband and I didn’t use at all. Others we might prefer to sit on instead of putting them at a window.

“I loved working with the fabrics. I’d done draperies and bedding before but had never done a giant project like this. It would have been terribly overwhelming without a designer. He kept me on track, kept me moving from room to room.”

The collaboration worked beautifully. “I loved being involved in the project!” says Daron. And as each truckload of furniture arrived on moving day, she says it was like opening presents. “Everything turned out just as we expected. On his proposals, David would attach fabric samples to each photograph or drawing, so there weren’t really any surprises. At first I wondered if we’d feel like we were living in a hotel, but it didn’t feel that way all. It all seemed so warm and comfortable. ”


Making their outdoor surroundings equally inviting was a priority for Ron and Daron. The two-acre property provided ample opportunity to create numerous intimate spaces where they could sit and relax, as well as more spacious recreational areas.

The desertscape outside the front gate gives way to a shaded circular drive, which in turn gives way to even more trees and grass. “We wanted a park-like feel out back,” Daron explains. “We put the pool to the back of the yard rather than in the center, as the builder planned to do, so we could make the most of the cool, shady lawn.”

It’s here on the lawn that Ron and Daron set up tables with market umbrellas when the family gathers during the hot summer months. Otherwise, the lawn is reserved for tag football, and tables stay in their customary place beneath covered patios.

The fireplace in the poolside ramada, a beamed pergola-like structure, generates just the right amount of warmth when the weather turns cool.

A pitcher’s mound and backstop of major-league proportions sees plenty of action. It’s the ideal spot for Zach and his friends to practice pitching and catching, and Ron gets out there when he can.

Ron played ball at UCLA, but an injury sidelined his professional aspirations. He still maintains a close association with major-league ball, however, as part-owner of the Diamondbacks.

“Wherever we are, it's so peaceful to sit listening to the water in the fountains and the wind chimes in the trees.”

Outdoor relaxation is as important to Ron and Daron as outdoor recreation. “We have two courtyards with tiled wall fountains, one on the east side of the house off the dining room, the other on the west side off the master bath. And in the front of the house, there’s another low-wall courtyard with a fireplace.”

Having so many sitting areas to choose among presents a rather delicious dilemma. “We never know where it’s more lovely to sit,” says Daron. “It mostly depends on whether we want shade or sun.

“Wherever we are, it’s so peaceful to sit listening to the water in the fountains and the wind chimes in the trees.”

Autographed baseball memorabilia, a portrait of Mickey Mantle painted by Leroy Nieman, and a life-size photograph of Sandy Koufax attest to Ron’s love of the game.


Ron and Daron are content here. The two entertain frequently, hosting fundraising events as well as more casual gatherings for friends and family.

They rarely stand on formality, so when the guest list grows too large for the dining room table, they simply “drag in chairs from the living room or put up a table in the foyer.”

As parents, they place a premium on family togetherness, hence the rule of no TVs in the kids’ bedrooms. Instead, everyone gathers to watch television in the family room or movies in the theater, where L-shaped, soft-fabric sofas create plenty of room to spread out or cuddle up.

Daron loves cooking and baking, and she finds her kitchen the perfect place to indulge her passion. What features and amenities does she like best? Definitely her Viking appliances and SubZero refrigerator and freezer.

The island makes an ideal buffet set-up for hors d’oeuvres and desserts. And then there’s the vegetable sink, swiveling pot filler, the two refrigerator drawers located in the island just behind the range (“I keep eggs and stuff I use a lot there so I don’t have to walk around the island to the fridge”), and the warming drawer (“If one of the kids is running late, I just put their dinner in there.”)

And, of course, the skylight: “I love watching the clouds rolling by,” she notes, adding that David helped design the pot rack suspended from it.

Still to come are more accessories, artifacts, and artwork. “We need another layer in the house,” says Daron. “We’re starting a small collection of impressionist paintings.

“And when Ron and I next travel, where David will join us for a couple of days to help look for large-scale things like giant pots that we can’t find here, at least not yet. We need something for the dining room table, for instance, when we’re not using fresh flowers.”

But there’s no rush, she says. “I can wait. Maybe we’ll find something when we travel. We have a statuette that reminds us of our trip to Israel every time we look at it.”

And yet Daron readily admits that their interest in travel has diminished. “We go to a fine hotel and find we don’t want to be there. We want to be home. We feel so blessed and fortunate.” She pauses, adding, “It really does feel like paradise here.”

Home Highlights

COMPLETED: March 2003, a year after they purchased the house

STYLE: Aged Italian with a hint of rural France (“We call it Fratalian”)

EXTERIOR: Field stone, red-tile roof, sandblasted canterra-stone columns, and stucco with troweled-on coating that breathes with the seasons to minimize settling and cracking

LIVING SPACE: 8,000 square feet including “casita” with living room, kitchen, bedroom, and bath

PROPERTY: Two acres in the Arizona desert near Scottsdale

HIGHLIGHT: Pitcher’s mound and backstop of major-league proportions

AT-HOME PASTIMES: Relaxing in the backyard or one of three courtyards; hosting get-togethers for family, friends, and charitable organizations

HOUSEBUILDING TIP: “It’s better if the two spouses are equally involved so you can support each other throughout. We’d also recommend being at the building site every day so you can catch things as they happen.”