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Joan Duncan taos fireplace

(image: acreatrix)

Often, simplicity in design is the best direction. Here are some tips on how to embrace it, with local Taos interior designer Joan Duncan as a role model.


I always encourage remodeling instead of new construction as a way to improve your digs without a huge environmental impact. Building new means potentially damaging site work, construction waste that ends up in the landfill unnecessarily, and raw materials being mined or harvested for manufacture.

Remodeling is about finding new ways to use existing space and hopefully adding energy efficient features. If you’re going to build, why not? Remodeling and renovating are more eco-friendly than new construction, and that is why I advocate it. For a fresh feel at home, though, you don’t even have to go that far.

Local talent

This profile of a local Taos designer, Joan Duncan, brought up some excellent points about making changes in your abode.

I am all for adding a sunny window, using color on an accent wall, and decluttering and organizing to change the feel of a living space. These are small and experimental things to do for a tight budget or a fear of change.

Joan thinks even smaller, though. Many people are afraid of using color. Joan suggests buying a small accessory in a bold color. Move it from room to room and even different places in a room to see how you like it. Alternatively, paint a wall inside a closet where you don’t have to look at it if you don’t like it.

This is brilliant. There’s no big investment financially, physically or emotionally. If color disagrees with you, nothing is lost and needs to be redone (unless you really hate that closet wall!).

On a budget

Joan helps budget conscious homeowners work with what they have. She will brainstorm ideas for rearranging what is in the house. Moving the furniture, rehanging art, putting things in storage, and pulling others out of storage will create a fresh look. Little to no money is spent, but you may feel like you’ve moved to a new home!

You might feel pressured to buy from an upscale design house, but Joan recommends scouring second hand stores for things you love. Using anything from accessories to furniture, you can inexpensively and creatively make subtle changes that will invigorate you. This could be the impetus you need to dispel your fears and help you tackle a bigger design project.

My own projects

My house has an open floor plan. The kitchen, dining area and living room are one big space. That’s one reason I bought the house, and when I remodeled, I enlarged the area. Sometimes, though, I wish I had a cozy corner to hide in. To remedy that, I added a second-hand, eucalyptus wood, lattice room divider. The living room becomes its own area separate from the kitchen and entryway. I draped complementary fabric over it for a solid feel and more coziness. When I’m feeling boxed in, I either removed the fabric or move the divider to my room as a wall decoration. I inexpensively and quickly change a room on a whim.

When I painted this new enlarged space, the pantry door was pale yellow, the same color of the walls. It was catching the light from the glass exterior door, and it always looked white, no matter how many coats of yellow I added.

I had recently painted a small dresser brick red, and there was paint leftover. I brought the dresser into the kitchen to see how the color would look. It was a great match, so I painted the door red. I got rid of the ‘white’ door, and added a splash of color. Subsequently, my kitchen accessories are now red, too. The teapot, tea bag canister, coffee cups and the honey pot are little splashes of rich color in a very sunny, yellow room.

Baby steps

There are probably not many designers that will brainstorm with a homeowner, then let that person run with what feels right. I can’t see my mother, the designer, saying, “Let’s go to the consignment shop and look for furniture!”

It’s generous of Joan to offer this feature. Sometimes you just need an objective outsider to make your home a canvas for their creativity. A few ideas will resonate with you, and you may be done. On the other hand, you may be inspired to do more. Start small and work up to something bigger. Take baby steps. Joan is flexible, listening to her clients for their benefit.

Joan was one of my volunteers for the USGBC GreenBuilt Tour several years ago. I found her to be humble, sweet and caring. What inviting qualities to work with on your home!

See if you can find an interior designer that will hear what you want, be it a consultation and some ideas for going to the flea market, or for a complete period renovation. When your needs are satisfied, your designer will be seen as a success.

Learn more about Joan at

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.