Wouldn’t it be nice to design your dream home from the ground up? A behind-the-scenes look inside Lisa’s home renovations, plus essential tips to take away for your renovation projects.  

Our home build in Arizona happened organically: John and I were increasingly heading down there to get our rock-climbing fix, and it got to the point where one day, rather spontaneously, John suggested we build a home there. We were spending so much time there as it was, so why not make it a bit more permanent?  

At first, I thought he was crazy (did we really need to take this on? Now?) but with his decades of experience as a property developer, I knew if anyone could take on this level of a project, it would be John. Arizona is gaining such popularity too, especially with Canadians wanting to escape our bitterly cold winters, and so we thought, well, if we don’t do this now, we will miss our window. Plus, and this may sound even crazier, it felt more economical in a way: We could create our own home, with our exact specifications, without having to buy an existing home and gutting it.  

It’s hard to describe our vision for this home precisely other than it’s a unique space, and it riffs off our years from traveling through Europe and John’s Italian heritage. But, beyond that, we also felt it was significantly important that our home fit into the landscape and the vibe of Arizona as a whole: We wanted our place to feel (and look) like it had been there forever and had a history.  

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Here are some of my favourite features so far:  

Outside of house

Exteriors: 

We used stone, clay-roof tiles, and we chose these for a reason: We wanted to use products that we could find there, and we also wanted the look to feel very Tuscan (again, because of John’s roots). Additionally, we over-mortared the stone as this process softens the look of it: the grout is washed over the stone, not just between the stone, to give a softer appearance. The limestone we used has such a soft look and colour that it also blends in with the overall aesthetic of the home.  The exteriors needed not to stand out like a sore thumb, that they felt natural and blended into the landscape. We’re surrounded by spectacular nature there: cactus and other fauna, so we wanted to build on that. Our home needed to marry well with the environment, and I think that’s a good lesson for anyone working on home renovations, whether they’re building anew or renovating an existing property. You want to fit into the neighbourhood, not look like a beacon on a hill.  

Front door:  

There is this incredible store in Toronto called, quite literally, The Door Store, and they have the most amazing, old, and beautiful doors. I first discovered them from when I was building my cottage (my front door is also from them), and they carry some unique pieces. The front door yields a considerable impact: it’s the first thing people see when they walk up to your home, so you want it to say something about your overall home design and aesthetic. This door was initially two Egyptian doors that I retrofitted into one entry. The colour is neutral, marries well with our limestone exteriors, and it fits well into our overall story. I love it.  

Staircase

The Staircase 

We have a second floor that has two bedrooms in the back, a washroom and a big sitting area with a built-in banquette (and requisite views of Camelback mountain!) that almost functions as a mini-apartment, so we wanted to create a gorgeous staircase that not only led up beautifully to that area, but to also function as central highlight to the home itself.  It’s visible right when you walk into that front lobby, and it has this soft, elemental feel to it in a smooth plaster and twisting its way to the second floor. There’s nothing obtuse about it – organically shaped; it doesn’t feel like it stands out as much as it blends in.  

Interestingly, I found my idea for this staircase through my sheer due diligence: I’m always searching through different decor magazines and online for inspiration, and I saw a variation of this staircase and thought it would fit perfectly in our own space. I always tell people to do the same when they’re looking to revamp an existing room in their home or overhaul the entire area. There is a wealth of inspiration and ideas to be found out there, and really, there is nothing all that original in the universe anymore, so it’s more about how you choose to put all of those elements you find together in your own space.  

The views: 

The views were fundamental to us when laying down our groundwork: We strategically planned our home around the best possible views we would be able to see if we were inside, especially because our plot is situated on on the side of a mountain looking across more mountains. We moved our foundation plans around several times before we started building just so we could find the exact place we felt was right, that captured the outdoors and the landscape. And once we found our perfect spot, all of our doors and windows had to give us the best landscape views possible. It was integral we brought the outside in, and there was no separation.  

Fireplace

Fireplace:  

It can get chilly in the desert at nighttime, so we knew we wanted to have fireplaces in the rooms we spend the most time in to warm them up: the kitchen/dining area; our master bedroom, and the living room.  

 We went with a classic Herringbone pattern, which adds visual interest, and we’re having a limestone mantle custom-built by an extremely talented man in Toronto who does all the limestone for the Historic Buildings in Toronto and across Canada, as well as all of John’s townhomes, too 

 Although it can feel overwhelming trying to organize each feature in your home or a specific room, the easiest way to keep organized is in creating an actual binder that holds all of your inspiration tear sheets, pictures, and photos. I’ll make a page that’s devoted entirely to my living room, and it will have everything, from tables to carpets, lighting, and furniture, on one page so I can holistically see how everything looks and feels in the space. It has been an invaluable tool to be able to see how things work together and how the flow is.  

Lisa's Arizona House
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