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2014 Master of the Southwest Elizabeth Spengler - Interior/Kitchen Designer

Author: Roberta Landman
Issue: March, 2014, Page 114
Interior designer Elizabeth Spengler, ASID, NCIDQ, pauses at the construction site of a kitchen she designed. While kitchens and baths have become her specialties over decades, she also executes full-scale design projects from time to time.



Elizabeth Spengler’s Pastoral Upbringing Engenders Bucolic Warmth in Her Designs of Kitchens, Bathrooms and More

Among interior designer Elizabeth Spengler’s fondest childhood memories is planting a garden with her grandmother on her family’s Wisconsin dairy farm, and then canning the garden’s yield in a kitchen full of homey warmth. Unlike the high-tech amenities Spengler helps her clients choose today, “My grandmother had a wood-burning stove,” she reports.

Spengler has expertise in all areas of residential design and is often called upon for diverse projects. But it is the kitchen—the “heart of the home,” she says—that has become her specialty. While she conceives kitchens of all styles to suit her clients’ tastes—from Contemporary to authentic Tuscan to Southwestern and more—there is a part of Spengler that embraces the past. Her own kitchen, featured in the June 2006 issue of Phoenix Home & Garden, is homespun, with a rural farmhouse feel evocative of her background.

Sitting in a cozy kitchen vignette at her Dorado Designs Tucson studio, the Phoenix Home & Garden Master of the Southwest speaks of her 38-year career and how it evolved. “It was a fluke,” she admits with a smile. Today an award-winning professional member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), Spengler was thinking about becoming an art teacher when she entered the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire; that was until a first-year course altered her direction.

“Keeping the character of a historic Tucson Spanish Colonial home was key in enlarging and updating its kitchen,” says Elizabeth Spengler.
“Every lecture the professor gave was in some way, shape or form about being aware of your surroundings,” she recalls. To complete an assignment, she arbitrarily chose to look into interior design. “Once I began to research it, I was hooked.”

Because the university she was attending did not offer interior design, she switched to a school that did—Western Wisconsin Technical College. Praised academically for her skill in drafting and her knowledge of construction methods, Spengler acted on advice after graduating and sought a job in the kitchen industry in Madison, Wisconsin.

It was the 1970s, and the prevailing thinking was that kitchen design was a “man’s career field,” she remembers. But she overcame that presumption. “I worked for two kitchen companies before going out on my own in 1979 to form Interiors, a full-service interior design studio where I eventually employed five designers and had a great following,” she states. Spengler sold her firm in 1989 and with her husband, Bob, who has been an integral part of the business, sought sunnier climes in Tucson.

Then the mother of two youngsters, she taught interior design for a time at Pima Community College and founded Dorado Designs in 1990. “For my first couple of jobs,” the designer recalls, “I was working out of a sheet metal building with a swamp cooler.” She dolled up the space with “four little kitchen vignettes,” charging the materials on credit cards and showcasing her expertise.

Striking with its glazed-red lava stone-topped vanity, this condo bath melds Asian and Classical elements.
Today, she works from an attractive suite in a 1940s-era building. Examples of countertop and cabinetry possibilities for kitchens and baths abound. “When beginning my career as an interior designer specializing in cabinetry and millwork, there were maybe eight styles and 20 finishes,” Spengler comments. “And now there are endless styles and materials from which to create an ‘outside the box’ kitchen or other space.”

Her ability to design warm, welcoming, beautiful and highly functional kitchens has brought awards, as well as praise from clients and design-world peers alike. One source of pride is the refurbishment of a San Francisco condo, for which she garnered an ASID Arizona South Chapter First Place Design Excellence Award.

According to interior designer Julie Rushing and her husband, who engaged Spengler to create a kitchen for their adobe home, the space needed to function as a social hub. “Elizabeth blurred the boundaries of our kitchen, allowing its edges to spill into adjacent spaces,” Rushing notes. “She borrowed textures, colors and materials from other areas of the house to extend the limits of our kitchen footprint. She understood that the kitchen functioned as the ‘glue’ between the adjacent spaces.”

Although Spengler foresees cooking becoming less important in kitchen design, she hopes that kitchens “will remain the heart of the home,” a place for family and friends to congregate and make memories.

An ASID award-winner, this expanded Tucson kitchen features an island accented with a copper hood.

A Chinese red antique furniture piece became a vanity in a San Francisco condo’s compact powder room.
“I have worked in most styles during my career,” says Spengler. Here, the designer puts her skills to work in a project with Moroccan inspiration: a Traditional “gentleman’s library,” and, beyond its mosaic glass-tile-accented keyhole arch, a foyer. She designed the cabinetry, lighted bookshelves and other millwork in cherry wood with a brandy-tone finish.


Gourmet meals are often prepared in this Traditional-style, bistro-inspired kitchen that Elizabeth Spengler designed for a house in San Francisco. Part of a first-place ASID award-winning project for homes under 3,500 square feet, the space features mahogany cabinetry with a honey finish, along with a set of glass-front popular cabinets stained wren gray, and honed Zimbabwe black granite and limestone flooring in a checkerboard pattern.

Photos - Clock-wise from top left: Remodeled by Spengler, a powder room invites with its simple elegance and warmth in wood. The bun-footed vanity, with Contemporary and Asian inspiration, is crafted of cherry with a walnut finish. The backsplash is made of golden caramel travertine; the sink is limestone. A pair of sconces sheds soft light on walls covered in hand-printed and embossed wallpaper. • Spengler and interior designer/homeowner Julie Rushing worked together on the design of Rushing’s kitchen. Says Rushing of Spengler: “Elizabeth kept both beauty and function in mind. I would lean toward the beauty aspect, and Elizabeth would make the case for function. We both won, as our kitchen is as beautiful as it is functional.” Seen here is a stucco room divider/storage unit featuring open shelving and drawers of distressed knotty pine. “Talavera tile has been inserted into the top for a surface that is easily maintained,” notes Spengler. • Elizabeth Spengler created this Asian-Modern kitchen for a San Francisco condominium. Upper cabinetry (background) has shoji screen-like sliding doors in a black lacquer finish with sandblasted glass inserts. The curved range hood is made of stainless steel, while countertops are a combination of honed black granite (foreground) and an environmentally friendly concrete material. • Serving as a sitting area, guest room and dining room, this ASID award-winning multipurpose area was designed by Spengler for a 900-square-foot San Francisco condo that was in need of an update. Beyond the dining table, a Murphy bed is concealed behind ebonized walnut panels and a decorative wall of shelves.

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