Tanya Shively was inspired to be an interior designer by Mother Nature.
Born to a fourth-generation family in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the Scottsdale resident grew up admiring and visiting adjacent Grand Teton National Park and its signature snow-tipped peaks.
“The love of nature, preserving its beauty for future generations and protecting the environment were always part of my mindset,” she said.
Shively opened Sesshu Design Associates in December 2005 and next month will celebrate 15 years providing sustainably focused interiors for her clients in and out of the Valley.
The name honors the 15th-century Japanese artist, Sesshū Tōyō.
In pioneering sustainable design, she has completed large and small renovations as well as whole homes.
In this spirit, clients make environmentally friendly design choices such as energy-efficient lighting and appliances; water-conserving plumbing fixtures; indoor air quality through nontoxic finishes and materials; sustainable materials that are responsibly sourced; and using recycled or reclaimed materials for flooring, tiles or furnishings.
“Recycling and repurposing can include vintage or antique furnishings or repurposing an old door into a headboard or cocktail table,” Shively said. “It can also be recovering quality sofas rather than buying new.”
In addition, eco-easy plumbing fixtures, including toilets, showers, tankless water heaters and faucets are now almost the norm, she said.
And low or zero-VOC paints and finishes are widely available. Volatile Organic Compounds, such as formaldehyde, benzene and styrene can seriously affect health.
“These paint products offer a wide range of color options now, which was not always the case,” said Shively. “In the early days, you could have any color – as long as it was white, or close to it.”
Self-sufficiency, grit and determination: “That’s just how we did things,” Shively recalled of her childhood.
She embraced art and design; her pastimes included building houses from Legos and rearranging the family furniture.
“When I took a class in high school focused on interior design, I knew it was the career I wanted,” she said.
She studied the ideas of sustainable design for a few years, and, with her early-life experience across from a national park, she affirmed the concept of stewardship for the environment in her life and work.
An early inspiration was Ed Mazria, who started the 2030 Project, which hoped to make all architecture sustainable by 2030.
“He opened my eyes to what an impact architecture and buildings have on the environment and therefore how much we can change by being more thoughtful about how we design,” noted Shively.
In addition, Shively’s father had asthma, which inspired her to create home interiors free from toxins, mold, dander, allergens and other negative aspects.
“I knew that I wanted to provide a high level of design for clients who wanted to be more sustainable and healthy,” she said.
She lived in Michigan and Montana before moving to the Valley in 1992, when she started her career with Susie Hersker and Design Directives, part of the Interior Studio Group in the Scottsdale Airpark.
Nine years later, she opened Sesshu Design and continued to office with the group until moving to a studio near historic Cattle Track in Scottsdale.
“That experience of working in proximity to four of the best designers in Scottsdale was invaluable. There was always someone who could answer any questions and provide direction when needed,” she recalled. “They were and are like family in many ways.”
Just after Sesshu opened, LEED for Homes became an option, so she pursued that accreditation, specifically with the Interiors designation.
At the time, her firm focused on recycled or reclaimed materials, such as reclaimed wood floors, for countertops ice stone slab, a terrazzo-type material comprising recycled glass chips, and products such as Kirei board, which is made from recycled wood products.
“We have always used natural fiber carpets and fabrics: including wool, cotton, silk and linen,” she added.
As part of her mission to be responsible to the planet and create “WELL Designed” homes that are eco-conscious, healthy and very livable, she recently founded The Furniture Angel, a nonprofit that helps to keep high-end furniture out of landfills by offering a path to donation and a tax deduction.
“The business really just comes down to a commitment to providing the options and the education about the benefits of using sustainable, healthy products,” said Shively.
Clients, architects and builders praise her commitment to green design and preservation.
Debra Gooding worked with Shively for about eight months during a remodel on a vintage Paradise Valley adobe home built in the 1960s.
“Her exquisite taste and talents proved invaluable in reconstructing this modest smaller home,” she said.
And Doug Edwards, co-principal of The Edwards Design Group in Scottsdale, added, “I have known and worked with many interior designers, and Tanya is definitely the quintessential green designer in the Phoenix area.”
Shively believes that many designers incorrectly believe that sustainable design is too much extra work or that their clients won’t be willing to pay extra for it.
“It is true that many clients are concerned about what it adds to the bottom line, but unless they are wanting LEED certification, then the cost of materials and products on high-end homes is negligible,” she explained. “The advantage is that they are contributing to a healthier home, reducing stress and illness and enhancing well-being for the people in the home.”