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3 Common Reader Questions Answered by Local Design Pros

Your architecture, building, interior design and landscape questions answered by Valley pros.

Design strategies can transform modern architecture from cold and boxy to warm and inviting.

Architect Damon Wake, Studio Wake

Reader Question: I like modern architecture, but I’m worried about it feeling too cold. How do I bring character to a contemporary house?

Answer: I often hear from clients who are hesitant to try modern architecture because it seems uninviting, industrial, uncomfortable—even boring. But there are several design strategies you can use to make sure your home feels timeless and escape the trap of becoming an oversized stucco-and-drywall box.

Modern homes usually bring exterior building materials inside, often revealing structural elements such as roof rafters, beams or masonry walls. These materials are key, as they add texture, color and warmth to a design, and expressing the building elements adds character and starts to tell the story of the home. Defined details such as a reveal baseboard, caseless doors or floor-to-ceiling windows add specific character. Use natural materials and warm hues or pops of color instead of all gray tones to liven the space and make your home feel less like a museum and more like a personal refuge. Look for warmer LED lighting (2700K-3000K color temperature), and add drama by selectively placing lights to have lighter and dimmer areas.

You may have noticed modern designs tend to utilize lots of glass—not just for natural light, but to connect the indoors and outdoors. That’s a perfect fit for the Valley, where we can take advantage of sunshine and mild temperatures for much of the year. Highlighting views or engaging with a garden or landscaping visually expands the home, making the landscape an inviting part of the interior experience.

Most importantly: Lean into a design that breaks out of the box. Great modern design is not made up just of boxes with windows punched in them. Rather, roofs, glass and walls flow together to define spaces. All good homes tell a story, and revealing that will always add character, warmth and authenticity to yours.

Interior Designer Julia Buckingham, Julia Buckingham Interiors

Question: My home was built in the 1950s. I want to honor its history but don’t want to furnish it with midcentury modern decor. Any suggestions?

Answer: Multiple early styles of architecture are, by definition, historic homes that must be transformed for a modern-style family. Victorian, adobe, Spanish Territorial and early ranch-style homes from the 1950s and beyond all can assume the role of being incredibly historic—and we should always embrace these elements and not remove them.

Redefine the story of your historic home by celebrating its legacy—and incorporating your own more modern design aesthetic.

Just because you have a midcentury modern home doesn’t mean you have to go all-out with authentic furnishings from that era. Celebrate the building’s great legacy but embrace the predictability of unpredictability.

The best choice within a home that exudes a strong sense of its exterior architectural style is to add a dash of that style interspersed within your own. You can infuse a little bit of your love for the home as it was originally designed—with a stronger leaning toward your own aesthetic. Think of a polished circa 1970s chrome-based, glass-topped table with coolly elegant-yet-nutty ice blue sheepskin-covered chairs, all underneath an elaborate and heavy black iron-scrolled and weathered oversized gothic Spanish chandelier. The dichotomy between the polished chrome of the table base and the weathered and rough chandelier adds a design-style drama.

The key is the happiness that a previous family who occupied the house before you would feel entering their former home and seeing and enjoying it in the present. We are merely caretakers of something historic, and by creating a modern interior, we are bringing a harmonious lifestyle with the backdrop of others who have come before us.

Landscape Architect Mary Estes, PLA, SITES AP, LEED AP, Norris Design

Question: A landscape architect designed a custom ramada for my backyard. I love it so much that I wanted to share the plan with some friends so they could build one themselves. Since I paid for the design, I assume this would be acceptable. Would you agree?

It is unlawful to share design solutions—which are site-specific and the intellectual property of the design professional—with other parties. Check your contract terms and conditions.

Answer: You would need to check the terms and conditions of your contract/agreement with the landscape architect. Design solutions are the ‘intellectual property’ of the design professional. For landscape architects, design work is typically site-specific, responding to the surrounding context, the topography, utility infrastructure, programmatic requirements, etc. The contract terms and conditions should clarify that the owner is granted the right to use the intellectual property (in this case, the custom ramada design documents/products/specifications) for this specific project only once all fees have been paid. Further, typical contract language might state that the client (or their successors) shall not utilize the documents or products on other projects or provide these documents or products to others for use on other projects. You might also see some language in these terms and conditions stating that all documents and products developed under the agreement shall remain the property of the design professional until all fees have been paid in full. So, while it might seem fun to share, it is against the agreement that you signed and therefore enforceable by law (and against the law).


Architect: Damon Wake, Studio Wake, Phoenix,
Interior designer: Julia Buckingham, Julia Buckingham Interiors, Phoenix,
Landscape architect: Mary Estes, PLA, SITES AP, LEED AP, Norris Design, Phoenix,


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