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Common Reader Questions Answered by Local Design Pros

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

Large windows welcome Arizona’s spectacular views. There are options to maximize natural light and minimize the sun’s heat.

Architect Clint Miller, AIA, Clint Miller Architect

I would like my house to have lots of glass to take advantage of the outdoors and the distant views. However, I am concerned about the glaring sun and heat gain through the windows.

The orientation of your windows will be the overriding factor. A northern exposure will have very little direct sun on the windows. If your home connects with outdoor spaces and views oriented to the north, this is an opportunity for large spans of glass. Should the million-dollar view be oriented to the west or south, extended eve projections and semitransparent roll-up blinds will go a long way toward reducing the impacts of direct sun. Also, today’s glass has advanced with the application of metallic coating to the surfaces, which reduces the impacts of sun and climate.  

Exterior-mounted semitransparent blinds provide the greatest heat reduction. They minimize the sun’s penetration before entering the window system while retaining the view through the blinds. When not needed, the blinds can be raised into a hidden pocket with a motor drive. Interior blinds offer the advantage of being out of the way of patio furnishings, remaining cleaner and lasting longer, but they are less effective in reducing heat transfer through the windows. 

Metal louvers just below the roof eve can help reduce the sun’s impact and at the same time be architecturally attractive. And finally, smaller picture windows oriented to frame important views is another solution, without such a conspicuous amount of glass.

Landscape Architect Greg Trutza, ASLA, New Directions in Landscape Architecture Inc.

Do you have any design ideas or suggestions to help my landscape survive the record-breaking temperatures of last year?

During the summer of 2023, the entire Valley witnessed plant casualties from the excessive heat and lack of precipitation on a massive scale. Many in the landscape industry, from growers and contractors to designers and landscape architects, are re-evaluating what species may be used and under what growing conditions. The unprecedented loss of saguaros, various types of agaves and cacti, in addition to many common trees and shrubs, requires a reconsideration of what species will grow or the way we can enhance their survival.

During the design process, determining the proper placement and types of trees or palms will help to mitigate the extremes by creating microclimates. The strategic placement of a tree canopy to provide filtered light or a break from the unrelenting sun exposure during parts of the day will greatly increase plant survival. However, it is essential to ensure your irrigation system has valve zones separated for trees, ideally, for the types of trees such as xerophytic, citrus, ornamental, etc. Setting the timer for deep soaking of the trees at appropriate intervals will increase survival, lower ground temperatures and avoid waste by overwatering. Other zone valves should be designated for the types of cacti, shrubs, ground covers, raised beds, pots, annuals, etc. to conserve water. An excellent article by Ursula K. Schuch on proper watering intervals, “Drought and Extreme Heat: Plant Responses and Landscape Maintenance Practices,” can be downloaded from the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension at 

Other factors such as HOA requirements, soil types, grading and drainage, utilities and easements all play a role in your tree selections. The Desert Botanical Garden, nurseries and master gardener courses can provide opportunities to understand what trees are appropriate for your given situation. A design professional considers all these criteria while designing your landscape. Selecting the appropriate tree and shrub species with regard to water usage is essential. A complete list of low water-use plants with a rating of water usage is available from the Arizona Department of Water Resources,‌ama-conservation.

Interior Designer Meredith Smyth, Smyth House Interior Design

Thrift stores and consignment shops are excellent places to find affordable artwork and versatile furnishings that will be with you for many years.

I recently graduated from college and have my first real apartment. I don’t have a lot of expendable income for furniture, but I would like to invest in something that will stand the test of time and not become dated. What do you recommend?

What a fun time in your life to begin curating your style. Treasures are always in the eye of the beholder, and artwork is the first place I would turn, as it can be used and mixed into many different vignettes and blend into a variety of homes in the future. Inexpensive artwork can be found in antique shops and thrift stores, and downloadable prints are readily available across many online sites. Mixing these into gallery displays is one way to create drama in signature areas of your home. 

The next place I would turn is to a signature piece of furniture that can translate into many uses over time. For example, a vintage console or bar cart can be used for a variety of functions, from a piece in a dining area to a mismatched nightstand, to an item that fits perfectly in a nook. Look for items that have lasting power and are well made and unique.

I like to invest in small collections, such as candlesticks and vintage glassware of all kinds. They’re inexpensive, and when mixed into various vignettes, it’s an easy way to add interest to your decor. The extra upside is you’re always prepared for a variety of easy entertainment tablescapes.


Architect: Clint Miller, AIA, Clint Miller Architect, Carefree, Landscape architect: Greg Trutza, ASLA, New Directions in Landscape Architecture Inc., Phoenix, Interior designer: Meredith Smyth, Smyth House Interior Design, Phoenix, 


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