When I first arrived in Arizona as a designer from Colorado in 1989, I found that many of my custom home clientele were from out of state, usually the Midwest or New York. They tended to be successful entrepreneurs or corporate moguls who had recently reached the pinnacle of their career success. They were either looking to build a second home to enjoy for brief periods of sun, golf and relaxation during the nasty cold winters back home…or, they were very close to making the retirement move and were interested in designing and building a custom home for the extended future.
For many, this would be the first time they had ever focused on the creation of a living environment that was personalized to meet their own needs and interests, and it was a thrill to be a part of the experience with them. I relished the opportunity to work with people from other parts of the country, whose knowledge of local Arizona materials and ways of life was limited. They were sponges, soaking up information and ideas as fast as they were offered, and the excitement of the creative process was palpable when we were working together on the design of their Arizona homes. We used local, indigenous materials such as copper (Arizona IS the Copper State, after all!), local flagstones quarried in Northern Arizona, local craftsmen to make custom light fixtures, stair railings, and furnishings.
A trend I’m seeing now is more and more of my clients from the past 20+ years are downsizing. Their children have created their own lifestyles and don’t get to spend as much time with the parents as they used to. The houses we designed which were perfect back then seem a little larger than they need now. They are traveling more and enjoying partial ownership properties in exotic places such as Tuscany, Italy. In short, life moves on and our needs and wants change with our interests and life experiences.
The new “ideal” home is less of a maintenance headache, for sure. The “Smart House” of 15 years ago has been simplified and is far more practical, so while traveling the world, our clients are not worrying about maintenance back home. Key operations of the house are easily controlled from iPads and iPhones, and are actually fairly simply to set up, and dependable! Sophisticated architects have refined the art of designing houses that not only take advantage of incredible views, but are also actually designed to protect the interiors from damage from the elements (particularly the sun here in AZ) without the necessity of having all of the awkward and maintenance-heavy shade screens on every window with a view. This is done by strategically placing overhangs and angles in the architecture of the home, which allow all of the views and indoor-outdoor living we love here in the Southwest, without the damaging effects of the sun on furnishings and interior surfaces. “Sun Studies” are a part of the process of designing a home now, which is a computerized process that allows the architect to see exactly how the sun will enter the windows of a home at all times of the year, and to make any adjustments necessary before the home is built! Take a look at this demonstration on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqcEgPS7-UM
In short, it’s amazing to look back on the past 20-25 years of architecture and design, and to see how far we have come. It literally pays to hire the best people to design and build your custom home. A custom home is not just a pretty building set on a nice piece of land. The sophisticated, personalized knowledge that a top-tier design team brings to the table are invaluable, and will save the homeowner years of grief and a significant amount of money. One good source to look to for good architectural design is ARA (Arizona Residential Architects) which is a group of 15 local architects, along with members who are builders, designers, industry reps and tradespeople, who have come together to mutually support each other’s efforts to raise and maintain the level of residential design in Arizona.