Living Room of Ball-Paylore House

photo by: GMVargas/Jude Ignacio and Gerardine Vargas

Preservation Magazine, Spring 2020

Saving a Stylish, Sustainable Midcentury Modern House in Tucson, Arizona

The Ball-Paylore House in Tucson, Arizona, packs a host of current design trends into its 1,200 square feet. The mod furniture and sorbet hues, the strong focus on sustainability, and the emphasis on small-space living seem right in line with contemporary culture. But there’s a twist: This hipster paradise, rentable on Airbnb and VRBO, was built almost 70 years ago.

Restored late last year by the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation, the 1952 house is one of the city’s architectural gems. Locally prominent architect Arthur T. Brown designed it for Phyllis Ball and Patricia Paylore, who both worked at the University of Arizona. When the foundation learned in mid-2019 that the building would soon be on the market, its leaders garnered a donation that would allow them to buy the house, keeping it in safe hands. “Because of its size and the low ceilings in some rooms, we were concerned that the house would be purchased and torn down,” says Demion Clinco, executive director.

Exterior, Ball-Paylore House

photo by: GMVargas/Jude Ignacio and Gerardine Vargas

The Ball-Paylore House's awnings can be moved to follow the sun's arc. Photo at top: A brick fireplace provides extra warmth in the winter.

The foundation then embarked on a restoration, keeping costs down by managing the project in-house. It returned the interior and exterior walls to their original colors; replaced the HVAC, gas and electric lines, and plumbing; and repaired the movable exterior shading system, a key component of Brown’s energy-efficient, passive solar heating strategy. The house’s floorplan, window placement, and roofline are carefully engineered to let sunlight in during the winter and hold its warmth in the concrete floors. During the summer, when the sun’s position is higher and its light travels at a different angle, the same design—aided by the movable shades—blocks rays from entering the house and heating it up.

In addition to offering the Ball-Paylore House as a vacation rental, the foundation also plans to welcome architecture students—a use educators Ball and Paylore would no doubt have liked. “The house had a tremendous impact on these two women,” says Clinco. “The idea of [passive] solar and living in this house changed the arc of their lives.”

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Headshot Meghan Drueding

Meghan Drueding is the executive editor of Preservation magazine. She has a weakness for Midcentury Modernism, walkable cities, and coffee-table books about architecture and design.

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