Interior designers combine style, personality to create dreams - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Interior designers combine style, personality to create dreams

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Posted: Saturday, March 3, 2007 4:25 am | Updated: 6:23 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

It’s easy to appreciate a well-designed room. When the colors, textures and furnishings come together in perfect harmony to create a space that is balanced and functional, even those with an untrained eye will think “this works.”

But making a space work takes a lot of training and practice, contrary to what TV shows that make a room over in 24 hours would lead you to believe.

We asked three interior designers to let us in on some secrets for how their favorite designs went from concept to reality. They will be working with the Tribune in the coming months in our Save My Space feature that will debut March 24.

They all have different methods. Whether they were inspired by their surroundings, their travels or by a piece of art, these designers combined their clients’ wishes with their expertise to create rooms that wow.



This dining room is an example of how pieces from around the world can come together to create a refined and sophisticated look in the Southwest, says Scottsdale designer Ernesto Garcia. “The inspiration for this room was the clients,” says Garcia.

“They are welltraveled, well-educated.” Garcia says he met with the clients and talked extensively about what they were looking for before forming a design plan. “I needed to get a feeling for who they are, for the imagery they are attracted to,” he says. “Designing the space is like painting a portrait. I need to paint a picture of who these people are.”

As he shopped and traveled, Garcia pulled together pieces that would work in the space. He found two columns in an antique shop in London’s Chelsea neighborhood, which he used to flank the entrance to the room.

“They were in pieces, damaged,” he says. “I took a picture of them and e-mailed it to my client in the middle of the night. She called me back and said ‘Do not come back without them.’ ” The rug is a silk and wool creation that Garcia designed, and was influenced by the works of Antoni Gaudi that he studied while in Barcelona. The two glass art pieces are from artists who studied under internationally known glass artist Dale Chihuly.



Scottsdale designer Valerie Borden says powder rooms are one of the most fun rooms in the house to design. “You can use more expensive and daring finishes because it is a small area — you don’t need large quantities,” she says. “This is not one of the primary spaces in the house. If you use something really loud or unusual you will not get tired of looking at it.”

In this Scottsdale home’s bath, the floor and walls are covered with quartzite tile, laid square on the floor and diagonally on the wall. Glass tile accents are used on the walls. The slab countertop is custom-made of maple with a steel band for support. The sink is made of chiseled granite. “The play of light and textures combine to make this a truly unique and special space,” says Borden. Inspiration for this space came from the home’s surroundings. “The home borders on a desert preserve,” says Borden. “We wanted the interior and exterior to meld together. To achieve this we used natural materials and colors.”



When Susan Crabtree designs for a client who hasn’t worked with an interior designer, she usually gives them homework. She asks them to look through magazines or catalogs, and to spend some time walking around their homes looking for objects that resonate with them. She uses those objects to develop color palettes and other design ideas.

“I start with one thing that they really love,” says the Chandler-based designer. “Like in the billiard area, we started with the rug and we chose the colors from there. We also did a lot of shopping so they could show me what they like.” In this Mesa home, the owners had a large living room and foyer that was definitely dated. They asked Crabtree to use the Royal Palms Resort and Spa in Phoenix as the inspiration for the new design.

The fireplace was treated with a cantera stone facade, which Crabtree took up the wall 20 feet. The wood ceilings, which were painted white, were refinished and stained in a warm tone. She replaced the white marble floors with a dark hardwood. A library space was turned into a billiards area and the empty foyer became home to a piano, where musicians often gather as the family entertains.

“They wanted more of a fun space, a place to have parties and entertain,” says Crabtree. “I’ve been to parties there since and I think we definitely achieved that.”


Valerie Borden established her Scottsdale interior design studio, Chimera Interior Design, in 1996. She works mostly with residential interior design in Scottsdale, the majority of which is home remodeling. She works in all design styles, including contemporary, transitional, Southwest, Tuscan and Old World. Her commercial projects have included work for the West Valley’s Sunhealth Boswell Hospital and Sun Health Del E. Webb Hospital, local doctors, dentists and salons. Borden has been featured in Phoenix Home and Garden and in Better Homes and Gardens magazines.

She says she loves her work because it allows her to flex her creative muscles.

“Being an interior designer allows me the opportunity to use creativity, ingenuity and business skills (things I enjoy), and actually get paid to do it.” Chimera is her business name and her design motto.

“Loosely translated it means three things,” she says. “One: the parts of many things made into one whole being — my theory of design; two: pipe dream — owning this business is my dream; three: wild fantasy — my motto is ‘Live your fantasies.’ ”

She says if she could live and work anywhere in the world it would be in Cuba.

“Currently Havana is the most ‘opulent slum’ I have ever seen. Many of the homes were built in the 1920s and 1930s in the Art Deco style. They have custom-made finishes and details throughout. Unfortunately these magnificent palaces have fallen into disrepair. I would love to fix them up. This is some of the most amazing architecture I have ever seen.”



Ernesto Garcia is from Argentina. Growing up, and during his early years of design practice, he traveled extensively through Europe, sketching churches, old villas, piazzas and museum art. This early exposure to European art and architecture has a tremendous influence on his design work, he says.

He says his versatility comes from his exposure to all things European combined with the modernist training he received in architecture school.

Garcia worked as an architect and interior designer in firms east and west before settling in Scottsdale. He’s been designing for 20 years and is licensed with the National Council for Interior Design Qualifications. He is the recipient of a 2005 Design Award from the Arizona Chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers, and his projects have been published in interior design magazines and books, including “Spectacular Homes of the Southwest” 2006 edition. He has made more than 40 television appearances, including on local shows “Sonoran Living” and “Arizona Midday.”

Garcia says he embraces the philosophy that “we should be grateful for our historic legacy but should be people of the present who manifest our times in the spaces we live in.”


Susan Crabtree of Chandler established her design studio, Puerta Bella Interior Design, in 2001. She specializes in residential interior design and says she has a passion for her profession.

She works primarily with clients in Arizona, but also travels to Texas and Nevada to work with clients and says if she had to choose anywhere in the world to work, it would be in the East Valley.

“I have such wonderful clients and great projects,” she says, “I feel very fortunate to be working with them.”

Her design motto is to create interiors that are characterized by their warm, inviting and timeless style.

“I like working on all styles, it keeps life interesting,” she says. “But my personal favorite style is Spanish Colonial.”

Color, she says, is the best tool in any designer’s tool box, and she likes to make

good use of it.

“A pop of color provides an instant transformation and can change the entire mood of a room.”

Her Chandler home is “a constant work in progress” but one place she loves is the breakfast nook in her kitchen.

“We can comfortably fit 12 people around our table, which makes for great entertaining.”

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