By Tara Kirkpatrick
For Lori Carroll, there was never a question of what she would do with her life.
That fate was sealed as a child growing up in Iowa, helping her dad in his lumberyard. “I had access to construction materials, I watched meetings with contractors, I helped my father with inventory, I learned at a young age to mix paint. It was my comfort zone,” she said.
“By 7th grade, I knew what I was going to do in my life and that doesn’t happen for a lot of people,” said the renowned Southern Arizona interior designer and owner of Lori Carroll & Associates. “There was no wasted time. I reflect on how long I’ve been doing this, and I don’t feel like its work. It’s my passion and my love.”
It’s not hyperbole to say Carroll, who celebrates more than three decades in design, is the region’s most prolific and preeminent source of elegant desert living. Her timeless aesthetic graces residential and commercial projects throughout Arizona and beyond. Over her career, she has received more than 100 regional, national and international awards, has appeared on national TV design shows and has been featured in more than 50 publications. She just released her first book, “Circle Square Balance Hue.”
“She’s incredible, not only from her designs but who she is as a person,” said Kelley Taylor Ross, a longtime family friend. “Her courage, work ethic and determination really speak for her and you can see that in her work. She is an incredible woman.”
Known for innovative combinations of texture, materials and color, especially in powder rooms and kitchens, Carroll and her team have infused the “wow” factor into projects from remodeling sorority houses to designing luxury foothills homes to renovating medical and office buildings. A tenacious and consummate professional who often answers emails at all hours, she has earned the respect and praise of clients, builders, contractors and vendors alike. Truly, no one outworks her.
“Lori and I spent many years building very high-end homes,” said retired builder Jeff Wilmeng. “These homes were the most prestigious homes being built in Tucson, and all ended as beautiful homes with happy clients. While Lori’s design talents are obvious, it takes much attention to the process to work with clients for those long periods of construction. Lori was always professional and fun, and made working on these projects with her very rewarding, for me, the trade people and the clients.”
“Lori has worked on several of my projects over the last 20 years,” said Cindy Parseghian, president of the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation. “From remodeling our Tucson home to selecting furniture for our Wyoming house, she has always brought a fresh perspective to every project. Her designs are inventive and livable. She often said to me, ‘I want you to love your house!’ She lives by that motto.”
Early Studies & Influences
Carroll enrolled at the University of Arizona in 1981 to study interior design and had the chance to study at the University of Copenhagen in 1986. “I was in Denmark for a whole summer and the program was set up where we toured around Sweden, Norway and Finland,” she recalled. “Just seeing the attention to detail. They construct their buildings to last hundreds of years. It doesn’t have to be shiny and new to be beautiful.”
To this day, she’s still awed by her visit to the famous Louis Poulsen factory, the iconic Danish lighting manufacturer founded in 1874. “In the 1980s, they were using robots to create their products!” she exclaimed.
As a UArizona student, Carroll worked at Contents Furniture, driven to learn as much as she could about each aspect of the industry. “One of the key things I learned there was being able to listen to people’s wants and communicate well,” she said. “And follow-up – follow-up is huge.”
“You could tell from an early age that Lori was going to be very successful,” said Eric Castillo, whose family owned a reprographics business that Carroll frequented for her school projects. “She carried herself very professionally and treated our employees and staff as working collaborators. You could tell that she embraced her education and she wanted to excel when she finished school as a working design professional.”
After she graduated, Carroll stayed at Contents until 1987. In 1990, she formed the Interline Design Group with partners and eventually became president of what grew to be one of the largest interior design firms in Arizona. In 2000, she launched Lori Carroll & Associates.
“There were goals I wanted to achieve before I finished my career and one was to have my own design studio,” she said. “I was a new mom when I started my business. I don’t know how I was able to manage all that was required. You just don’t think about it and you do it.”
A Force in Design
Today, the mom and grandmother has built her company on the foundation of uncompromising hard work and a talented team. An admirer of color and form, Carroll always totes design magazines with her and relishes the discovery of new materials and looks. “I’m like a kid in a candy shop, if I go to a showroom and see a new wall covering or a new tile. I am always on the lookout for something fresh, creative and impactful.”
She is a firm and assured voice for her projects at each construction site – something she attributes to playing high school sports and serving as a statistician for her school’s football team. “Having these very large players come up to me on the sideline, asking me for their stats – you have to be able to read people and I think that is one thing I’ve been able to develop. You encounter all sorts of personalities on a job site.”
To that end, Carroll knows when a job has been done poorly and isn’t afraid to ask for a redo, whether it’s an incorrectly assembled custom table or an errant tile design. Yet, she is the first to genuinely thank people for doing things well. “I always send them thank you notes,” she said. “I feel very strongly about that. Some contractors are up at 4 a.m., busting their butts to make things happen. I respect and appreciate what they do.”
That respect is the reason Otto Rankin, a window covering specialist, will work all night installing a project for Carroll and be on call for her 24 hours a day. “She will give you an opportunity – but you really have to shine. I was fortunate to get that opportunity to work with her about 12 years ago and I made the cut. I’ve been blessed to work with her ever since.”
When Brad and Anita Feder were building their expansive home in conjunction with HGTV’s “Dream House” series, they wanted Carroll to design it. “The fact that HGTV had really never featured a house on the West Coast and because of the unique design of the house, they were delighted to film the process in Tucson,” said Anita. “We were thrilled to be working with Lori at the time and to have her be part of the process.
“Lori made it such a fun experience and she really was able to make both of us happy even when Brad and I didn’t always agree,” she said. “We enjoyed every interaction with Lori and would work with her again if we ever built another home in Tucson.”
Notable UArizona donors Cole and Jeannie Davis also worked with Carroll on their dream home and have since become her close friends. “We essentially lived together for three years as it was being built,” Jeannie said.
“I would email thoughts I had to her in the middle of the night and I couldn’t believe it, she would get right back to me!” she said. “She was just a real force for us. She always sought our input and offered numerous options for everything. Virtually every room in this house has her fingerprints on it.” That includes a distinctive deep purple ceiling in one room that Jeannie initially doubted. “In the end, it was dead-on,” she said. “It’s just so perfect.”
“This house is a magnificent piece of work and I credit a lot to Lori for its uniqueness,” Jeannie said. “So many of the things she suggested would never have occurred to us.”
After suffering a house fire a few years ago, Ron and Elsie Genova are currently working with Carroll on the renovation. “She and her staff are just so creative and they listen very attentively to the things you like or the things you think you might like and they come up with suggestions and ideas. They are a pleasure to work with and she leads them well,” said Elsie Genova.