How to make the most of your Durango living space with any budget

by Jessie O’Brien

There are three versions of wealth in America: the rich, those who have menial savings accounts, and the rest of us. The affluent have access to contractors and interior designers to build custom homes with high-end materials, fine furniture, and original works of art. The majority of Americans can save a buck by laying their own floor or buying second-hand goods. The rest of us have to get a little more creative when it comes to creating our space, but there is no reason why we all can’t have it all. With insight from Durango architects, designers, and specialists, we’ve put together a how-to guide to designing for both princes and paupers.


The well-to-do: Build magnificent custom homes on mountainsides.

Elizabeth Boone, an architect for local firm Reynolds and Ash (1140 Main Ave. B), is in the magnificent residency biz. When someone is building in Durango, their only limitations are zoning and their own compassion.

“People are so in touch with the natural environment here that they will move their whole house to save a tree,” she said, which really happened with one of her clients. “[People in Durango] seem very in tune with their surroundings and want to capture that in their interior spaces.”

Those with savings accounts: Would plow down a tree (in theory) if given the opportunity to build a custom mountain home with personally plotted-out rooms. Although, it is possible to make a sterile square room work to your advantage (any kid knows it’s possible to turn a cardboard box into a rocketship). Boone says she incorporates the activity her clients enjoy most — whether it’s cooking, reading, or Netflix-ing — as the centerpiece for the space.

The rest of us: Approaching the layout of a room with your hobbies as a focal point, and keeping in mind natural light and views — if possible — is a good way to make the space work to your advantage.

Natural light naturally makes us happier. If you’re living in an apartment comparable to Cleopatra’s long-lost tomb, make sure nothing is blocking any light source that is available. Keeping colors light keeps spaces bright as well. Something as simple as cleaning windows can make a big difference. If the problem is too much light, using lighter window treatments during peak hours would do the trick, or work with the dim light and create a cozy space by painting the walls with a deep pigment. If you plan on staying in a place for a while, removing a door can open up a cramped space.

There are other simple ways to maximize light in your dreary apartment. Try grabbing a sweet old mirror from a secondhand store like ReLove Consign & Design (1301 C Florida Road), which you can hang opposite of a window or other source of natural light. The mirror will help reflect light into those dank nooks and crannies of your humble abode, and as a bonus, the mirroring effect will help your place feel bigger than it really is. Durango is a haven for secondhand and consignment stores, so if you prowl those joints on the regular, you should be able to snag a cool mirror for minimal dinero.

It’s also important to just say no to heavy window treatments if maximizing light is your main goal. Grandma’s cast-off drapes might be free dollars, but they’re going to make your apartment feel like a dungeon. But maybe that’s your thing. We won’t judge.

If nothing else, settle for sage-smudging. It’s impossible to put a hole in the wall for a makeshift window without the landlord keeping the security deposit that you desperately need back, and the only activity possible in 300 square feet is the Olympic sport of squeezing past furniture.

Purchasing sage at about $12 for a three pack at Earthbound Trading Co. (532 Main Ave.) or around $7 at Walmart, is a good way to cleanse your area. You will still be intensely claustrophobic in your enclosed basement apartment or have a front-row view of a garbage alley, but you won’t have any lingering demons around.


The well-to-do: Have the means for solid granite countertops, marble, and hardwood floors to create their Taj Mahal. Must be nice.

Those with savings accounts: Use less of those earthy materials.

Heather Klatt, the showroom manager at 2180 Lighting and Design Studio (2180 Main Ave.), said one option is finding similar looks in different materials, such as buying porcelain instead of marble. The texture and color look identical from a distance but porcelain is far cheaper. Porcelain or man-made material also require less maintenance because they can be cleaned with standard products like bleach and glass cleaner, while granite is more porous and requires specific cleaning products. Klatt said something as simple as buying a less-expensive brand can save someone thousands, and it’s made out of the same stuff.

The rest of us: Importing marble from Europe might be out of the budget, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be a classy broad (or … bro-ad) without it. Try using a chalk paint to rehab that “vintage” coffee table you snagged from your sibling. Not only will it help give the old piece new life, but it will also serve as a message board, or as the surface for an impromptu game of drinking hangman. Everyone loves hangman.

It’s also important to embrace the use of plywood. While it’s not that Honduran mahogany lining the walls of those fancy abodes in the mountains, it’s a versatile, affordable, and super cool material. You can use it to create a planked floor – instructions are easily found on the Internet – or as a way to give those sticky cabinet doors a facelift.

Paint is another simple way to spruce up your place, and you can snag some great deals on it if you’re not dead set on a certain color. There are these glorious little things called “oops” cans – paint cans that were either mixed in the wrong color or were not retrieved by the folks who requested them – and they’re always sold for much cheaper than your typical can o’ paint. Sure, you might have to choose from a mint green or a pale yellow, but those colors can be cool, too. Don’t discount the mint green, homies.


The well-to-do: Can do whatever they want. A light fixture made out of elk antlers? “Phantom of the Opera” chandelier-style lighting? The world is their illuminated oyster.

Those with savings accounts: Can use a light fixture to spruce up a rented space since they are not permanent. “Add pendant lighting or add an island chandelier to do something that takes away the ’90s style that you see a lot [in Durango],” Tara Morey, the lighting specialist at 2180, said.

A way to afford an original fixture is to save on incandescent lighting. Morey said Bulbirte came out with a new, cheap form of incandescent LED lighting that hooks up easily to the home wiring. Each unit costs about $15. Morey said that using this type of incandescent lighting can save people thousands of dollars, allowing them to splurge on a stylish elk antler fixture of their own. For a simpler change, consider buying a floor lamp. For something cheaper, purchase a standard table lamp. Cheaper still, buy a new lampshade.

The rest of us: Should become regulars at places like the Habitat for Humanity Restore (120 Girard St., Suite E), where you can find the very best decorating treasures for cut-rate prices. And yes, that includes light fixtures. Want a grand chandelier for your bathroom like the fancy folks, but don’t want to shell out the retail price? How about a gothic candelabra to hang over your table? Yep, you guessed it, the likes of Restore is your place. And you can feel good about those inexpensive purchases, because the money from your purchases will go to help defray the costs of Habitat’s building projects for families in need. Good things all around.

Another bright idea: Light bulbs, which are not as dull as you think. We’ve all seen Edison bulbs exposing their sexy filament like the little tramps they are. They’ve found their way into every socket in every speakeasy-style cocktail bar across the nation. They may get around, but they’re attractive and affordable. At 2180, different versions go for about $12. On Amazon, they’re as cheap as $6. There are other styles and shapes, such as test tube bulbs, or bulbs with chrome and brass metallic coating on the bottom. The caveat to the light bulb solution is having electricity.

Furniture and decor

The well-to-do: Do what feels good, of course.

“The first thing I ask people is how they want to feel when they walk into their home,” said Danielle Chick, interior designer and co-owner of Urban Market (865 Main Ave.). “I always want to make sure that people are looking at [interior design] from where they stand as a homeowner and as a family, not so much what they want people to think when they walk into their home.” Seems like good advice for anyone.

Those with savings accounts: Follow the No Rules rule.

“I am enjoying that there are no rules right now. You can mix metals, you can mix woods, you can mix colors, you can mix textures patterns,” Chick said. “In the past, there has always been specific rules in decorating.”

This helps people in budgeting because they can blend second-hand finds with quality pieces. Doing this makes statement pieces stand out more. The benefit of spending money on furniture instead of materials is you can keep a nice piece of furniture for a lifetime, and take it with you if you decide to move. Morey said there are a lot of local furniture designers, such as Jeremy Gable from Durango Reclaimed Rustics, who are lesser known because they don’t necessarily promote themselves. An original piece from Gable can cost a few hundred dollars, but it will last.

The rest of us: Should join the upcycling movement. While the word upcycling may not be the coolest word around, the actual process of finding materials to reuse in your home decorating is. You can start by snagging some shipping pallets for cheap (or free!), which can then be converted into all sorts of useful things. Shipping pallets can be finished with wood stain and used as the base for a platform bed, or stacked as the base for your DIY couch. There are so many uses for those splinter-harboring pallets, but just make sure you grab the untreated ones. The pallets sprayed with a green or bright-colored paint have often been treated with chemicals or pesticides for shipping, so they’re probably not what you want to be sleeping on.

Upcycling is also about salvaging and innovation. Try lopping off an old bookshelf to create a standalone bar, or using some corrugated metal to create a room divider or wall treatment. The very best part of upcycling is that the materials are so cheap, and often can be found for free if you’re willing to haul them away yourself.

Next, searching for used furniture is an obvious alternative. Stores such as ReLove, the Durango Antique Market (780 Main Ave. A), and Willis Furniture (1474 Main Ave.) are among the many options in Durango. Easier and cheaper than reupholstering, using fabric paint can salvage an outdated piece. Buy high-quality paint such as Simply Spray Soft, which will keep the material soft and flexible. Wallpaper can also be used to update an old piece by placing it on the back of bookshelves or on top of a table.

If none of that works, join the minimalism movement. When party guests come over to your stark, empty apartment do not say, “I don’t have furniture because I can’t afford it.” Say, “My $800 Restoration Hardware ottoman was not bringing me joy, and that’s why I sit on a dish towel.” Not only will guests respect you for your hip distaste for materialism, they will feel better about having had to BYOB.

Jessie O’Brien and Angelica Leicht


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