A pair of Salt Lake City empty nesters wanting to flee cold and snowy winters found their escape just down the road—300 miles down, to be exact. Kayenta presented the perfect place to build their getaway home in the heart of southern Utah. As the man-of-the-house explains “It’s a small town, it’s close to Las Vegas, and of course, there is the breathtaking landscape.”
All photography by Mykal Bush
The community of Kayenta in nearby Ivins turned out to be their sweet spot; more precisely, a one-acre desert property surrounded by stunning scenery. “The magical cliffs, the soaring red rocks and mountains in the distance offer 360-degree beauty,” the owner explains. Matt Marten agrees. “There’s no place like it,” says the principal designer of Gulch Design Group. He and his father Terry Marten—who developed Kayenta—are the visionaries behind and ardent advocates of the community’s allure. Homes live lightly on the land with low profiles, preserved open desert landscapes and architecture that melds into the terrain, allowing its natural beauty to prevail. “It feels remote and we love the modern desert architecture that is so at home here,” says the husband, who, along with his wife, enlisted Marten to create the home’s architecture, Gregg Hodson to design the interiors and Paul Zabriskie to build the dwelling.
To link the house to its setting, Marten designed the site-specific structure to partially sit below the lot’s natural grade, allowing for elevated interior ceilings while complying with 13-foot exterior height restrictions to prevent structures from impeding on the landscape. Interior ceiling heights transition from 8 to 12 feet, creating a choreographed sense of compression and expansion as one moves through the house. Varied ceiling heights also assist in delineating the interior’s open living spaces. Strategically placed windows—many of which reach floor-to-ceiling—also help define living areas while framing views at every turn. “There are Hell’s Canyon red cliffs to the north and sloping greenery to the south and southwest,” Marten explains. “It’s like yin and yang.” Zabriskie agrees. “I don’t know where else you see this type of home,” he says. “It’s like living in a national park.”
The clean-lined, view-framing architecture not only connects the home to the land, but also sets the stage for the contemporary and modern furnishings its owners prize. “I love mid-century modern furniture and original pieces from designers who shaped modern furniture of the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s,” the husband says. Hodson also has a thing for mid-century furnishings and enthusiastically placed them in the house. “A modern desert home is ideal for these pieces. They play well with strong architecture, clean lines and the natural forms of the landscape,” he explains. To that end, Charles Eames walnut Shell stools line the kitchen island, grouped Nelson Bubble pendants hang above a round Eames dining table, a Saarinen Tulip side table serves the office and a Noguchi coffee table anchors the main sitting area. The name-dropping list is long. Many of these furnishings—as well as a number of the interior’s more contemporary pieces—are curved and rounded. “It’s a great way to soften the architecture’s strong lines and sharp corners, as long as you don’t overdo it,” Hodson explains.
To create a stage for the home’s A-list furnishings, edited accents and curated shots of color, the team crafted a backdrop of natural materials, neutral tones and warm woods. Naturally finished concrete floors ground the rooms, while walls painted light beige amplify the interior’s light without appearing stark. “Because the wall color is warmer than white, it connects better to the landscape’s earthy hues,” Hodson says. Custom wood cabinetry, doors and millwork—masterfully crafted by Riverwoods Mill—deliver warm tones, organic woodgrains and strong contrast against light walls. The tile-clad fireplace and kitchen backsplash provide more contrast while large textured rugs, rich fabrics, lively accent colors and subdued woven wall coverings foster a sense of warmth and comfort.
“There is a luxury here, but it is understated,” says Hodson. “The look is simple but not cold, casual but not sloppy.” Of course, luxury takes many forms. For the homeowners, their home’s luxe factor extends beyond its interior to the dazzling desert setting that inspired them to build in Kayenta from the start. “We love this place,” the husband says. “We can’t pass by a window without being awestruck by the variety and beauty of the views.” Inside and out, they have found their place in the sun.
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