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A style called Barrio Modern

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It’s southwestern, it’s mid-century, it’s very very Tucson. Rachel Miller uncovers the homegrown interior style that we’re calling Barrio Modern.

Photo courtesy of hazelbaker rush.

Darci Hazelbaker and Dale Rush’s Tucson home shows all the signs of being Barrio Modern: bright, natural materials, pops of mid-century. Photo courtesy of HA/RU

What do you get when you cross one of the longest continuously inhabited places in the US with a midcentury modern Mecca? Barrio Modern.

The colonial Spanish style, heavy rustic furniture, earth tones, and use of tin and copper, have long been characteristic of homes in the Southwest, a head nod to the Spanish occupation starting in the 1600s. This style stands in sharp contrast to the simple light lines of the mid-century movement in Tucson that has been defined as Sonoran Modern. But just as the Spanish utilized the regional materials, and adapted to the desert climate, so did the mid-century modern movement. Over the past couple of years we’ve noted a number of homes that take these shared themes to create something uniquely Tucson. We’re calling it Barrio Modern.

How can you achieve the Barrio Modern look?


The home of Tucson architect Bob Lanning mixes natural materials with modern chrome. Photo courtesy of Bob Lanning.

Establishing a home that reflects your more modern leanings, but also respects your physical home’s heritage, can be a tricky balancing act, especially when you live in a barrio home where a rustic style is typically de rigeur. If you’re looking to update your adobe abode décor and celebrate this rich culture and land we inhabit, or even your mid-century ranch style home, we’ve got a few pointers for you to create your own Barrio Modern style.

Be bold with color

Blinding white sunlight outside might sear the skin, but inside white provides a cool backdrop to some graphic and bright colors, and if there’s adobe or plaster there’s an earthiness that brings that cool white to the perfect temperature.

Darci Hazelback of architect and design firm Ha|Ru talks of how the renovation of their 1927 Tucson bungalow optimized white pure space mirroring the quality of light found in the desert and how the focus on local materials also reflected the rugged quality of the desert. “It reflects the true history and character of the home, exposing the bones and spirit of the house,” she says.

Whether it’s Oaxaca blue or Sonoran sunset hues, bold color plays a role in the cultural history aesthetic. This is not the place nor time to go with modern gray-brown monotone or close in the space with ceiling to floor deep blue and tin, rather keep the clean light feel with white and use the yellows, pinks, reds and blues for strong accents.

Barrio Modern in the Downtown Clifton. Color is important. Bold, bright against white. Photo courtesy Downtown Clifton

Barrio Modern in Tucson’s Downtown Clifton hotel. Color is important, with bold and bright against white. Photo courtesy of Downtown Clifton

Use natural materials

Bright colors might be the order of the day, but wood and natural fibers play an important role in this look.  Check out the use of plywood on the ceiling in the home of architect Bob Lanning (second photo from top) or the lathe walls in Darci Hazelbaker and Dale Rush’s  home (below). The emphasis on materials of a place is key in Hazelbaker and Rush’s design. “We combine vernacular design, using materials of a place and place specific materials, with a complementing modern design,” says Darci.

Barrio Modern, hacienda modern, tucson, hazelbaker, rush, haru design

Traditional barrio adobe homes use natural materials, Barrio Modern plays upon that using modern interpretations. Above: the home of architect/designers Darci Hazelbaker and Dale Rush. Photo courtesy of HA/RU.

Teak may not be local to Tucson, but we have some sweet local thrift stores and antique stores with mid-century items that are a perfect local source. Have a few pennies to rub together? The heavier rustic furniture might not be quite the modern line you’re looking for, but we have some incredible local woodworkers who use local materials to create something with more modern lines. Peter Baer of Baer Joinery is responsible for the fabulous communal mesquite table at Tap and Bottle.

Mesquite Table, barrio modern, tap and bottle

Barrio Modern uses local materials. This mesquite table at Tap and Bottle is by Peter Baer Photo courtesy of Rebecca Safford.

Bring the inside out and outside in

While haciendas had their courtyards, mid-century modern architecture had their patios, both emphasizing outdoor living. Organize your furniture to take full advantage of the views, which many of us in Tucson are lucky to have, and keep the the window treatments to a light minimum. No fabulous desert vistas to take advantage of? How about bringing the scene inside, either on the patio or use a twist on the cactus/succulent vibe with some air plants? (Check out our piece on how to grow air plants in the desert.)

Barrio Modern - HaRu Airplants

Airplants in the Hazelbaker Rush home

Tin and copper in the copper state

Embossed tin might not be your thing but local artist Rand Carlson’s tin works are a definitely funky twist on tin and Tucson. Or perhaps incorporate some corrugated iron around the bathtub as seen below for the Barrio Modern look. Bob Lanning describes his and wife Kate Hiller’s approach as “historically compatible”. He adds: “But sometimes it is more interesting to pick up ideas of our time.”  He explains that this happy medium of old and new comes in part “from working on a budget, being creative and finding affordable solutions.”

Barrio Modern Bathroom complete with tin backsplash and Rand Carlson tin art in the Lanning - Hiller home

A Barrio Modern bathroom in Bob Lanning’s home, complete with tin backsplash, Rand Carlson tin art and contemporary watercolor landscapes by Lanning. Photo courtesy of Bob Lanning.
















This isn’t Mexican Modernism, it isn’t Spanish Colonial, it’s not even Sonoran Modern. It has a distinctly Tucson twist that reflects the stark beauty of the desert, the warmth of the people and a rich cultural history. It’s Barrio Modern.

A lesson in not going with the flow

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The home of Tom McGuire and Nieves Zedeño flies in the face of traditional floorplans and breaks rules – beautifully. Story and photos by Rachel Miller.


The fireplace is a central pin to four separate living areas that radiate around it.

Stepping into the Tucson home of Tom McGuire and Nieves Zedeño is not unnerving. To the contrary, it offers an immediate sense of right with the world. But it does shake up the predictable pattern of what the flow of a house should be.

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The foyer opens up onto a semi-open plan that is made up of several living spaces. Right: a Thomas Moser bench, one of their favorite pieces.

Tom and Nieves’ home, in Tucson’s midtown San Clemente neighborhood, turns regular residential layouts on their heads. The fireplace and foyer acts as a pin to four separate living areas that radiate around that central fireplace in a semi-open plan: a library area, reading room, dining room, sitting room and television space.

This is a place to meander around with wine glass in hand and find a place for quiet reflection or, just steps away, a space for hearty conversation – with neither impinging on the other. Beyond this central space, the kitchen, study and bedrooms provide more private spaces. According to Nieves, there are just two other homes in the Tucson area that were built with this same eccentric floor plan.


Shaker and New England style meet industrial in this midtown Tucson home.

The layout of the house has a distinct modern feel, the furnishings at once comfortable, personal and fresh. The angled walls and the variable ceiling heights, along with the limited number of windows on the west facing wall, make for a light, cool feel to the home.

The central island table in the kitchen was built by Tom.

About the owners: Tom grew up in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, spending summers in Maine. Seeking a change of scenery and climate, he came to Arizona in the 1970s and, other than a few years in colder climes, has remained here.  Nieves, originally from Ecuador, came to Tucson as a visiting scholar in the late 1980s and returned as a research anthropologist in the early ’90s. It’s no surprise that their home reflects the influences of both their origins and their anthropological work.

About the home: The house was built in 1976, one of three built in Tucson with the same blueprint.  In addition to the 2600 square feet of living space there is a front and a back porch, pool patio, workshop and backyard.

Picture by Nieves' Aunt

Framed art by Nieves’ aunt.

Describe your style: “American folk art and mid-century modern,” says Nieves. “We combine the primary colors of Joseph Calder and Joan Miro with clean-lined Shaker and New England hardwood furniture. Then we throw in a few industrial splashes for balance: Classic Lionel toy trains , naïf art (art that is typically free of conventions) and still life metal and wood sculptures; photographs; drawings of birds and boats; and tons of books.”


Classic toy trains are part of the decor.

Your fave thing about your home: “The odd angled half walls that stretch from the central fireplace, dividing the large main room into four organic spaces. The effect is of an open, airy house where each human and animal can be private yet social at the same time,” says Nieves.

Biggest splurge: The Thomas Moser bow-frame bench and armchair  “superfluous but edifying”, says Nieves.

Best bargain: “The discounted flat-weave wool rugs designed by Steven Alan for West Elm (2013-14 catalog). Ivory, yellow, and royal blue, they look brilliant over dark floors.”


My DIY moment: “Soon after Tom and I married in 1995, I fell in love with a $250 George Nelson wall clock advertised in Design Within Reach. We couldn’t possibly reach it, so I headed for Michael’s and found a sleek clock mechanism and accessory parts. Tom helped me build the clock with a piece of balsa wood, pocket knife, spray paint, and Elmer’s glue. Twenty years and $20 later, my ‘GN’ clock is still ticking on the dining room wall. (Our favorite piece? The kitchen table that Tom made!)”

make your own george nelson inspired clock

The George Nelson-inspired homemade clock

Favorite resources: Nieves is a woven rug fanatic. She gets rugs, drapes, pillows and linens from West Elm, Crate and Barrel and Garnet Hill. The ethnic weavings are finds from Etsy. The investment in décor is evident in the fine wood furniture from Thomas Moser, Shaker Workshops, Chilton, as well as local store Copenhagen. Nieves and Tom also source furniture from the Sundance Catalog and One Kings Lane. The fine woodcarvings that adorn the shelves and walls have been picked up from antique malls in Bismarck, ND, Traverse City, MI, and Seneca, NY – as well as eBay and Wisteria. To find similar naïf and native prints, Nieves suggests tapping into any city’s homegrown bookstore, gallery, or art fair (e.g. Tucson’s Antigone Books’ handmade cards can make great wall art), or using eBay for broad searches.

IMG_0176 Tucson treasures: Nieves and Tom’s home has seen significant refurbishment since they moved in 12 years ago. They’ve used local companies where possible from landscape design firm Boxhill Design to Rogo’s and Ibarra’s Flooring for the concrete flooring. Benjamin Supply has provided the flair in the kitchen and bathroom.

For tile and stone: Sierra Tile

Furniture: Copenhagen, Colonial Frontiers in the Lost Barrio.

Sculpture and Wall Art: Tucson open studio tours and Tucson Museum of Art fairs, plus the couple’s all-time favorite, the Elizabeth Frank Studio.

Take-away lesson(s):  1. Woven rugs that can be cleaned easily and moved around are great when you have animals and are an easy and cheap way to spruce up a room. 2. We really loved the use of bold colors in this home. Nieves is not an ‘earth tones’ type and the seemingly effortless transition from one space to another without it seeming contrived has much to do with the choices of several bold colors: blues, yellows and red.

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Are you digging these digs? 
Get the look locally:

Or try these lookalikes (contains Amazon Affiliate links):


From left to right: dining bench, ball clock, Kilim rug, toy train.

1. LumiSource Oregon Dining Bench from Amazon, $162
2. Telechron Atomix Ball Clock from Amazon, $98.83
3. Steven Alan Cotton Kilim Rug from West Elm, $40-$749
4. Lionel Trains from Amazon, $212.98