Designing my dream home

When John and I decided to build our home in Arizona, one of the most important factors for us in constructing it was in honouring the actual location itself.

Arizona is a very special place, and the mountains and desert are so unique to the state. Known for the Grand Canyon, that mile-deep chasm carved by the Colorado River, or the spectacular Sonoran Desert, it’s an environment that really and truly needs to be championed, so when we thought of building a home, it was very critical we created a space that blended seamlessly into the landscape, while also looking like a sophisticated country home.

Interestingly, our home build in Arizona happened organically: John and I were heading down there more and more often (especially during the pandemic!) to get our rock-climbing fix, and rather spontaneously John suggested we build a home there. We were spending so much time there as it was, so why not make it more permanent?

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

We’re building our home on the side of a mountain and in close proximity to Camelback, and I’ve put a lot of thought into the colour of the sky and the scale of the mountains when mapping out our blueprints for our build. We also have a huge connection to Europe: France and, more significantly, Italy (as that’s where John’s family comes from) so that was the inspiration point for the exterior stone design, too. We wanted it to feel like a small, elegant country home with timeless design. We’re using some soft, whitewashed limestone that will all be laid by hand, and what drew us to use this material is the fact that this kind of work really feels like an ancient art: it takes time, patience and a lot of skill, and that fits in nicely with our overall theme. Our windows are black-paned to add a striking contrast, and they will help ground and define our overall look as well. Our roof is special: made of classic Tuscan clay tiles (gorgeous!) with Corbels that sit under the roof edges framing and supporting it. (Interestingly enough, that’s a cornerstone for Dunpar Homes, of which I’m creative director. They too focus a lot of attention on beautiful home exteriors in their projects as well.) Another interesting feature is our garage door: I designed the doors to be drastically different-looking from what you would normally find in a home … We like to keep things interesting!

Although it can feel overwhelming organizing each feature in my home or rooms, the easiest way to I like to keep organized is by creating an actual binder (similar to the ones we used when we were in grade school!) that holds all of my inspiration tear sheets, pictures and photos I find in design and decor magazines, online, or via Pinterest boards. I’ll make individual pages for each room in my home: living room, bedroom, powder room, main bath, etc., and also sections for home furnishings like rugs, lighting, furniture, art, and more. This is tremendous help because it can give me a holistic picture of how my whole home could look and feel, while also helping with flow and aesthetics.

Here’s a little behind-the-scenes look at some of my favourite features in our new home build in Arizona, plus essential tips to take away for your own home renovation projects.

The exteriors

We used stone and clay-roof tiles, and we chose these for a reason: We wanted to use products that we could find there, and we also enjoyed the look to feel very Tuscan (again, because of John’s roots). Additionally, we over-mortared the stone as this process softens its face: the grout is washed over the rock, not just between the stone, to give a softer appearance. The limestone we used has such a smooth look and color that it also blends in with the home’s overall aesthetic.

The exteriors needed not to stand out like a sore thumb; they felt natural and blended into the landscape. We’re surrounded by spectacular nature: cactus and 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.

The front door

This incredible store in Toronto is called, quite literally, The Door Store, and they have the most unique, old, and beautiful doors. I first discovered them 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 fits well into our overall story. I love it.

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. 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 the side of a mountain, looking across more mountains. We moved our foundation plans around several times before we started building to 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.

The 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 primary bedroom, and the living room.

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