Luis Ibarra refers to the work of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects as “desert modern,” which a stylistic stance as much as a reflection of its philosophical and site-specific approach to design. “The desert is where most of our projects have been,” he says. “But if we work somewhere else, the work takes cues from the site. It’s land-based architecture.”

As a firm, Ibarra and his wife, Teresa Rosano, AIA, LEED AP, excel at creating livable homes that are enjoyable for their inhabitants but always embrace their location and spaces beyond the walls. The firm’s unpretentious houses are highly resolved and rigorously designed, employing ordinary materials such as galvanized steel, laminate, plywood, and concrete used in unexpected, sophisticated ways.

Over the years, the duo has deliberately kept the firm small, which allows the partners to “have our minds on each of the projects,” Ibarra says. The dedication has paid off: the firm has secured multiple design awards, enviable consumer magazine exposure, and a 2008 Rising Star Leadership Award from this magazine. The recognition stems in part from the firm’s impressive speculative housing projects.

Along with Page Repp Jr., of Repp Design + Construction and former clients Desi and Jerry Winter, the firm launched a development company called Dreamspace, which has completed eight single-family houses and a duplex. “We’ve actually been looking for properties to develop, but it’s hard to find one at the right price to make the numbers work,” Ibarra says. “That’s the hard part.”

Until then, Ibarra and Rosano will continue designing houses that elevate daily life for their owners. Houses account for about 95 percent of the firm’s work, but the duo also is looking for more opportunities to bring the same principles of light, space, and materiality to larger projects.

What is the most gratifying aspect of residential practice?

When a client calls or e-mails just to say how much they enjoy their space, and spending time with a client in their completed project.

What is the most frustrating aspect?

Zoning codes.

What is your mission statement or firm goal?

To create spaces that nurture and inspire.

What is the most indispensable tool in your office?

The nearest implement that will leave a mark or a stain will do if inspiration comes, but generally we are partial to several pens depending on the task, from Prismacolor markers to Paper Mate Flairs to Pilot’s European G-Tec-C4.

What software does your firm use?

PowerCADD, SketchUp, Maxwell, and AdobeCS3.

Who is your ideal client?

One who knows how to share—when it comes right down to it. Share their passions with us, share the project with us, share their excitement, share the world’s resources with others. Sharing is important.

What is your favorite building?

Places where we have visited and made memories: Salk Institute, Phoenix main library, Taliesin West, Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Pantheon, chapel of Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp. But our truly favorite places are all the surprise spaces we discover in-between—too many and too obscure to mention but equally important.

If you didn’t have the time to design your own house, who would you hire?

Our friend Glenn Murcutt, Hon. AIA.