Southwestern Chic

Southwestern Chic, Lori Carroll

Desert Colors, Cacti, Stone, Mesquite Now With a Mix from Afar

Long before there was email, tweeting, and Instagram, design trends were debuted in "shelter" magazines with distinct trends in different parts of the country. These regional variations still exist because of climate needs and indigenous materials, but there’s certainly greater sharing from near and far. We recently talked with Tucson, Arizona, interior designer Lori Carroll, owner of her eponymous firm, Lori Carroll Associates. She addressed what she’s seeing and sharing in her designs for mostly Southwest clients, as well as some of her favorite products, trends, and colors. Here’s what she shared:

Question: You’ve lived and worked in the Southwest for 35 years. Please tell us about the design trends you see there that may be different from those nationwide or on the East or West Coast.

Answer: Tucson has become a bit of a melting pot with some who were born and grew up here and others who have come from other parts of the country. We now have that mixture, which I like and which tests my ability to put things together. Many clients will have a piece they love and cherish and want to incorporate it to reflect their personal style, versus those who go to a store where everything matches. For example:

  • As far as materials go, we see things trending toward porcelains in gray, white, or a mixture, versus 10 years ago when we saw mostly Mexican tiles or earthy travertines. But we also see a lot of alder used for its rustic feeling and other textures to give an "imperfect" natural look since our environment plays a big role in our designs. We like natural stone and cacti since we don’t have a lot of natural green grass due to water limitations.
  • To a certain extent, the dominant colors are browns, rust, and turquoises, but when we’ve done one color palette for a long time it’s nice to incorporate variations. I’ve done a lot of warm grays of late and my kitchen, which won "Kitchen of the Year" from the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA), uses a lot of walnut with grays and whites.
  • Those who want a rustic appearance will go with handmade wooden furnishings in a choice of a sofa with wooden arms and maybe a mesquite dining table and chairs. Mesquite is favorite local material. However, a cleaner, contemporary look is taking hold, so we’re seeing a variety here, too.
  • Building materials still include clay tile roofs with stucco and wooden parapets, but the cleaner look is coming in here, too. There are more metals for garage doors, for example. For the outdoor living spaces, natural stones are preferred, along with exposed concrete pavers, and sometimes some brick. A goal is easy maintenance.

Question: More homeowners right now want open-plan layouts but that’s been popular in your area for a long time, right?

Answer: Yes, we like to leave doors open for our casual lifestyle and to entertain. In several of our projects, we’re using huge window walls and doors that open across a large span. These can be expensive but are important. Because of interest in sustainability, the window systems have UV coating, and in the hot summer people close the windows so the interior isn’t as hot. For outdoor furnishings and equipment, I’m using comfortable sofas and seating for stand-up bars, barbecues, refrigerators, sinks, and pizza ovens, and including a place to spread out a big buffet that faces a great view. We don’t have a lot of bugs here so we don’t have to worry about screening in our porches.

Question: You’re known for your great kitchen designs; how do yours differ from others in other parts of the country?

Answer: Not very much except I like to use a mix of materials that reflect all the choices we use in my area. I might use quartzite on perimeter counters with granite on an island. But when it comes to equipment, I like the best. These include Sub-Zero and Wolf appliances and also newer induction cooktops. Because everyone wants to be healthy, we’re seeing more people favoring steam ovens versus microwaves, more using recycling bins versus trash compactors. And in my award-winning kitchen, I designed a pantry that backs up to the main kitchen area so when you push a button you have an appliance garage for great functionality. I also like to incorporate cool ceiling architectural details and creative lighting.

Questions: Although it’s not a regional trend, how are millennials decorating and remodeling their apartments/condos and homes in your area?

Answers: I have two children–25 and 26 years old, and they’re less likely to want large homes. They want spaces that are efficient, cost effective, and located in places where they can walk rather than drive to work, restaurants, shops, and grocery stores. They’re not into fussy or lots of bells and whistles. They opt for easy maintenance and minimalism. They also prefer clean, contemporary design rather than anything Southwest, per se.

Lori’s Five Must-Haves:

  1. Nest Thermometer to control heating and cooling remotely and save on energy costs and efficiency
  2. Wolf blender, part of the Sub-Zero and Wolf company line of countertop appliances that are great for making hot soup
  3. Quartz as a natural, beautiful, and durable material for countertops and backsplashes that comes in a wider range of color tones than granites
  4. Porcelain for flooring that resembles wood and it’s also highly durable and cost effective. Ann Sachs makes a realistic version in different color tones: AS 12903-03 "Nocchio Antique Hickory" in 8" by 36" sizes
  5. Benjamin Moore’s white OC-19 "Seapearl" paint when you want to go fresh, clean and contemporary rather than stay with traditional desert hues

Photos: William Lesch