Designing through the ages


The simple truth about design is it takes a certain amount of prosperity for it to be an issue in one’s life. Absent enoughmoney to have choice, a home is more about function. Our Native American brothers did not consider layout when they created and then lived in teepees. Our Hispanic sisters who cobbled together mud and straw to create some shelter in the form of one room or maybe two did not consider whether the bathroom ought to be en suite or in the hall – because there was likely no hall in the first place, nor indoor plumbing.

But having said that, the people who came before us knew how to live in harmony with the land – and that is design at its basic element. Those that came before us knew to use small windows to keep the sun out of their interior spaces. They knew that a southern orientation would allow the sun’s warmth to heat spaces at no ongoing cost. They knew that the best rooms to place on the north side were the bedrooms, where most like to sleep at temperatures a tad cooler than living spaces. Those design concepts were obvious and no wealth was required to include them in one’s home. Just being aware of one’s environment, taking note of what is outside one’s door – and common sense, for the most part.

It was during my lifetime that not many people other than the super rich folks had enough money to plan a home, maybe even work with an architect before breaking ground. There is a benefit to working with someone with expertise and access to new materials that may come to market. But one can plan on his or her own, especially with software products that allow you inside the space that is just a vision in one’s head.

Styles change with the times and design elements go with them. When once folks ate in their kitchen, near the hearth or oven, where the food was cooked and warmth to be had, being able to afford more interior space led to dining rooms. Living rooms over time became great rooms – larger spaces, usually open to the kitchen and/or dining room, where many folks can be doing different things and still be together.

Bathrooms are a perfect example of the evolution of design. Once, there were no bathrooms in a house. Folks went outside to do their business and the thought of taking that inside had to be a two-edged sword. But since we all know that a warm seat is better than a cold seat – and don’t get me started on the Japanese take on the toilet – bathrooms were ultimately taken indoors. But that was just a start.

Today, bathrooms are as varied as people. I know folks who have closets in tbeir bathrooms. Someone else I know has a fireplace. Others have workout equipment or dressing rooms. Almost all have double sinks and large tubs. Some add steam rooms, which can be quite nice in this high-desert climate of ours. I guess the questions become:

How much money do you have?

How do you want to use it?

Another room that has changed with the times are our kitchens. Once places where food was prepared, where the hearth may have been, they are today centers of life for most, where the guests tend to gather regardless of where the host and hostess direct them.

Today, kitchens can be monstrous rooms, open to dining rooms, dens or great rooms. Cabinetry abounds in some. High-end appliances are also common. Many won’t do without stainless steel appliances that all match, and some just want appliances that function, which do the jobs intended.

In Taos, I always felt that Max Edelman created great kitchens in the many high-end homes he built on the north side. When the Great Recession hit, he found ways to keep his kitchens strong – even when prices fell and cutting back on costs became inevitable. Then good design became even more important and Max stayed with his program. (For those who may not know, he no longer is building here, but his houses remain.)

Even bedrooms, likely the cheapest rooms to build in a house, have undergone changes. We now see bedroom suites, sitting rooms, desks and offices all amplifying and taking one’s place to sleep to a different level. And almost all homes today are built with en suite bathrooms. Folks who have the money to do what they want frequently make their statements through their homes. And good design is always in fashion. It’s just that Taos isn’t the most fashion-conscious place – which is part of the draw for most of us


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