Desert Contemporary: Lomas Verdes Estates aims for a modernist cul-de-sac

Desert Contemporary: Lomas Verdes Estates aims for a modernist cul-de-sac

By Jimmy Magahern

Jason Kush and his family have a nice house in the Tatum Enclave community in Cave Creek, but Kush is not especially fond of the predominant architectural style of the homes in his area, which he calls the “land of Tuscan homes.”

All those terracotta roof tiles, wrought iron gates and faux travertine sidings have been overdone in North Scottsdale, says the homebuilder, who grew up in the Arcadia district and prefers the midcentury modern style of the homes in that area and their contemporary offspring. But Kush says that style wouldn’t work in the desert foothills of the McDowell Mountains, where he was planning to build a new subdivision.

“I couldn’t take a contemporary home that you would see in Arcadia or Biltmore, where you see most of the contemporary architecture in this town, and just put it up here in the desert,” he says. “It would look ridiculous! It just doesn’t go with the environment.”

So, Kush — a third-generation homebuilder whose grandfather was a cousin of ASU coaching legend Frank Kush and whose father, Larry Kush, remains a leader in the local construction industry — decided to go for a contemporary look that was “very natural and organic, so that it looked like it belonged in the desert.”

Taking inspiration from the contemporary architecture coming out of South America, and particularly Chile and Argentina, where native wood and stone is combined with sleek steel framing to create modern dwellings that blend harmoniously with the landscape, Kush set out to find some architects in Phoenix who could create a similarly environmentally engaged enclave in North Scottsdale.

He settled on Cavin and Claire Costello of The Ranch Mine, a husband-and-wife team named HGTV’s Designers of the Year in 2019 and heralded as “the future of architecture” by the American Institute of Architects in 2015.

Kush says the Costellos understood his vision, and the Ranch Mine’s artists set about creating renderings of the six homes on East Lomas Verdes Drive and 64th Street that J.P. Kush Construction christened Lomas Verdes Estates — despite the dusty desert plot’s noticeable lack of “green hills” that the Spanish name translates to. “When the McDowells get a lot of rain, they do turn green!” Kush insists, with a laugh.

Those renderings alone managed to sell five of the six $2 million-plus properties, which are still in various stages of construction just north of Jomax Road.

“These have all been purchased off of pictures, which is amazing in itself,” Kush says. “And I think that speaks to the originality of the project.”

Oleg Bortman, the Realtor selling the homes through The Brokery in Phoenix, agrees. “When you’re selling out small enclaves of 12 or less homes, it’s actually pretty incredible to be able to sell them without even a model home,” he says. “We’ve been selling them on just plans, dirt, and belief in the builder’s vision.”

Originally priced from $1.7 million, sales began in the fall of 2020, when most meetings were still being done remotely. Instead of offering discounts, Bortman says buyer interest has been so great that most have ended up selling for between $2.2 to 2.4 million.

“We’ve actually increased the price after every few homes that have gone up and we were still selling through on them,” he says. “That’s pretty remarkable.”

Walking through the one 4,006-square-foot home that’s closest to completion, it’s easy to see the appeal of the designs. The entry leads into a spacious great room with a high ceiling and giant 10-by-20-foot opening pocket doors that “completely close in and blur the lines between the outside and the inside,” in Kush’s words. “I wanted houses that had open courtyards that you could open up and have little retreat areas that you could go get away by yourself in and enjoy nature, or come back into the fold.”

The centerpiece room, with its huge glass doors facing east and west, mirror the traditions of the Indigenous Mapuche tribes of south-central Chile, who prize opening their doors to the rising sun (in this design, the Arizona sunsets also get an equal showcase).

But Kush insists that, despite all that glass, the homes won’t be as costly as a shopping mall to air condition in Valley summers.

“Every house design is already Energy Star certified,” he says. “Additionally, the city of Scottsdale has a green designation that takes that to even a higher level. They actually have two levels of green designations. The higher level that we do not only increases energy efficiency, but we also pre-wire so that if you wanna add solar power, you can, and we build with light reflecting value and energy efficient insulation, things of that nature.

“That house you saw is set north-south,” he continues. “But I’ve spent a lot of time in that main living area, and it’s very interesting that in the morning, you get a little bit of sun in that main living area and then the afternoon you get a little bit of sun, but the overhangs over the patios shield a lot of the heat. They’re designed to block that out. Then you’ve got the dual pane windows, too, which help keep some of that out.”

The homes are classified as semi-custom, meaning buyers have different sets of options to choose from, including the landscaping. “I wanted them to be able to pick what they want as far as their landscaping goes,” Kush says. “Like if you have some tree that you love that uses a little bit more water than that designation allows, I think you should be able to have that if you want.”

One thing the homes won’t have is high cinderblock walls. “They were designed so that you don’t necessarily fence in your whole backyard like you would a tract home,” Kush says. “About a third of the eight-plus acres of the property is what’s called NIOS, which stands for natural area open space. So it’s literally natural desert that you, as a homeowner, pay taxes on, but you can’t touch it. You can’t fence it in. You can’t go add plants to it or landscape it. It has to remain natural and open, so it automatically creates a nice natural barrier between you and your neighbor.

“It creates a natural sense of community with a modern vibe and a minimalistic flare between houses so the neighbors can interact with one another,” he adds. “It’s really going to be unique.”

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