This year, Isabel Dellinger Candelaria, environmentally conscious interior designer, wife, friend, employer and breast cancer survivor is marking 30 years of her Earth & Images studio in Phoenix.
She remembers what inspired her in native Española, New Mexico: “Our formal living room was the most nicely decorated in the house. My parents surprised me with a white canopy bed with pink bedding and wallpaper with a little brunette girl swinging on the pattern repeat. It was really cute, and I loved it. We had the typical gold arabesque linoleum and avocado green appliances of the ’70s. I remember wishing the rest of the house was more pulled together.”
Then, her maternal grandparents built a house when she was about six years old. “All the furniture was new, and the draperies coordinated in every room. It felt so good to be there because visually it made sense. It wasn’t distracting, and everything had its place. I think this influenced my need for beauty and function. I was also very excited by the construction process and loved seeing how a house was built.”
While she was beginning to appreciate good design inside, she was also inspired by the great designs outside. The small northern New Mexico city is between the Jemez and Sangre de Cristo mountain ranges at the juncture of the Rio Grande, the Rio Chama and the Rio Santa Cruz. “Growing up in a rural area, it was natural to play outside as much as possible,” Isabel recalls. “I think that is why I love appointing the exterior spaces on our projects so much.”
Not focused yet on a career path, she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro. But her senior thesis, “Consumer Involvement in a Straw Bale Group Home,” combined her childhood passions for preserving the environment and space-creating. This was her trailhead.
She moved to the Valley in 1998, working in visual merchandising and custom furniture and cabinetry sales. Nine years later, she acquired Earth & Images, then a retail store in Scottsdale. As part of their recent rebranding, the company is now Earth & Images at 4120 N. 20th St., Suite B, with nine employees, including six-year associate, Nikka Bochniak, who has just become a partner.
When the Great Recession walloped the economy, especially in real estate, she returned to school in 2010 for interior design. “I wanted to do something positive and productive and I knew the downturn wouldn’t last forever, so it would probably be my last chance.
“I had natural talent and knew my style genres, the vocabulary of interior design and space-planning techniques,” she adds. “But I needed to know more about the history of furniture and I needed to know the business side of interior design. It was the best thing I ever did, in addition to buying Earth &Images and marrying my husband.”
She met local architect, Mark Candelaria, AIA, in December 2010, through social media. A business meeting at Earth & Images came first; this expanded to a personal relationship. They married three years later, September 16, 2013, at the Villa d’Este Hotel on the Lago di Como. They remarried exactly a year later in the Phoenix area. A few years ago, before the pandemic, they returned to the five-star Italian hotel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to celebrate their anniversary and her recovery from Stage IV breast cancer.
“Isabel is an amazing designer and creative force,” Candelaria says, who specializes in the design of luxury homes with his staff. “Her vision and ability to draw the energy of beauty around her is unparalleled, and that has had a direct effect on my life and career. Not to mention her own personal beauty. In just ten years, she has transitioned a small-home furnishing and accessory store into a complete high-end interior design studio, now enhancing homes and resorts across the country and world.”
He adds: “She has orchestrated and assembled an amazing team to support her and collaborate on all of the projects she and her team are engaged in. Add the fact that over this period of time she battled and overcame breast cancer, never missing a beat with her career. She inspires me every day, and I am the lucky one who gets to call her my wife, best friend and soulmate. Today she is cancer-free and continues to design interiors for many of my homes as well as for her other clients.”
Earth & Images completes commercial projects as well as whole-home renovations and remodels, incorporating energy-efficient components extensively. “Products are so much more energy-efficient than they were 30 years ago, so replacing almost always improves energy consumption, especially for windows and insulation. We always recommend whatever is in good shape be donated to Habitat for Humanity ReStores. We are also very mindful of using what we can as far as existing fixtures and furniture in projects,” she explains.
An Arizona couple, Colleen and Brian Bock, recently asked the Earth & Images team to help with their new house, built on the site of her childhood home. “We wanted to incorporate a variety of repurposed elements: Finishes from the existing home, stained glass from our house in Tulsa and a variety of vintage Art Deco light fixtures,” Colleen Brock explains.
Isabel, Nikka and the team at West Construction met the challenges graciously, creatively, enthusiastically. They toured the pre-demolition home and identified many elements that could be reimagined in the new Santa Barbara design, including iron-gate components and indoor and outdoor lighting fixtures.
“We are now surrounded by fixtures and finishes linking us to our memories of childhood and family: Charming floral drawer pulls Isabel knew would look perfect in the laundry room; a custom dining room chandelier designed by Nikka using decorative wrought-iron elements from the original entry gate; and leaded glass panels from our Tulsa property which found a new home in the liquor cabinet. Finally, a diverse group of vintage lights glow in our bathrooms, bedrooms and the theater to enhance an Art Deco theme,” she says. “We feel so fortunate to have the knowledge of the Earth & Images team in creating a home which gives a warm and wonderful nod to the past while looking fresh and welcoming.”
Another home is a contemporary cabin with comfortable furnishings and a durable design. This Arizona couple values sustainability and liked the cooler weather offered by a site outside the desert and within close proximity to hiking trails. After working with Earth & Images, they remodeled the house, with plans by Candelaria Design, while minimally impacting the surrounding forest of pine trees.
“This resulted in the footprint remaining intact,” Isabel explains. A few of the updates include new windows and window shade treatments for energy efficiency, water-efficient plumbing fixtures, LED light fixtures, upgraded insulation and a decompressed granite driveway. The existing furniture was retained. “They now enjoy practical, easy living in a high-country home that reflects their casual lifestyle.”