By | September 01st, 2016
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Who says you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

Take Patti Dennis’ home.

Twenty years ago, she was driving along a dirt road toward a patch of desert in a county island, just east of Mesa, searching for a new place to call home. With each unpaved bump, doubt crept in.

“I’m driving up and I’m like ‘Nope, nope, nope’,” she recalled with a laugh. “Then, we came up over the rise and I was like, ‘Well maybe’.”

That “maybe” turned to “yes” as the property’s potential came into full view. Five breathtaking acres. Sweeping views of two mountain ranges. Recreation just beyond the property line at Usery Mountain Regional Park.

Today, the spacious home, gardens and surrounding cactus-studded environs make for a perfect desert retreat.

“In a county island, there is a little different feel,” she said.

It’s easy to understand that sentiment heading toward Dennis’ neighborhood, with the busyness of area retail, restaurants and the large Las Sendas development well in the rearview mirror.

Her neighborhood includes a handful of homes with plenty of acreage, privacy and quiet. The Usery and Superstition mountain ranges rule the view.

Desert stretches as far as the eye can see. Bobcats explore, snakes make themselves at home, quails strut around, squirrels race by.  Though rarer, deer and mountain lions have been known to make appearances as well.

Dramatic design

Dennis’ home is set back from the street, hidden by thick desert landscaping. Before building, she looked at model home after model home for ideas and inspiration. She had a few must-haves, including a high-pitched roof and a design that would maximize the view.

The result? A spacious 4,700-square-foot home with 14-foot ceilings and large windows that perfectly frame different views of the property. Dennis upped the “wow” factor with stunning Carrara marble flooring throughout the house.

The home’s kitchen, living and dining areas all open to views of the mountains and surrounding desert in the rear of the property. The office, bathed in sunlight thanks to tall windows topped with stained glass, offers views of desert plantings in the front of the property.

Even the bathrooms bring the outside in, with leafy wallpaper covering the master bathroom or a hand-painted hummingbird flitting across a guest bathroom wall.

Not surprisingly, the home is ideal for entertaining. Dennis has hosted as many as 75 people and celebrated memorable occasions such as her brother’s wedding or parents’ 60th anniversary.  But the home’s intimate spaces, like a patio table with a convertible fire pit, are also perfect for casual get-togethers.

The house’s unexpected surprise is a dance studio, complete with a ballet barre and oversized mirror on the wall.

Dennis, a triathlete and avid hiker, took up ballroom dancing about three years ago and decided to convert a home gym into a studio. Now a pro-am dancer, she competes throughout the year and supplements her regular lessons in Tempe with daily practice in the home studio.

Dennis’ other passion — travel — is on display throughout the home. Rugs from China and Turkey. A wooden elephant head from Thailand. A brilliant tapestry Africa. An etched glass piece from China.

A self-described “sucker for ceramics,” Dennis also has an eclectic mix of plates, bowls, tiles and other pieces on display.

The philosophy driving her decorating decisions: Surround yourself with pieces that have meaning rather than pieces straight off a store shelf.

Away from it all

Dennis’ property backs right up to Usery Park. The mountain range and the park’s collection of cactus, creosote bushes, native grasses, wildflowers and more are on full display.

Dennis' property is dotted with cactus and desert plantings, from a mighty saguaro to a giant 20-year-old agave to eye-catching golden barrel cacti. Plants like the baja fairy duster, with its distinctive red flowers, add pops of color.

Defying the odds in this desert setting is a tropical garden with plants like plumeria and bird of paradise as well as a thriving koi pond located in a shady spot in the rear of the property.

“It’s just more relaxing, and it’s cooler,” Dennis said.

The five-acre site is like that. Surprises at every turn.

Consider the “snake cactus” in front of the home. It has wrapped itself around the branches of a tree with no sign of letting go.  Stubborn, at least that’s the first impression. But then it blooms beautiful white-petaled flowers — its chance at a second impression.

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