On a recent morning, interior designer Claire Ownby is sitting in the sunny conference room of her Scottsdale, Arizona studio. She is donning chic leather trousers and a black turtleneck—a look that seems right at home at her sleek and modern company, Ownby Design— a space detailed with accents of glass, metal and wood.
This elegant and minimalist aesthetic is a style that Ownby has perfected since launching her firm in 1998, and it is a vision she has followed as an integral part of the development team for the newly debuted luxury design showhouse, ICONIC HAUS. “My approach is to use natural, but refined materials,” says Ownby, “for me, it’s all about restraint—less is more. My team and I always think about what we can take away, rather than what we can add.”
Ownby’s path to designing luxury homes started in her hometown of Chandler, Arizona, where she would discover her passion in a high school drafting class. “I always enjoyed the math side of things, yet I was also creative,” she recalls, “so the drafting class just clicked with me.” She went on to study interior design at Scottsdale Community College and at Arizona State University, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in environmental design.
Thinking she would specialize in commercial design, Ownby got into an internship program for a developer and wound up working on residential interiors at Desert Mountain, a luxury home development in North Scottsdale. “I found my wings in residential design there,” she explains, “and I decided to open my own firm because the economy was good at the time and I had projects through family and friends.”
Starting out with remodeling work, Ownby carved a niche for herself, collaborating with many builders. “I love doing renovations,” she says, noting that today, the bulk of her work is new builds. “It’s like putting together an interesting, great jigsaw puzzle.”
Though she started out with single bathrooms and challenging budgets, Ownby’s practice has blossomed in the last decade. She has teamed with notable builders and stellar Arizona architects like CP Drewett, principle of Drewett Works and architect for ICONIC HAUS.
Though she started out with single bathrooms and challenging budgets, Ownby’s practice has blossomed in the last decade. She has teamed with notable builders and stellar Arizona architects like CP Drewett, principle of Drewett Works and architect for ICONIC HAUS, Mark Candelaria of Candelaria Design and Brent Kendle of Kendle Design, all to create coveted interiors that are widely published. She loves the collaborative process and working with builders and architects. “I prefer a team involvement in the process,” Ownby says, “particularly when it comes to the architect. In all fairness, we are dressing their spaces.”
Now with a staff of 12, Ownby says she has been lucky enough to handpick her projects. “We don’t do heavy, layered, ornate interiors,” she says, “and if I feel that our vision is not aligned with the client’s—I am doing them a disservice by taking the project.”
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“We don’t do heavy, layered, ornate interiors,” she says, “and if I feel that our vision is not aligned with the client’s—I am doing them a disservice by taking the project.”
Her projects have taken her beyond beautiful Arizona and into other stateside locales. She currently has projects in California, Oregon and Mexico. Several years ago, she teamed with golf course developers in Hawaii and completed some 60 homes on various islands during the course of six years. “It involved a lot of commuting,” she admits, “and it’s not always glamorous. I mastered the red-eye flights.”
She still travels for design inspiration though, looking for natural materials that she can use in innovative and modern ways. Ownby makes regular forays to local and national design centers and international design shows, always taking photos of settings and details that inspire her own interiors and custom-designed furnishings.
Ownby’s celebrated projects and furnishings have won scores of design awards on local, national and international levels, including the American Society of Interior Designers and other professional organizations. While she’s honored by the awards, Ownby prefers to look forward, focusing on the 30 to 40 residential projects she and her team are shepherding at any given time.
We asked her about her own home and if it is a work in progress like so many other design professionals’ homes are. “Oh no,” she says emphatically, “I need to have my immediate environment done. Right now, my house is filled with a lot of pieces I’ve collected on my travels; like a root table and pieces of petrified wood. But since it’s finished, I’m starting to think about moving on. I seem to flip houses every two years.”
Both personally and professionally, Ownby has a love for the design process and is a creative force that isn’t stopping anytime soon.