After four decades in the business, interior designer Lori Carroll knows a thing or two about kitchens, powder rooms and a whole lot more.
By Nora Burba Trulsson
Photography courtesy of Lori Carroll & Associate
Tucson’s Lori Carroll is the high priestess of powder rooms, the queen of kitchen design. Though she’s won a ton (maybe 100) awards for those spaces, Carroll isn’t just about sinks, faucets and tile. After nearly 40 years in the business, Carroll has become Arizona’s go-to designer for timeless, classic interiors with contemporary details, created for both residential and commercial clients.
Carroll grew up in small-town Iowa—a place, she recalls, that emphasized hard work and integrity. During a 7th-grade career class, she decided that interior design would be her path, eventually coming to Tucson to study the subject at UA. “I had a summer abroad during college,” Carroll remembers, “and I went to Denmark. Seeing all that Scandinavian design left an impression on me. It was all about simple, lasting design, not following trends.”
With her Iowa work ethic, Carroll was employed at a furniture store in Tucson to help pay for college, then went out on her own in her twenties. “My first ‘big break’ project was doing a sorority house for UA,” she says, “and doing the cafeteria at a local hospital.”
The dye was cast for her dual project pursuits—residential and commercial. After taking on two partners in her design practice, she went back out on her own as Lori Carroll & Associates in 2000, now working with her team of 12 on everything from restaurants, hotels and medical offices to sorority and fraternity houses and luxury residential projects.
Along the way, Carroll became enamored with powder rooms, bathrooms and kitchens. “Powder rooms and bathrooms can be so impactful when it comes to design,” Carroll explains. “They’re small spaces, yet you can layer them for impact. With kitchens, each cook I deal with has a vision of how that space should be, and how it should reflect their personalities. Today, there’s so much to choose from for kitchen designs, even ways of cooking.”
Sometime in the 1990s, Carroll began entering her work—particularly kitchens and baths—in design competitions, including ASID competitions, NKBA (of which she is a member), NAHB and others, often sweeping the categories. She’s lost count of how many competitions she’s won, but the one she’s proudest of is an international design of the year accolade for a luminous, stone-clad powder room, published in a London-based design magazine. “My powder room was in the same magazine that had Zaha Hadid on the cover,” Carroll says. “I display it in my office. If I have a rough day, I’ll look at that cover and think, ‘You can do this, Lori!’”
Entering competitions is one of the ways Carroll keeps her name out in the public sphere, along with a presence on social media, including LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook. “I used to do designer show houses, but there aren’t that many anymore,” she says, “so winning awards, getting published and being active on social media gets us a high profile.” Though most of her projects are in Tucson and southern Arizona, she’s done work in California, New York, Chicago and Mexico. “We go where the clients want us to go,” she says.
Her recent and current projects include new residential construction and remodeling, several medical offices, a 60,000-square-foot office renovation and a collaboration with Phoenix architect Douglas Fredrikson to design UA’s new William M. “Bill” Clements Golf Center at the Tucson Country Club.
What’s the secret to her success? “I listen to clients’ needs, and our company offers great customer service,” Carroll says. “I answer the phone. That’s what’s kept us going.”