For more than three decades, Liz and John Denbo spent weekends picnicking on their perfect piece of earth, planning and dreaming.
Nibbling and relaxing on their 5 acres, the Denbos built their home in their minds. They selected the ideal angle for stunning views, capturing city lights, the Rincon Mountains off in the distance and the jagged peaks of the Tucson Mountains that surrounded them.
Liz and John hunted down every open house they could find in search of ideas. "Then we would come back to the property and do our dreaming and planning,'' Liz recalls.
After 30 years of planning, another five of building, and roughly $800,000 not including the cost of the land and their labor, the Denbos are finally home.
"It is our dream home,'' says John, who built the house with help from friends.
The roots of this hillside home with breathtaking views from every window started with a fire that landed the Denbos on the front page of the Arizona Daily Star 40 years ago.
John, a Kentucky boy, fled the cold for Arizona on his 18th birthday. Liz came to Tucson from Iowa to attend beauty school. They married Nov. 22, 1963, the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. They later became parents to daughter Crystal.
On Dec. 12, 1971, the Denbos' Siamese cat woke them from a deep sleep as fire raged through their mobile home on Tucson's south side. Thankfully, all escaped.
With $5,000 in insurance money, the Denbos looked for a piece of land where they could build. One afternoon, they drove to the Tucson Mountains, and were awed by the beauty. They soon discovered 5-acre lots were for sale in this pristine spot, and only one family - the Scordatos - had made a purchase.
With the $5,000 as a down payment towards the $15,000 lot, the Denbos picked their spot. At 3,300 feet, it's higher than the rest of Tucson and the view is truly spectacular.
For 30 years, the Denbos looked at the angles and mapped out rooms.
"We studied every part of the land, setting the scene for the grand entrance, visualizing the view of the city from the great room, and calculating how much of the Catalina Mountains we would be able to see from the breakfast nook," Liz said. "It took standing in the raised bucket of a backhoe to get the effect - but my husband would go to any length to satisfy my curiosity."
They flipped through magazines and every issue of the Star's Home section, Liz said.
Then one day in 1999, John was done thinking.
"I am through with open houses," he announced to his wife. "I am through with other people's ideas. I know what I want."
The Denbos drew out their ideas and took their drawings to an architect. "It's exactly this," John said of the finished product, completed in 2007.
Construction started in 2002. For the next five years, weekends were spent building, with John, an electrician and businessman, leading the effort.
Even after construction started, nothing was final. After the property was staked, the Denbos decided the angle was not quite right to capture the best of the views, so they started over.
With the frame up, Liz decided the kitchen and living room ceilings were too low. John took it all down and added two feet.
"She was absolutely right," he said.
The result is a 6,000-square-foot elegant home with three master bedrooms and 3 1/2 baths. John's love of arches is apparent throughout the house, in windows, doors and hallways. There isn't a drape or window covering to be found, filling the home with desert light.
Eighteen-inch travertine tiles in gold hues run throughout the house. John carefully created a river effect with tiles in the front entry.
The home is bathed indoors and out in shades of yellow, ranging from champagne to butterscotch. "I think of this house as a wedding cake with the beautiful buttercream icing all over it," Liz said.
The home is furnished with belongings they have collected since the night of the fire. One of John's favorite pieces is a treasure he found at an auction at Fort Huachuca. He was the highest bidder - $57 - for a turn-of-the-century candle chandelier that hung in the Officers Club. It now hangs in John's favorite room, the parlor. He lights it at every opportunity.
The Denbos spend part of every day on the patio, keeping a lookout for the bobcats, javelinas and mountain lions that share their land.
They were quick to become the party people, holding neighborhood Halloween shindigs and other gatherings. Liz, who has taught English at Desert View High School for 25 years, invites her students for dinner at the end of the semester.
Later this week, the home will be filled with laughter and fun as the Denbos' daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters join them in cooking Thanksgiving dinner.
This is one home that was worth the wait.
"It's been a fun journey for both of us," John said.
Go for favorites
Fill your home with what you love, say Liz and John Denbo. Some ideas:
• John scours the desert for stalks of plants and other dried flora to decorate the home. A 12-foot stalk from a century plant stands tall in the great room.
• One of their favorite features, a round fireplace with room to sit, divides the great room from the living room. The idea was taken from the fire pit at the Iron Door Restaurant at Mount Lemmon Ski Valley.
Contact local freelance writer Gabrielle Fimbres at firstname.lastname@example.org