Keeping what was good, and updating what was outdated, was the mission of this makeover.

Romi Carrell Wittman

The late 1970s — the era of shag carpet, laminate countertops, and avocado green appliances — saw a boom in territorial revival homes. An architectural style born in the desert Southwest during the 1930s, territorial revival is known for its blend of Anglo- American building design with regional influences like adobe brick construction, low, flat roofs, wooden vigas, and sash windows. You can spot these beautiful and distinctive homes throughout Tucson by their iconic rectangular shape with stucco or adobe brick façades.

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Although the homeowners wanted to modernize, they didn’t want to lose the home’s architectural flavor or character. “We talked in quite a bit of detail,” Carnes says. “They wanted a modern twist and an airy feel. We termed the design ‘modern territorial.’”

Like many homes of that era, the interior was dark and closed off. Though the home boasted several skylights and many expansive windows, the dark saltillo tile flooring and exposed brick seemed to absorb all the light.

Carnes’ design retained the original footprint of the home, but opened up some of the interior spaces to create a great room, giving the home a better flow.

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One large room originally was divided into two areas, with one serving as a dining room, which was too far from the kitchen to be truly functional. Carnes had the dividing wall removed, exposing a hidden beamed ceiling, and turning the room into an open living room. It became the perfect location for the homeowners’ piano. “Cubby holes” made an ideal spot for books and items from their art collection.

Carnes revamped the kitchen so it is modern, comfortable and functional. The clients love open shelving, but wanted it to tie in with the overall style of the home. Carnes chose cabinetry in three different finishes to provide visual interest. White textured bead board creates a simple, but dramatic contrast both in the built-in hutch and the open shelving.

As Carnes points out, combining different textures and finishes in the kitchen while utilizing modern and traditional lines instills character in a typical functional space. “Several different focal points, from the island drawer detail, to the built-in custom hutch, to the rustic beam above the sink, help the space to seem comfortable and well thought out.”


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The kitchen island presented a fun challenge for Carnes. She designed it so it’s intentionally off-center, thus making room for better traffic flow in the kitchen. “I needed to find a way to make it look centered even though it’s asymmetrical.” The solution presented itself in the form of the starburst light fixture that hangs over the island. “The starburst is centered on the sink, so your eye can ‘find the center,’” she explains.

Carnes tore out the home’s existing flooring, which was a mélange of saltillo tile, carpet and ceramic tile, and replaced it with poured concrete that’s consistent throughout the home.

Next she painted the exposed brick to brighten the interior. New exterior doors and windows were selected to continue the modern upgrades. “We updated everything down to the switch plates and only kept the master tub and door handles,” Carnes says. Last, but not least, she sourced new furnishings and artwork for the home.

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The driveway got a makeover with brick pavers; new garage doors were installed, and the front door was refurbished to maintain a consistent style with the home.

All in all, from the design phase to completion, the project took about seven months. The homeowners had traveled to Colorado during the construction phase and hadn’t seen the home as the project progressed.

“They didn’t come back once to check in,” Carnes notes. “They trusted us.”

The homeowners saw their “new” home for the first time when they stopped by during the final touch-up phase. “We were all there, and it was like an HGTV reveal,” Carnes says. “Every time the homeowner turned the corner, she kept saying, ‘Wow!’ She and her husband couldn’t believe it was the same house.”

Carnes enjoyed the clients and the project from beginning to end. “I do my best work when the clients trust me. I get to hone in on my intuition while staying in tune with their personal integrity, and create something that is thoughtful and original,” she concludes. “On this project, I was allowed that freedom and I put my heart and soul into it.”

Carnes revamped the kitchen so it is modern, comfortable and functional. The clients love open shelving, but wanted it to tie in with the overall style of the home.

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Natural light, and the sleek vanity, shower and soaking tub add to this master bath’s luxurious feel.

A bold-tiled barbecue and area rug in slate blue, along with textured furniture, concrete flooring and a fire feature, make this outdoor area a well-thought out extension of the home’s living space.


Michelle Carnes, ASID, Dorado Designs,

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