My Space

 Jason Isenberg, owner of REALM, kicks off this regular feature on people's favorite spaces and places. He talks about how he still gets his kicks out of gardening.

Jason Isenberg's Garden

Photo courtesy of REALM

"Gardening was how I started my business. I used to do a concierge gardening service, tending people's gardens and watering their plants for them.

"My own garden is made up of nine 3-by-3-feet beds. When it's in full regalia it's more than I can handle. Having small beds allows me to customize the soil and rotate the crops. Right now I have watermelon, okra, basil, chilis, tomatoes, eggplant and amarinth. I garden mostly on the weekends, but instead of being a labor it's a labor of love. I go out and I harvest.

"Growing up in Alabama in the 1970s, we had a garden. Still to this day, when I pick the first tomato of the season, I'm 12 years old and I'm back in Alabama. The smell is so distinct, it takes me right back there.

"I've been interested in plants for as long as I can remember. Pre-Internet, when I was studying at the University of Arizona in the late 1980s and early 90s, you could find me in the downtown library with horticultural books, books on plant genetics.

"I lived on a house on Park and Mabel for a while and the entire south yard was a jungle of plants and vegetables. I rarely ate anything out of that garden, it was just this weird experiment. I run into people now and when I tell them where I lived they go 'Oh, you had that house - the guy with the garden!'"

Jason Isenberg and dog

Photo by Gillian Drummond

REALM offers landscaping design, construction and maintenance services.

Paper boy

A self-portrait. Photo: Nick Georgiou



Nick Georgiou's studio is a hoard of books and magazines, his art a celebration – literally - of the printed word.


Photo: Nick Georgiou

Photo: Nick Georgiou

In a world that’s going mad for digital, Nick Georgiou’s art does the opposite. “It’s inspired by the death of the printed word. Books and newspapers are becoming artifacts of the 21st century,” says the New Yorker who has settled in Tucson.

Corners of his downtown studio are piled high with old paperbacks and newspapers. Shelves are full to brimming. The difference is, though, these books are turned backwards, with the pages showing rather than the spines.

piles of books in Nick Georgiou's studio

Piles of books waiting to be turned into art. Photo: Gillian Drummond

Nick turns the pages into vivid, arresting 3-D paper images – everything from flowers to animals to human portraits. He used to just take the pages as they were. Now he paints them whatever color he needs for his art. These splashes of color come from living in the desert, he says, where he feels closer to nature and the sky. "I've been hanging out with a lot of painters and I opened myself up to taking my work in a different direction. It came to me that I could actively manipulate and create colors and patterns."

Nick trained as a filmmaker and spent time as a production designer. Trailing the streets of New York in search of props led him to start collecting old books. One evening, tired from his day job (which was creeping into night time work as well), he wanted to make art for himself. He took a look at the books piled in his studio and started to envisage shapes. Not long afterwards, a friend showed him in a gallery, and the pieces started to sell.

He moved to Tucson four years ago to give some lectures at the U of A and, save for the occasional visit to New York, has never left. "The art community has been very welcoming. There's not so much competition here," he says. People bring him boxes of books and newspapers, and he also collects book from Bookmans, the book exchange store.

Does it make him sad to rip up books for art? "I don't feel sorry for the book," he says.  "I'm excited about giving the book new life."

He also loves the idea of creating art out of an artefact. That happened to an extreme degree when he first moved here in 2009 when, while he was working with copies of the Tucson Citizen, the printed version of the newspaper folded. "I was making art with something that became an artifact that day." He still has a Tucson Citizen sculpture of a dog to prove it.

Nick Georgiou's work sells from $500 to $6000. Contact him at

Photo: Gillian Drummond

Tucson Citizen dog

The dog made from copies of the Tucson Citizen. Photo: Gillian Drummond









Map art

Cartography gets abstract – and we don’t really care if it gets us lost.

[Read more...]

Coconut walls anyone?

Photo: Cocomosaic

How’s this for extreme recycling? Tile made out of coconut shell. It’s lightweight, low-maintenance and as exotic as could be. By Gillian Drummond

Tucson business owner Elizabeth Miller, a favorite of interior designers here thanks to her tile and stone company Fractured Earth, is always experimenting with surfaces. You could say it's part of her job description. The latest plan for her master bedroom? A headboard 'wall' made out of coconut shells.

The company behind this bizarre but beautiful finish is Cocomosaic, headquartered in West Java, Indonesia, where jobs are scarce but coconut shells are abundant. Cocomosaic turns the coconut chips into tile. These shells would otherwise be wasted, it says, and making them can occupy at least 40 workers for a whole month. Cocomosaic was rewarded by the President of Indonesia for its job creation and eco-friendly product (it's 100% natural with low-VOC resin.)

At around $16 per square feet (plus shipping), it can get pricey if you have a large surface to cover. But a little of this goes a long way in terms of packing a pretty and Planet-Earth-friendly punch.

After: Coconut mosaic  Photo: Gillian Drummond

Before: the raw content          Photo: Cocomosaic







Here's the lowdown on what to do with it:

* Use as backsplashes and wall coverings, even in light traffic areas of a floor. If you're applying them in moist areas, you may want to add a water-proof seal to give extra protection against water.

Backsplash Photo: cocomosaic

detail Photo: cocomosaics

* Clean down with a damp cloth, mop or vacuum.

* It doesn’t need grout; simply set the 16.5” by 16.5” panels 1 to 2mm apart and fill in with a sealant

* Glue them to your surface with silicon glue.

* For an even bolder look, try one of Cocomosaic's eight colored products, including blue, pink, orange and green.

Visit Cocomosaic online or check them out at Fractured Earth (by interior designer appointment only).

Variety in color and finish Photo: Cocomosaic

It comes in colors too Photo: CocoMosaic

Photo: Cocomosaic

Et Cetera

Photo: Bil Taylor

The latest property news, a new urban market, and a sneak peek at Tucson's next home tour.

Low, low prices

Investors and first-time buyers are battling over home inventory in and around Tucson, with prices still way low. Read the monthly property round-up  from Tucson real estate agent Brent VanKoevering.

Swap, sell, meet

Photo: Gillian Drummond

Check out the new Presidio Fashion Exchange every Saturday from 8am to noon at Dinnerware Artspace, 425 W. Sixth Street. This urban market is designed to celebrate the wares of local makers of handmade accessories, clothing and art. Tables, chairs and space provided free for sellers. [email protected] for details.

AIA Home Tour

AIA Southern Arizona has another juicy home tour lined up as part of next week's Architecture Week. Among them: a modern rammed earth home; a contemporary take on traditional Western materials (and the house is in the shape of a pair of cowboy boots); a dwelling made out of shipping containers; and a renovated 1927 bungalow.

Here are our own top 3 picks:

1. The Tuesday + Thursday House. This deserves a visit if only for its telling name. Architect/builder Bil Taylor was teaching at the U of A's College of Architecture when he began the project three years ago. Tuesdays and Thursdays were his days off from teaching, when he devoted time to creating this house for him and his wife.

The place is deceptive. From outside the front it resembles, in Bil's own words, a kid-like drawing, with just one door, one window and apparently one storey. Inside, a glass-railed spiral stairway, made of the same dark bamboo as the floor, drops to another level.

Photo: Bil Taylor

Also worth a peek:

* interior plantings of black bamboo;

*  a 3,000-gallon rainwater cistern and filtering system that provides all the interior water, including drinking water;

* and Bil's own favorite spot, a cantilevered patio deck that overlooks the Rillito River.


Photo: Bil Taylor






2. The Container House. You may have seen Jason Anderson's shipping container home on N. Mountain Avenue. And if you haven't, you've probably heard about the stink it's caused with some neighbors. But this is the first time you'll get to see inside.

Photo: Jason Anderson

Photo: Jason Anderson

Photo: Jason Anderson

There's bamboo flooring, laminated recycled MDF cabinets, and plans for an expanded metal skin on the outside of the unit.

Of the negative reaction from some locals he says: "I was caught off guard. I thought it was a meaningful example of infill development."

And he assures us that not only has he met all the planning and zoning regulations surrounding container housing - including sourcing the containers from a reputable supplier - but that the units have been tested for any residues, such as hazardous chemicals.

Jason plans to rent the space out. Meantime, he's also building up his restaurant experience. Jason is the architect/designer behind Union Public HouseCartel Coffee Lab, and now the owner-architect of the new Asian "food bar" Umi Star at 2502 N. Campbell.

3. Tucson Mountain Retreat Don't just visit this for the rammed earth, concrete, stone and mother-of-pearl (yes, really) on the walls. Keep an eye out for the custom steel and leather chairs from Cade Hayes of DUST, who doubles as an architect and furniture maker. Hayes and business partner Jesus Robles designed and built the house.

Also not to be missed: the rooftop living and dining area served by a dumb waiter located in the kitchen, and the extreme inside/outside vibe going on. That's thanks to commercial sliding glass doors from Fleetwood that sit on seamless tracks so you don't have to cross any threshold. "It was pushing the boundary of what this company was even willing to do, the glass is so big," says Hayes.

(And if just looking at the photo makes you fearful of desert creepy crawlies, don't be: Cade says the bug screens were removed for the pics.)

Photo: Cade Hayes

Details: Architecture Week runs September 29 - October 7  and includes a self-guided home tour, lectures, mall exhibits and design/build competitions. A portion of the $22.50 ticket price for the home tour benefits Habitat for Humanity. More info at 520 323 2191 or


Square Feet

Michelle Hotchkiss, Realtor extraordinaire

Photo: Michelle Hotchkiss


Michelle Hotchkiss, real estate agent and mid century fiend, has square feet and a nose for great property. Each issue she brings us her pick of the week.



Photo: Long Realty

Where it is: Winterhaven, Tucson
Listed by: Long Realty Company
The damage:$325,000
You’ll love it because: Starting with the framed glass front door, every detail of this '50s brick ranch house has been rehabbed. It's a clever mix of vintage and modern: dual-sided fireplace; coved ceilings; spa-like bathrooms; new Pella windows; a saltwater lap pool to fall a little in love with. And the monthly HOA fee of $53 covers your water bill.
Here comes the ‘but’: Better get in the Christmas spirit every year for those Winterhaven Lights. The annual event stops traffic for several weeks in December - literally.

Find more of Michelle's property picks at Atomic Tucson.

Photo: Long Realty

Photo: Long Realty


Pleased to Meet You

Tucson architect Rob Paulus on heading up Architecture Week, building things with cans, and his jamming alter ego.

Photo: Rob Paulus


Why is there an Architecture Week? "It is our chance, as architects, to reach out to and connect with the public. There is a relatively small population that appreciates the built environment and it is our goal to expand that population. Our profession is guilty of not communicating well to the general public, so by putting on Architecture Week and the many events within it - from Kidstruction, Canstruction, bike tours and walking tours, lectures, to the Home Tour -  we are showing people what quality design is, and what it can do for them. "

The theme of Architecture Week this year is “Arizona Centennial - Looking Back to See the Future”. How did you settle on this theme? "Fellow AIA director, John Price, came up with the theme to tie into the State of Arizona’s Centennial. There is a lot to be learned from the historic, built environment here in Tucson, especially the scale of our downtown and how they dealt with our climate without air conditioning. Back when Arizona first became a State, there was a mule-drawn trolley running through downtown. Perhaps we have come full circle with our desire to once again make a thriving urban downtown."

What is your favorite part of Architecture Week? "Definitely it would be the Home Tour. My firm has had our projects featured on the Home Tour for the last 10 years. (I have personally been involved in AW for the past three years.) The Home Tour gives the public a chance to be a voyeur with someone’s private house while also giving a glimpse into the mind of the architect. The demographic of tour participant is quite varied but they all seem to share a love of high quality design."

Tell us about Canstruction. "It's a fun and fruitful event that we do in partnership with the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, with all the cans used going to the Food Bank. The inspiration for our own first Canstruction sculpture was the Community Food Bank itself.  I was overwhelmed by both the enormous need, and the scope of the operation that is the Food Bank, caring for people all over Southern Arizona. It was after meeting with them for the first time that I came up with the idea to build a heart out of cans."

Rob's first can structure was all heart. Photo: Rob Paulus

Are you an early bird or a night owl? "Definitely a night owl."

Favorite accessory? "A black felt-tip pen."

Favorite faux pas? "Continuing to play tennis against my wife after she suggested that it was time to stop. She proceeded to hit a low ball over the net, I dove for it and tore my Achilles tendon. Its not the first time I should have listened."

Your dream client? "Someone who has an appreciation for abstract concepts and for nature, and a willingness to explore and 'play in the sandbox'."

“If I wasn’t an architect I would like to…” "Be a full-time musician. I play bass guitar and violin and I'm in local jazz/R&B band Genevieve and the LP’s. My wife Randi Dorman is a singer and my 8-year- old-daughter Skye plays the drums and jams with my band."

Find Rob Paulus Architects at

* Architecture Week, organized by the American Institute of Architects Southern Arizona Chapter, runs from Sept. 29 – Oct. 7, 2012. For our full story click here. Learn more about the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona here.