If ever a house blended past, present and future, it is the Tempe home of Diann Peart and Denis Leclerc.
Built in the historic Mitchell Park neighborhood, the cozy home and lot retain the feeling of 1940s Tempe, and the owners have carefully preserved links to the past — notably a huge mulberry tree but also a small original window frame upcycled into a unique mirror and remnants of a ham radio operation.
The couple has also transformed the property with an eye toward the future. Sustainability is the common thread woven throughout, from a simple clothesline to an ambitious composting effort.
They have created an “urban farm” that provides staples like eggs and nurtured an ecosystem that includes all manner of trees and plants as well as butterflies and bees.
Meanwhile, the headquarters for their forward-looking company, Truce, which makes toxin-free and eco-friendly cleaning products, is located in the guest house.
“This is our sanctuary,” Peart said of the home and its lush surroundings. “This is a space required to be calm and centered.”
The Mitchell Park neighborhood, near University Drive and Roosevelt Street, was built just after World War II. The residential development featured family homes on larger lots, and welcomed veterans and others moving to Arizona.
Peart and Leclerc’s home dates to 1946. It sits on a third-acre lot and was originally 900 square feet. The couple bought it in 1995 and have since remodeled to nearly double the size of the house, opened up small spaces, improved energy efficiency, and incorporated feng shui principles.
The most striking feature isn’t a particular room or architectural element, but rather the gallery-like feeling throughout the house.
Over the decades, Peart and Leclerc have grown an eclectic collection of art, antiques and artifacts, everything from vintage posters and custom pieces to garage sale finds and first-gen computers. The house is filled with artfully arranged vignettes of pictures, books, figurines, and more atop colorful pieces of furniture or along shelves.
The walls themselves are canvases, with a hand-painted heart in a corner or thunderbird over a doorway or fish on a bathroom wall. Glass-front doors are turned into murals. A doorway transition gets an upgrade with handmade tiles from Mexico.
“If it’s something we love, we find a place for it,” Peart said.
Over the years, the couple has also given the large lot a makeover by expanding gardens and adding art features, walkways and more.
An original mulberry tree towers over the property, its trunk thick and cracked with age. The couple put in a sprawling deck around the tree, which is now wrapped in Christmas lights and flanked by inviting seating areas.
If the historic tree is the star of the property, a collection of modern day art installations are scene stealers. Leclerc, an avid bicyclist, created two eye-catching light fixtures from salvaged bike wheels and hung them over the deck. He embellished two gates with colorful old bike parts as well.
The property also features one of artist Andrew Carson’s colorful kinetic sculptures.
The rear of the large lot is more workhorse than show horse. It accommodates the couple’s “urban farm,” which includes a chicken coop, a variety of trees such as fig and apricot, and a large composting area.
“This is the working part of the property,” Peart said. “If it can be broken down or can be eaten by the chickens, it goes here.”
A two-bedroom guest house rounds out the property and is dubbed “The Peppermint Palace.” Thanks to Truce products, visitors are greeted with the sweet smell of peppermint as soon as they walk in the door.
Peart, Truce’s co-founder, is the company’s principal and visionary. Leclerc, a professor of cross-cultural communication at Thunderbird Global School of Management, serves as Truce’s chief executive officer.
Locating the headquarters on site is convenient — “My commute became 500 feet down the sidewalk,” Peart said — but also a natural fit. The couple takes pride in the fact that chemicals have never been applied to the property’s garden, nor have harsh chemicals been used to clean the house.
The couple’s property is also a natural fit for the neighborhood today, reimagined as the Wilson Art and Garden District.
The district is dotted with works of art that bring whimsy to unexpected spots, such as roundabouts and irrigation standpipes. Among the standouts is a metal, glass and stone sculpture by artist Carson that Leclerc helped secure with grant funding from the city.
The area also features a thriving community garden, nudged along by Peart, an ecologist and permaculture devotee. Much of the food produced there supports a local food bank, but it’s not unusual to find a handful of radishes or a couple of zucchini on your doorstep, Peart said.
The art and garden district adds yet another chapter to the area’s long history. And while the area has changed over the decades — new neighbors, new remodels, new priorities — it has also held onto part of its original identity, Peart said.
“It’s kind of frozen in time,” she said. “It’s ‘the neighborhood.’ Everyone calls it ‘the neighborhood.’ ”