This Scottsdale-based architect chose his career early; he’s been sketching, designing, and constructing buildings since he was a toddler in his native Denver. “His interest for drawing and painting started before age 2. As soon as he could hold a pencil, he would be scribbling. He’d sit on his knees and draw with his papers on the bed,” recalls his mother, Karin, who also raised him for seven years in Durango, Colorado, with his father, Donald.
Karin, an immigrant to the U.S. from West Germany via Canada, and Donald, an Army veteran whose ancestors had emigrated from Spain to New Mexico sometime around 1690, were having a new home built in Denver during the fall of 1962.
Candelaria, approaching his third birthday, helped his parents finish the backyard. “He started to gather sticks and stones and everything else he could find to build his fort,” she says. “He would sketch [it] on paper, and then he would build.”
During high school, he drew cityscapes. One surviving example is a drawing complete with highways, rail lines, neighborhoods, skyscrapers, city parks, trees, stadiums, and an airport, explains his eldest daughter, Tiffany, now CDA’s media coordinator.
One of his high school buddies, Scott Graham, remembers that Candelaria would design one cityscape, finish it, then start another. “He’d have various neighborhoods and basically build these worlds based on what people wanted in them. You could ask for a big castle or a railroad station. I asked for Mile High Stadium in Denver, and the next day I got a drawing,” he says.
Once during summer break, Candelaria mapped out a real-world city in an undeveloped field behind his house and assigned jobs to the neighborhood children, including roadbuilders, police officers, and even the mayor, says his brother James, who still lives in Durango.
Candelaria’s city-making, however, was a group process. “Everyone was involved, the whole school,” Graham adds. “He made you feel you had ownership.”
The ‘Working With’ Spirit
Candelaria, an award-winning architect, has encouraged “ownership” throughout his career: by clients, CDA’s partners and associates, and collaborating firms. They are completely engaged in the design process because of Candelaria’s relationship-building.
“It’s designing with the client and not for the client,” says a CDA project manager, Mathew Grove. “It’s quality over quantity, and it’s making relationships. More often than not, our clients remain close friends after their home is complete.”
One longtime friend, John Schultz, founder of Scottsdale-based Schultz Development Corp., a luxury home builder, has worked closely with Candelaria, including on three Schultz family homes. “Mark has a knack at making the design process fun for his clients, and he does a great job of engaging them in the process. The projects start by the two of us working together with our clients through the entire planning, design, and building process, and Mark staying involved through client move-in and many years after.”
Another long-time project partner and friend, interior designer Donna Vallone, notes that she and Candelaria have worked together on numerous projects for four decades. “As an architect, he has no ego when it comes to working with team collaboration for a well-designed project,” says Vallone, who opened Vallone Design in Scottsdale 40 years ago. She adds that he is also an ace chef who cooks celebratory meals for clients and ends the evening as a musician, playing the piano.
Many Styles, One Goal: Client-Centric Design
After taking courses at the University of Colorado and Arizona State University, Candelaria started his first architecture job in March 1982 as a draftsman for one of his ASU architect professors and mentor, George W. Christensen, FAIA. An early project with the Phoenix company was the famed Enchantment Resort in Sedona.
In August 1999, Candelaria opened CDA in Phoenix, specializing in custom residential and boutique design. He and his three business partners, Meredith Thomson, Tim Mathewson and Evelyn Jung, today work with 20 associate architects.
Semi-retired, Candelaria is transitioning his ownership to the partners and slowly reducing the quantity of commissions he accepts. “I’ll be focusing on just a few marquee projects each year and hope to continue writing, painting, playing the piano, writing music, traveling, and, of course, cooking and enjoying time with my wife, Isabel, and my family,” he says. An award-winning interior designer, Isabel owns Earth & Images in Phoenix.
CDA’s work is predominantly new-build luxury residential, from 2,000 to more than 60,000 square feet, mostly in Arizona but also west to California and east to the Hamptons in New York. “We create many homes in all different styles and locations now across the world that exemplify our wide array of styles within the local setting, be it in Arizona, the ocean, the mountains, or now in the jungle; all have a direct influence on our design direction — primarily to capture views,” he says.
Examples are Old World, Transitional, Contemporary, Rural Mediterranean, Tudor Revival, Spanish Colonial, Modern Farmhouse, and even a recent “printed” Habitat for Humanity home in Tempe, Arizona. “Our signature style and what we are most recognized for, however, is our traditional classics that are timeless and keep going up in value,” says Candelaria.
He is passionately devoted to traveling and finds inspiration for different home styles during his annual Candelaria Design-hosted trips. “You just have to be aware and always be looking and soaking up ideas. That is what good design is: something that positively stimulates all of your senses. And our job is to create this experience through the creation and end result of our projects and homes,” says Candelaria.
Green projects have become increasingly important for the firm. Jerry Meek has been building custom homes and projects with a sustainable commitment for 44 years as founder of Desert Star Construction. For most of this time, he has partnered with Candelaria, including on a net zero energy home.
About 13 years ago, CDA and Desert Star began coordinating on the restoration of the historic El Chorro Lodge — the first full-service restaurant to achieve LEED Gold. The original building was the Judson School for Girls, which opened in 1934 in what is now Paradise Valley. The team salvaged much of the original structural elements, including the adobe walls; rescued 75 percent of the construction waste from the landfill; and used low-emission new products to prevent off-gassing, Meek explains.
Also in Paradise Valley, Meek and Candelaria completed the “Zona Verde” home, which became the first residence in town to achieve LEED for Homes certification. LEED signifies Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a green building certification program developed by the nonprofit Chicago-based U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).
On a five-acre lot, the eight-bedroom, nine-and-a half-bath Zona Verde home LEED credits include a ground-mounted solar farm comprising about 20 arrays for solar hot water and power; a smart “fertigation” system using gray water; and a commercial-grade central heating and cooling plant. Landscape architect, the Berghoff Design Group, saved and replanted all of the original plants, trees, and cacti from the original property, some of which are more than a century old.
Another architect, Brent Kendle, AIA, principal of the Kendle Design Group in Scottsdale, has known Candelaria for 25 years. One of his earliest career memories was asking other Valley architects for professional advice. “Mark responded almost instantly, showering me with expert advice and sharing resources vetted by his many years in the business. Mark’s generosity helped spur a strong conviction in the power of selflessly sharing with others,” he recalls. “I continue to seek out Mark’s opinions and professional knowledge, as well as his friendship, to this day.”
Kendle adds that Candelaria designs not just spaces; he designs lifestyles. “When an architect focuses on the lifestyle of his or her clients, as Mark has done, they design more meaningful homes for them, homes that truly resonate with the individuals they are designed for. Mark seems to effortlessly blend beauty and livability into his homes without compromising one for the other,” he says.
Mark and Tiffany produce a monthly podcast, “Inspiring Living with Mark Candelaria,” during which he speaks with inspiring people about their lives and careers. And due in January is a coffee table book featuring 12 pivotal Candelaria projects, each paired with one of his recipes. For more information, visit candeleriadesign.com.