Designer for Hire

Outside of the box

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Meet one of Tucson’s most exciting design firms, a couple for whom craftsmanship is as important as look. Together they’re not only getting attention, they’re coining a whole new phrase: slow design. By Gillian Drummond

A view into the lathe clad box. Photo courtesy of HA|RU

Darci Hazelbaker and Dale Rush.
Photo by Gillian Drummond

For Darci Hazelbaker and Dale Rush, the young married couple that makes up architecture and design studio HA|RU, sparks flew over an old toaster.

Darci had always been fascinated by the mechanics of objects and secondhand finds. She was handy as a child (and still is), inheriting her mother’s love of sewing and crafting  – a girl who dressed in thrift store finds or made her clothes herself.

On her first date with Dale, they went thrift shopping and she found a 1950s broiler – a precursor to the toaster.

Says Darci: “Our first date was us disassembling, cleaning and repairing this toaster and I remember I felt like I started to fall in love with him that day. To have this person who could dismantle something like that..”

Darci still has an an eye for the perfect find and her own signature style, and Dale is happy dismantling almost anything. He says he gets it from his civil engineer father. Growing up on a homestead in Florida, and surrounded by family members who were in the construction business, he was always fixing, making and creating.

Powder coated steel shelves float above a soapstone counter-top and kitchen cabinets by IKEA. Precisely crafted light fixtures create rhythm in the ceiling. Photo courtesy of HA|RU

Put the two of them together, throw in degrees in architecture and a shared love of mid century modern design, and you get a couple – and an exciting new firm – that believes good design lies in great craftsmanship.

And it’s never more evident than in the 1920s bungalow they have made their own in midtown Tucson. Old/new, found/bought/, simple/rustic, mid-century/21st-century – it’s a study in opposites. In just 1,000 sq ft of house, there is a whole lot going on, in perfect harmony.

There’s white oak flooring versus original saltillo tile, and stark white walls versus exposed brick. There are white IKEA kitchen cabinets versus Dale’s own powder-coated steel shelving. Mid century modern sofas and a sideboard mix happily with brand new desks and built-ins, made of Dale’s steel and Brazilian hardwood they found on Craigslist.

The centerpiece of the house is a rustic wood box housing a pristine white bathroom. They re-purposed the 100-year-old Douglas fir plaster lathe, saved during demolition. The walls of the ‘box’ are clad in lathe, as are the doors disappearing into it. The box divides the living room from the bedroom.

The bed, set up against a lathe wood wall, doesn’t need a headboard. Photo courtesy of HA|RU

Even the white modern bathroom contains its own lathe clad ‘box’ cleverly concealing the toilet tank and serving as a pedestal for the white minimalist vanity. They even went so far as to create a magnetic ‘lid’ for it, so they could have easy access to the tank but keep the box seamless.

Space is a precious commodity in this house. Darci and Dale have considered each square inch and its best use and the outcome appears effortless and fluid.

Photo courtesy of HA|RU

Susan Denis was their real estate agent and is now a friend, not to mention a fan. “I don’t think anybody is doing anything as wildly unique. It’s visionary, and there’s an attention to detail and that’s something that separates them,” she says.

Although Dale’s and Darci’s tastes and aesthetics are pretty similar, they say there is still some haggling. Darci is the professed neatnik of the two of them, but she has “messy found” phases, she says, and Dale reigns her in. She was willing to take the stark hanging bulbs she created as light fitting and wind wire around them, bird’s-nest-style. He put his foot down. “I feel like it shows off your craft more if you do something clean,” he says.

There was also compromise over the bathtub. “Darci loves taking a bath and I think it’s a disgusting human stew,” says Dale, who won his battle to have a shower-only bathroom. But he admits he feels guilty that he still hasn’t gotten around to putting in the outside tub he promised her.

Photo courtesy of HA|RU

Having met and lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, their move to Tucson was fairly easy. They were drawn to the Arizona School, that of modern architecture in the desert. Darci sees similarities between the two cities. Dale moved in 2004, poached from a commercial architecture firm by Tucson architect Rick Joy. Darci followed in Spring 2005 and began work for another Tucson architect, Bil Taylor. When work dried up for them in those firms, they decided to launch their own – something they had always planned for anyway.

Now their time is spent working on projects here and New Mexico, and they’re about to start work on Phase 2 of their own home: the back yard. Darci also sells crocheted toys, and teaches part-time at the UA College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. Her subject? Foundation Studio – design with an emphasis on hand drawing and model making, as opposed to computer-generated.

“We’re like the slow food movement. We’re the slow design movement,” says Darci.

Adds her husband: “It’s modern with a handcrafted soul.”

Photo courtesy of HA|RU



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