Free Film Fest Tickets!

azfflogoAre you ready for the 23rd annual Arizona Film Festival? We are! And we're excited to be giving away two sets of two tickets to the Cuban-themed opening party on Friday April 11th, 6 pm to 9 pm. To be entered into the draw, simply leave a comment below. We'll pull names over the weekend and announce the winners on Monday April 7th.

* The film festival takes place April 11 to 27th at several Tucson venues. For more info, click here. 


Harlem Street Singer, one of the film festival picks, tells the story of Reverend Gary Davis, the great ragtime and gospel musician. Photo courtesy of Acoustic Traditions





Dear Tucson...

Love Letters to Tucson logoEach issue we link up with Rachel Miller's Love Letters to Tucson blog for a letter from a Tucson inhabitant about why they love this fair city. This month, in celebration of Kon Tiki's 50th birthday, regular Maggie Rickard pays homage to a Tucson classic. Photos by Rachel Miller.

maggie rickard

Dear Tucson,

I love you

I love your natural beauty and devastating sunsets.

I love the music and art that you have inspired us to make.

I love that you offer so much more than you ask in return.

I also love being able to have one of Kon Tiki’s lovely rummy cocktail at the end of an overly rough day.

I fell in love with you on vacation. Following a particularly strenuous physical therapy session, I opened the door of Kon Tiki and entered another world. While we poured over tiki on Ebay in New York, we could find no real Tiki bars. In Tucson I could be IN the Kon Tiki.

Kon Tiki is our staycation, our escape. When we want to be in another place we open the door and find paradise here. For a few hours… an escape to relax.



Velvet Hammer, aka Maggie Rickard, moved to Tucson in 2002 with her partner Mark Bloom. Drawn by the warm weather, the lack of walk-up apartment buildings and the Kon Tiki bar, Maggie and Mark have been creating beautiful glass mosaics and art as Velvet Glass since they moved here. Maggie’s alter- ego Velvet Hammer is the drummer for the Jonestown Band

You can see the rest of Maggie’s photo shoot here


Maggie outside her favorite haunt, Kon Tiki.

Square Feet

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 Tucson properties for sale. 



Michelle Hotchkiss. Photo by Casey Sapio

Where it is: Indian Ridge subdivision, east side of Tucson.

Listed by: Tierra Antigua

The damage: $427,500

How many square feet? 4320 sq ft combined; 3491 for main house, 829 for guest house

You'll love it because: First of all I love the Lusk-built subdivision of Indian Ridge, so you get me there.  This 1959 vintage home rambles on almost half an acre and my favorite thing about it is the detached guest house. It was built in 1963 and designed by the firm of Cain, Nelson and Ware (six of Nelson’s commercial buildings were included in the Modern Architecture Preservation Project’s MODERN 50 project, which identified “50 exceptionally significant examples of mid-century Modern architecture in Tucson".) Cain, Nelson and Ware are more known for their 'brutalist' style, but the guest house (interior pictured below) is anything but. It's a sweet one-bedroom place all on it's own, so you are really getting two houses for one here.

Here comes the but: While on a huge lot, the house should have been situated further to one side of the lot. As it stands now the house opens up towards its backyard, which is very small, and up against the neighbors' fence.  Also while there is community pool residents can join, this house is a great big family home, and could use a pool.  It could also stand to have the kitchen re-configured so that you don't have to walk across the dining room to get to the refrigerator!
For more on Michelle, read her Atomic Tucson Facebook page or contact Michelle Hotchkiss, a RE/MAX Catalina Foothills Realty agent, here.



Ground Floor

 brought to you by

boxhill logo

Every issue, landscape designer Darbi Davis digs deep to bring you stories for your outdoor space. This month: making the case for clotheslines. Plus: scroll down for cool product picks from BoxhillCover photo courtesy of Steve Martino.


Photo courtesy of Steve Martino

It used to be a domestic art complete with cultural quirks, abundant conversation, memory making, and a visual record of trends and the passing of time, as clothes changed shape and hemlines rose and fell to reveal the latest fashions.

But clotheslines disappeared with the onset of the dryer, when the convenience of a machine sent the string into extinction.  At the turn of the millennium, dryer usage accounted for 6% of household electricity use in the United States, according to the Department of Energy.  The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that residential dryers consume 445 million therms of natural gas annually, leading to carbon dioxide emissions of 32 million metric tons.

We should be grateful that the sun doesn’t hold grudges, as we scurry to bottle its energy, save money, and reverse what we created. The clothesline seems like an obvious energy-saving device, especially in southern Arizona - a place that has abundant sunshine and heat almost all year round.  Who wouldn’t want to save money, energy, and get outside more often - especially in our funky, arid town? And anyway, there's nothing easier, or cheaper: some taut rope, two trees, and the sun's rays.


Photo courtesy of Steve Martino

Sadly, some view the clothesline as a property- value-reducing eyesore.  As a result, the most basic of energy saving concepts is banned in some residential communities and regulated through Homeowner Associations and their CC&R’s (Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions) – citing terms such as nuisance and unsightliness. Hence the 'Right to Dry' movement and websites such as, where you'll find maps that indicate where it’s permissible and prohibited, complete with hefty fines, to let it all hang out and a wealth of information on your right to dry.

The good news for us in Tucson is that Solar Access Laws prevent the anti-line-dry laws from being valid in Arizona (and many other states). But still, some communities in our county have banned clothelines.

Tucson resident Hope Reed loves her clothesline which stretches from the ramada to a trellis across the backyard of her barrio abode.  “I love my clothesline.  Crisp sheets are the best, and I feel like a jerk running the dryer when our yard is often like a big oven,” says Hope.

3 Story’s own Gillian Drummond says she can count on one hand the number of times she has used her electric dryer. “It came with the house, otherwise I honestly wouldn’t bother having one. It just doesn’t make sense to me when the washing dries quicker outside than in a dryer. Hanging out my washing takes extra time, but I see it as a chance for some fresh air. I have photos of my kids wrapping themselves in sheets hanging on the line. It’s fun, and I happen to love the look of it – this constantly changing colorful art in your yard.”


Arty things are planned for the clothesline at this Menlo Park property. Photo by Darbi Davis

Wardrobe consultant Monica Negri gets playful with her Tucson clothesline. Photo courtesy of Monica Negri

Wardrobe consultant Monica Negri gets playful with her Tucson clothesline. Photo courtesy of Monica Negri

When Monica Negri, wardrobe consultant and owner of Ten Outfits, first suggested a clothesline to her husband, he scoffed. "Being who I am, I negated his opinion and went out and bought one anyway," she says.

Five years later, her husband loves it - and so does Monica. "Why use a dryer in the desert when the Arizona sun and heat dry clothes in 15 minutes? Also, I think it is just cool. I love looking at all the clothes lined up."

The fact is, clotheslines literally can be art - and that bucks the notion that it’s an eyesore. They can also help with passive cooling. For example, an artfully designed clothesline on the west side of a home might shade a west facing wall when used during certain times of the day.  That is exactly what is planned for this Menlo Park property I am currently working on (pictured opposite).  The clothesline will move from the Ramada to the west side where a hefty line will span between two abstract metal sculptures (one is currently functioning as modern outdoor art and the other was found laying helpless behind a shed).  Ironically, the metal sculpture and its not-so-loved partner are classic, rusted, and repurposed clothesline poles from an era when clotheslines were the only option.

Phoenix-based landscape Architect Steve Martino demonstrates how a basic clothesline can inspire a modern look of “a clothesline awning.” It actually shades a window and blocks the view to the neighbor’s roof, says Steve.  And although it’s not used for hanging clothes, the design clearly hints at line-dried nostalgia.  (Take that, HOA’s!)


Phoenix landscape architect Steve Martino was inspired by clothes lines with this yard fixture. Photo courtesy of Steve Martino

National Hanging Out Day is April 19th, which seems like a perfect opportunity to rekindle a clothesline ritual.  Aesthetic options are endless, but keep it simple and the chances of a weekly routine settling in might be greater.  The process, while a bit longer than dumping into a dryer, offers a moment of fresh air, a break from the indoors, and hopefully a feeling that you are doing some good for the planet – and saving money while you're at it.

Darbi's Plant of the Month: Trichocereus hybrids


Photo by Darbi Davis

These are from South America but do exceptionally well in our climate. They have the most spectacular display of flowers typically later in the Spring. But, possibly due to our warm winter in Southern Arizona, they are flowering earlier this year. Photographs can hardly capture their beauty.


What's HOT for your desert yard

Boxhill brings us its product picks each month. This issue: getting in the mood for Spring.

boxhill april 2014






Pleased to Meet You

Leading up to the Arizona International Film Festival, Tucson actor, filmmaker and reviewer Brendan Guy Murphy talks intentional faux pas, ramming whaling boats, and respect. By Joan Calcagno.


Brendan Guy Murphy. Photo by Sergio Kardenas

Early bird or night owl? “I’m predominately a night owl, but it kind of comes and goes. That’s just part of being a Gemini – and depending on what work is happening at the moment. I mean, I love mornings but I love sleep even more, so I do lean more towards night owl. My girlfriend and I live together and she works kind of normal hours so for us to spend time together, it helps dictate when we go to bed - we want to go to bed together.”

Favorite accessory? “It used to be watches, but I think the cellphone has killed that industry a little bit. Now I really enjoy glasses. So far, I have three pairs – two regular and one pair prescription sunglasses. I’m fighting hard not to get any more!”

Favorite faux pas? “I kind of feel like I’m a walking faux pas. I am always saying something inappropriate, but not mean-spirited. For me, it’s more of a disarming thing – it allows me to break into a new situation and allows me to connect with somebody much more quickly. Intentional faux pas - just little jabs. I think you can tell who you can do that with. It’s an ice-breaker and cutting through the bullshit very quickly.”


A self-portrait of Brendan with his girlfriend, Dallas Thomas. Photo by Brendan Guy Murphy

If I weren’t an actor/reviewer/producer I would… “If I stayed in the arts, and went back in time, I would be an opera singer or photographer for National Geographic. If not in the arts, I would want to do something to help preserve wildlife – like join a vessel that rams whaling boats or some other very active participation. I was so captivated by the guy who was one of the originators of Greenpeace and then broke off, bought a boat. They put themselves in between whaling vessels and whales – spears flying over their heads. I thought ‘Now that’s really putting your money where your mouth is!’ Something that drives me – that I want to make another short film about – is empathy, decency and respect for wildlife. Nothing moves me more.”

If I could change one thing I would… “The idealist [in me] would wish for a re-start button for the world, and the U.S., since that’s where I’m living. I think there are institutions and laws that perpetuate racism, sexism and homophobia and wealth disparity. Life is challenging enough without ignorant human-made tremendous hurtles to overcome as well. With a re-start, I wouldn’t put everything in a small group’s hands. There would be a level playing field, with everyone having as much power and respect and a voice as everyone else.”

What's your involvement with this year's Arizona International Film Festival? “I reviewed about 30 films for the Arizona International Film Festival to help the organizers make decisions about what films should be included. I try to become the film viewer that I would like other film viewers to be. For some festivals, reviewers only watch the first minute and half of a short film or the first fifteen minutes of a feature film and make a decision. But I know the work that goes into [making a film]. It can be difficult, but I watched every film I was given at least once all the way through and sometimes two or three times if I was on the fence about something. It can be hard not to have preconceived notions, because you’ve heard about [a film] but good reviewers allow themselves to be taken somewhere unexpected.”


Late Spring, a film from South Korea, will be screened at this year's Arizona International Film Festival

What film will you not be missing at this year's Arizona International Film Festival? “Some of the films I reviewed I really want to see on the big screen. One will be showing opening night of the festival. It’s a South Korean feature film: Late Spring. It’s an interesting story about a man with a physical ailment who is somewhat catatonic because he cannot do sculpture anymore. His wife looks to find him a muse. It’s not just about his rehabilitation or the love his wife has for him, it says a lot about Korean society and the family unit. It hit me on deeper levels every ten minutes. And it’s beautifully shot.”

Favorite cinematic moment? “I’m a huge fan of Stanley Tucci. I got to meet him briefly. James Redford, Robert Redford’s son, made a movie here called Spin and I was cast as Stanley Tucci’s brother. I didn’t have any scenes with him; I die in the beginning. I wanted to be there longer so I asked if I could be a stand-in so I could be around for the whole film, waiting for a moment.

"One day Stanley Tucci came up to me and asked for a cigarette and I thought ‘Here’s that moment’. [We talked] about his movie Big Night - it was his casting, he wrote it, produced it, those are all his friends in it - and the cinematic moment at the end when there’s not a word spoken and the brothers come back together in the kitchen and are quietly eating eggs made in olive oil together and they pat each other on the back and hug a little as if to say ‘big fight - we don’t agree on these things, but we’re brothers’. I’ve never made eggs in butter again.”

* Find all the details about this year's Arizona International Film Festival, April 11-27, here. Brendan will be appearing in the festival in the short film Sheltered Love. He will begin shooting Blood Widow, the first feature film for his company Murphy Speaking Films, this fall.

* Want to go to the film fest's opening party? We're giving away two sets of tickets!


Brendan in the short film One Foot In by University of Arizona seniors Alexis B. Preston (director) and Cooper James (cinematographer). Photo courtesy of Alexis B. Preston and Cooper James.





My Space

As Tucson gets ready for its latest Cyclovia event, Brad Lancaster - permaculture expert, environmentalist and two-wheel king - tells us why his favorite space is his Xtracycle. Story and photos by Gabby Ferreira.


Brad Lancaster on his Xtracycle cargo bike. It carries kids, ladders...

"I got really into cycling in elementary school. I loved riding my bike with my friends, so we'd ride the two miles to school every day and we loved it because it was an adventure. No parents, no bus driver-- we could take whatever route we wanted. I continued to do it and it was always a cheaper way to go, but I also ran cross-country and track so it was a way for me to train. As time went on, it was less about exercise and more about saving money and I enjoyed it more. Now that I'm 47, exercise is back up there again! Doing my writing, I spend a fair amount of time on the computer, so it's awesome to get that break. I'll make excuses to run errands just so I can ride the bike.

"A big reason why I cycle is it really clears my head. It doesn't matter how stressful the day, if I can have that bike ride everything's cool. I see more of my friends around town this way. It's hard for me to see someone behind a windshield and recognize them, but this way I see friends all the time. It's a speed of transportation that encourages me to take the extra two-block detour to visit a friend because it's easy and parking's not a problem.

bradlan2"It can be your car. I sold my car in 1996 and I've been carless since then. Originally, when I met Ross [Evans, the inventor of Xtracycle], I had a bicycle trailer. That was great, but if I didn't have the trailer with me and saw something I wanted to carry, I had to go back for the trailer. With the Xtracycle, I always have the trailer. It's more compact but can take just as much stuff and it is the bike itself. I'm really passionate about how we can make the most of and enhance what we already have for free. That's a big reason why I like riding bikes. I don't have to pay for gas, I don't have to pay for insurance, I just buy more burritos!


It carries lumber...

"I remember pulling up to a stop sign on my bike in the middle of summer. I wasn't sweating profusely because I was outside and there's a breeze. I looked at the car next to me and there's a woman in there and her hair was being blown backwards but her windows were closed. I realized she had her air conditioner on high. The exhaust was just pumping the toxins right towards me and I saw the mirage effect of the heat rising off the car. She was obviously very comfortable and enjoying the ride but what's the expense to the community? What's the expense to me and my health? I feel really good knowing that I'm not worsening anyone's health. Rather, I really believe I'm helping enhance the community health.

"I love life, so I'd rather do things that are more enlivening, that enable me to have a greater tactile experience of that life. Cycling was an easy fit with all that. Where I've gone with solar design and water harvesting grew from a desire to learn what I never did in school, which is 'How can I do everything in a way that improves my life, improves my community's life, and improves life in the world for everyone and everything?' I don't always make it on all three levels, but just by striving I get a lot further than I would otherwise. It's a challenge and an adventure for myself, so the further I can go the more fun it is for me.


It takes an extra bike...

"It's great how the biking community is really growing. We've been lucky to have the Cyclovia event, and that really shows people a big change. We're getting better-enhanced crossings of major streets, so we're working with other neighborhoods to create a continuous linkage of bicycle boulevards and enhance residential streets with traffic awnings, street tree plantings that are irrigated by street runoff so you have a much more elevated and enhanced experience as you ride your bike.


It takes luggage...

"This neighborhood when we moved here was very high crime, now crime's really dropped a lot through a lot of efforts, one of those being that we have a more walk-able, bike-able community so there's more neighbors on the street seeing each other, looking out for each other, and noticing if anyone's doing anything weird. It's more of a community now."


* Brad Lancaster teaches classes in all aspects of water harvesting, permaculture and sustainable design, passive solar design, gardening, and food production. Additionally, he has written books on rainwater harvesting in the desert. Find out more at his website,

* Cyclovia Tucson, a one-day event that sees streets closed to cars and open exclusively to cyclists, walkers and skaters, takes place April 6th.

For more on Xtracycle's line of cargo bikes, visit


... and it transports passengers. Thanks Brad and friends for a fun photoshoot!


Killer queens

Chess is shedding its old man image for something much more rock ’n roll, and Tucson group 9 Queens has been a major player. By Gabby Ferreira.

Photo by Jeff

This year's Chess Fest takes place April 26th at Hotel Congress. Photo by Jeff Smith

The atmosphere on this Friday night is lively. Children are playing, shouting and laughing, while their parents chat with each other and sometimes join in on the fun. It's a scene that could be found on a playground or a 4th of July get-together. But this is, in fact, a giant chess gathering.

Boys lug giant chess pieces across a large chessboard while others - children and adults - sit at tables, in a space at Bookmans Entertainment Exchange in Tucson.

9 Queens

Photo by Gabby Ferreira

The organization behind it?:  9 Queens, a Tucson non-profit that wants to not only empower children – especially girls – through chess, but to prove that this board game is anything but boring.

In a perfect chess game, nine is the highest number of queens you can have on a board – hence the name 9 Queens. Through events like the 4th Friday Family Fun Night at Bookmans, and its annual Chess Fest – held in the courtyard of Hotel Congress every April – 9 Queens seeks to do several things: make the game fun and accessible; encourage people to reach their ultimate potential; and help chess shed its old-man image.

Photo courtesy of G-Star

Chess champion Magnus Carlsen stars in G-STAR RAW's latest ad campaign. Photo courtesy of G-STAR

That image-shedding is already happening thanks to some pop culture boosts to the game. Ben Affleck, Will Smith, Jessica Simpson, Leonardo DiCaprio and Keanu Reeves have all been associated with the game. Chess superstar Magnus Carlsen, ranked world's top player at the age of just 22, has been dubbed the “Brad Pitt of chess”. He lends his name to  brands like the fashion line G-STAR RAW, and last year was named by Cosmopolitan magazine as one of the world’s sexiest men.

Here in Tucson, 9 Queens’ Chess Fest has attracted its own star players. This year the special guest at the event - held April 26th - is Rochelle Ballantyne, a famous female chess player who is part of the new chess generation.

Rochelle, who attends Stanford University, was featured in the documentary Brooklyn Castle, which is about  five members of a chess team at a below-poverty-level junior high school in Brooklyn that has won more national championships than any other team in the U.S., despite harsh budget cuts. Rochelle was taught by her grandmother,  and says that her family forced her into playing but she started to love it after she won her first competition. "[Winning] translated into me being one of very few women who are very good, and it made me work harder," she says.


9 Queens co-founder Jennifer Shahade is also author of this book.

9 Queens was founded in 2008 by Jean Hoffman and Jennifer Shahade, the latter a Woman Grandmaster and the author of the books Play Like a Girl and Chess Bitch: Women in the Ultimate Intellectual Sport. And while Tucson is something of a chess capital – home to the highest number of chess masters in the United States after St. Louis, Missouri, says Jean – there were populations that were under-served and under-represented. Jennifer points out that, though half of the general population is female, not enough women are involved in the sport. In Chess Bitch she lifts the lid on the gender bias in the sport and tells of young women who are successfully challenging it.

Jeff Smith\

9 Queens wants to address the gender imbalance in chess. Photo byJeff Smith

As the mother of a boy and a girl, Tucsonan Vicki Lazaro had always offered the same after-school activities to her children. “Whether it was karate or ballet, we wanted our children to know they can do anything,” she says. “When we offered our daughter chess, she kept refusing. When I asked her why she looked at me and said ‘Because you don’t play.'” Vicki was determined to play chess with her daughter, despite her own reluctance. “I thought it would be boring and difficult and I didn’t think I’d have the patience for it,” she says.

Then mother and daughter attended a Chess Fest organized by 9 Queens, and Vicki was hooked. "I loved the concept of empowerment through chess. They were encouraging all genders and all races. Once I got involved, I put away all my other puzzles like Sudoku because this was just so much better," she says. "The self- confidence that my daughter got when she realized she could play what she determined to be a very difficult game was very cool to see. For myself, it's helped the way I think. I am better at keeping track of things now."

Jeff Smith\

Photo by Jeff Smith

Vicki is now interim treasurer of 9 Queens and relishing the opportunity to put a different spin on the phrase ‘playing like a girl’. "Being involved in the community and putting out something that's fun and positive and focused on smarts instead of frilly things, it's wonderful," says Vicki.

Though 9 Queens started out in 2008 as a female-oriented organization, the focus has shifted in the past year. "It really was limiting us -  especially in our local community. When you live in a community like Tucson, you want to make something like this available to as many people as possible," says Ann Price, interim president.

Photo by Jeff Smith\

Fun at Chess Fest. Photo by Jeff Smith

"9 Queens is for everybody, but we have a focus on underrepresented communities, like women and girls, refugees, Title I schools, and so on. We are not only focused on women, but we have strong women involved in the organization," adds Vicki.

9 Queens teaches an after-school program at Mexicayotl Academy, as well as providing teacher training. "The cost of a private chess coach is $45," says Vicki, "and we are free." Some of the youth members go on to excel at places like MIT. "Seeing more of our community do things like that is outstanding," says Ann.

They host non-competitive tournaments, as well as the Bookman's night and Chess Fest. The highlight of Chess Fest is a 'simultaneous exhibition'  in which special guest Rochelle Ballantyne will play twenty-five people at the same time.

Photo by Ryan Mihalyi

Hotel Congress is the venue for Chess Fest, where a celebrity player plays lots of games simultaneously. Photo by Ryan Mihalyi

"My hope is that 9 Queens has served as a bridge between the traditional chess world and the greater public," says Jean, who is now Executive Director of the United States Chess Federation and divides her time between Tucson and Tennessee. Jennifer lives in Philadelphia but spends time in New York. Checkmating and castleing apparently run in Jennifer's family; her father Mike Shahade is a FIDE (World Chess Federation) Master and her brother Greg is an International Master who makes instructional chess videos at

The women behind 9 Queens have seen the changes for themselves. Says Jennifer, “you can definitely see the difference” in terms of the number of women involved in chess. Adds Ann Price: “Oftentimes girls would go to a tournament and there would maybe be one other girl in the room. I've had girls tell me that they don't play anymore because they didn't enjoy that. It's tough when your friends aren't playing."


This board game is anything but boring, says 9 Queens. Photo byJeff Smith 

Rochelle says the skills developed with chess – strategizing, communication, self confidence – are translated into all facets of life. “Nothing in life is too far-fetched. If you see something, you can do it - regardless of gender."

* Chess Fest this year will take place on April 26th at Hotel Congress.  Family fun nights are held on the 4th Friday of every month at the Bookmans on Speedway and Wilmot. Learn more about 9 Queens at their website, and on Facebook. You can also check out their Kickstarter campaign here.


3 chess-inspired styles we love

skyline chess

Photo courtesy of Skyline Chess

1. Instead of toppling the King with a pawn, why not use a terraced London house to topple Canary Wharf? The Skyline Chess set  by London designers Ian Flood and Chris Prosser replaces traditional pieces with recognizable London buildings. They're raising money for the set through Kickstarter, and plan to produce chess sets inspired by New York and Paris in the future.


Photo courtesy of Moooi

2. This chess end table by Moooi in The Netherlands can be used as a chessboard or just as a feisty accent piece. We think it's a great conversation starter. And we spotted something similar down at Tucson's Playground bar and lounge.


Photo courtesy of Bruce Palmer Design Studio

3. This patio, designed to look like a chessboard, wins top marks from us for its simplicity. It's by Bruce Palmer Design Studio in Wilmington, Delaware.





The space whisperers

Architects Luis Ibarra and Teresa Rosano don't just fill a space, they listen to it first. Here, the award-winning Tucson couple share their unique approach - and their home. By Kaleigh Shufeldt.

Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

The Levin residence by Ibarra Rosano. Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

The Garcia residence by Ibarra Rosano. Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

There is no such thing as a blank slate in architecture, say Teresa Rosano and Luis Ibarra, the married couple that makes up Ibarra Rosano Design Architects in Tucson. They believe architecture is already present at a site, whether it is an empty city lot or virgin desert.

Says Luis: “It’s learning to listen to the site itself, letting it kind of guide you through. If you sit still long enough you'll learn to listen to the patterns. You will begin to understand how to apply what you need to the site, in a way that is both respectful, harmonious. When we come to a site, we come at it trying to understand the architecture that’s already there, the good qualities and the bad qualities.”

The couple looks at a site without any preconceptions or idea of style. In fact, style is not one of Luis’ favorite words. He believes style sets rules that can keep them from seeing the actual solution.

But if their own style, or aesthetic, were to be summed up, it would be Desert Modern: creating modern buildings that are inspired by the desert. They focus on the natural colors of the area, with materials that will cause the least damage to the terrain – and are based off of the site. “It is usually the coloration of a site, the ground, the rock, the vegetation that leads us to particular hues,” says Teresa.

Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

The Downing residence, by Ibarra Rosano. Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

Luis and Teresa. Photo by Chris Richards courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

Both born and bred in Tucson, they came to appreciate their home desert turf in different ways. Teresa grew up on the far northwest side of Tucson, where she spent her weekends in the desert as her father - with no architectural experience - built their family home out of adobe brick. Her days playing in the desert led to a love of it, she says. It was one she fully appreciated on a visit to Taliesin East, Frank Lloyd Wright’s estate in Wisconsin. There on a wall were photographs of Taliesin West, the architect’s famed winter home in Scottsdale. Despite the lush greenery she was in at the time, “I saw the pictures of the desert and it was like there was a little flutter in me. I thought, ‘That’s home’.”

Luis, who grew up on the east side, says he thought every place was like Tucson. It was only when he started studying architecture at the University of Arizona, and was exposed to different building styles and people from around the world, that he realized he lived in a “special place.”


The Garcia residence by Ibarra Rosano. Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

Luis and Teresa met at the University of Arizona College of Architecture, Teresa in her second year and Luis in his third. While they were still in school they worked on their first project together, a kitchen and porch remodel. From there they interned with architects around the city then started their firm. In 1997, now married and after just renovating their kitchen, they entered into an American Homestyle and Gardening design competition and won first prize. The publicity from their win got them their first client.

Both now lecture at the UA, Teresa a class on site analysis and planning, and Luis land ethics, sharing their lessons in space with architecture students. “We come up with ideas that aren’t normal,” says Luis. They use a variety of materials, such as adobe, straw-bale, cement, concrete block, and integra block.

Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

A courtyard fireplace at Luis and Teresa's home in Tucson. Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

A tour of their own home, in a mid-century district of Tucson’s midtown, showcases not only their modernist philosophies, but innovative thinking. Originally a small box of a house built in 1947, they bought it in 1995 and are still renovating.

A studio in the yard that serves as an office for them and four more staff is made out of RASTRA, an insulating concrete form. The floor is made out of cork bulletin boards – much cheaper than a regular cork floor, at 50 cents a square foot. In the main house, an addition to the original building has cut-outs in the Integra block that funnel air when their swamp cooler is running. A shower has a removable styrofoam roof, turning it into an outside shower for months of the year. The spacious living/dining room, its perimeter wall facing east, has been redesigned with a long, low window along the bottom that brings in just enough light, but keeps out the morning sun.

Photo by Gillian Drummond

Inside Luis and Teresa's home, with low-lying window. Photo by Gillian Drummond

Their preference is for simple and bright: cobalt blues and lime greens, blonde wood, and plenty of IKEA wardrobes and sliding doors. In their laundry room, glass-fronted IKEA doors and cabinets hide every single appliance and object from sight.

Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

A custom headboard in the home of Luis and Teresa. Photo by Gillian Drummond

Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

This mosaic tile bench in the couple's bedroom was made by Teresa's father. Photo by Gillian Drummond


Luis says the seller of their house - a daughter who was selling it on behalf of her deceased mother - gave up a cash offer in favor of the young architects. They described their plans for it, and she told them her mother had always wanted to remodel. "She knew we were going to put love into it," he says.

Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

This yard was landscaped by Ibarra Rosano. Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

A play yard was part of this remodel by the couple. Photo by Chris Richards courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

If he has a legacy, he wants it to be not a lasting style or look that he and Teresa are known for, but rather buildings that fit their surroundings. "I'd like to think we did the best we could, we didn't do what was trendy."

Their work in Tucson and the surrounding desert ranges from city housing and commercial spaces (a duplex, courtyard homes, a fashion boutique, The Screening Room facade) to mountain-hugging desert residences and a residence in Alberta, Canada.

Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

The Levin residence by Ibarra Rosano. Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

Whether trend-setting, trend-bucking, or just plain loving - of their trade and of their spaces - this couple is getting noticed. They are recipients of more than 50 regional and national design awards and a recent Best of Houzz award for design. They have been lauded by architecture magazines as rising stars, both in the southwest and nationally. In 2013 their project, the Levin Residence - made up of three rectangular forms appearing to hover over the desert - was featured on ArchDaily and HGTV’s Extreme Homes. The ultra-contemporary Levin Residence is now the backdrop for BMW’s new print and web advertising campaign for its Series 3 Gran Turismo.

Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

The Levin residence is currently featured in this ad for BMW. Photo courtesy of BMW

*For more on Ibarra Rosano Design Architecture go to or call (520) 795-5477.

* See more of the couple's work on the slideshow below.

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The not-so-secret life of Ida Tapper

By day she's shy, conservative and teetotal. By night she's a burlesque dancer. We delve into a remarkable double life. Cover photo by Michael Luna Photography. By Gillian Drummond

She's not what we expected. We imagined tighter clothes. Flamboyance. Lipstick. But she's in workout gear - a T-shirt, leggings and hoodie. She's quietly sipping her Starbucks drink on the patio. The makeup, though there, is barely discernible.

"I did put on some mascara and lipstick for you!" she laughs. "I usually wear nothing."

Except, that is, when she takes to the stage as her alter ego. Then, after an hour and a half of hair styling and make-up application, after donning elaborate costumes handmade by her, she gradually and teasingly removes them. And she reveals not much at all: scant underwear, and a pair of pasties, or nipple covers.

By night she is Ida Tapper, an alter ego she has created as part of Tucson's burgeoning burlesque scene. By day? Well, that would be telling. Although we could reveal her real name (it's there on her Starbucks cup in black Sharpie pen), that would be breaking the burlesque rules. Ida and her cohorts have stage names. It's a way for them to maintain some privacy, and to separate their very public night-time persona from their 'real' selves - people who hold down jobs, and have partners, children and families.

For this dancer - still relatively new to burlesque - her pseudonym is also her crutch. As Ida she is empowered, sexy, bawdy, theatrical. Her daytime self hadn't even set foot inside a bar, let alone seen a burlesque show, when, three years ago, a friend took her to see Black Cherry Burlesque show at The Surly Wench pub on Tucson's Fourth Avenue. The dancers undressed to Schubert's Ave Maria, huge white feather fans like giant clam shells, dipping and curling and covering their bodies. Ida was hooked. She grabbed one of the troupe members after the show - stage name Fanny Galore - and gushed in appreciation and awe. Fanny suggested Ida come and take a class for newbies, with a public show at the end of it.

Ida, who had grown up dancing but left her dance hobby behind when she pursued music, was drawn to the idea of performing dance again. But first, Fanny had to assuage Ida’s fears, which ranged from exposing the cellulite on her thighs, to being found out at work. As a public school teacher, she feared she might be sacked. Fanny assured her this wasn’t a sacking offence.

Photo by Michael Luna, MLP Studios, Scottsdale

Photo by Michael Luna Photography/MLP Studios, Scottsdale

Today, burlesque is not just a hobby, it’s an outlet, says Ida. "The Ida in me needed to come out." That’s why you’ll find Ida at this week’s Body Love Conference in Tucson, leading a workshop called Beginner Burlesque: The Art of the Tease. The conference, which takes place at the University of Arizona and is the brainchild of Tucson blogger and body positive advocate Jes Baker, has one simple message: Change your world, not your body.

At 5 feet 9 and a size 2, Ida doesn’t seem like an obvious candidate for encouraging body love to women of all shapes and sizes. But despite her statuesque looks, she never considered herself attractive. She grew up an identical twin. "I was the more scholarly one, I was into school and academics. My sister had the tattoos and the piercings and went drinking. She was the pretty one, I was the smart one. That affected my confidence going on stage."

Photo by Steve McMakin

Tucson's Don't Blink Burlesque troupe is getting noticed across the country. Photo by Steve McMackin/Impulse Nine Media

That first time, she gave herself a pep talk backstage. Having performed music, she was no stranger to the stage. But taking her clothes off was another thing. So she told herself that, although she may be scared, Ida, her alter ego, was comfortable and content. And then a funny thing happened. She dug so deep into that alter ego that, mentally, she disappeared. Even today, with hundreds of performances to her name, she still can't tell you how her audience is reacting, whether they're even clapping. "I don't notice that. I really am in my own world," she says.

The day after she first shared Ida with the world, she was walking taller, smiling more. "I was going 'I have a secret. None of you know what I did last night'."

And now, she doesn't care whether the cellulite shows or not. "The feminist in me said I wanted to show everything I have. I wanted to stop being ashamed of what I look like and bring it all and say to the audience 'Take it or leave it'." Ida hopes visitors to the Body Love conference will feel the same way.

Fanny Galore, Ida's mentor and now colleague - one of the four who make up the Tucson troupe Don't Blink Burlesque - says body confidence was a happy byproduct. "I never thought I had a good body until I started doing burlesque," says Fanny, once a member of the Black Cherry troupe and now operating the burlesque 'university', Fanny's Fox Den. Many of her students (and she has taught more than a hundred) are, like Ida, inherently shy and the opposite of their stage personas. "I think to an extent a lot of us are trying to tap into something that's somewhat suppressed. A lot of my students tell me they're actually shy. The stage is a safe place," says Fanny.

Ida has seen friendships made as well as relationships suffer as part of Tucson's burlesque scene. She knows she's lucky that her own husband has backed her from the start (he attends every show, and helps pack and unpack gear). Also in the audience, on occasion, have been work colleagues. But, adhering to the unspoken burlesque rule that what happens on the stage stays there, none of them have so much as mentioned Ida to her in the office.

Don't Blink Burlesque is made up wholly of "really determined Type A personalities", says Ida. "It's a very driven troupe. You'd be surprised how many advanced degrees we have. Because it's that type of personality that will sew rhinestones on [costumes] for 80 hours and prepare for six months for a show."

Photo by Steve McMakin

Ida (middle) struts her stuff. Photo by Steve McMackin/Impulse Nine Media

Don't Blink Burlesque performs once a week at The Hut, as well as putting on other shows. In June, for the first time, they will compete for the title of best burlesque troupe in the annual Burlesque Hall of Fame event in Las Vegas. And this fall the troupe will put on the first annual Arizona Burlesque Festival - three days and three nights of performances and classes, for wannabes and spectators.

Photo by Steve McMakin

Photo by Steve McMackin/Impulse Nine Media

Don't expect to see Ida performing much over the coming months; she's pregnant with her first child and already busting out of her corsets. But she'll still be on the scene. At a recent Don't Blink gig at Playground in Tucson, she emceed with a brazenness and ribaldry that was difficult to equate with the quiet, serene woman taking midday coffee. The audience lapped it up. And Ida was in her element.

* Ida won't be the only burlesque dancer at The Body Love conference, held April 5th at the University of Arizona. The World Famous Bob, a self-described "female-female impersonator" inspired by drag, and a teacher at the New York School of Burlesque, will be giving a talk on self-confidence. For the full schedule and tickets, click here. For more on Jes Baker, the body positive advocate behind the conference, read our feature here.