When it comes to Sibylle Rundel's Foothills home, cool doesn't necessarily mean cold.
When Rundel and her husband, Bernd - both from southwestern Germany - moved into their current house about 17 years ago, they found it like most of the other Canoa homes in their neighborhood: imitation Saltillo tile flooring and a tile fireplace with warm apricot and turquoise accents.
In other words, Southwest as Southwest can be, down to the spectacular views of the Catalina Mountains.
Nobody can pass on the mountains, but as for the rest of the house, it never quite fit Rundel's sensibilities.
"It was terrible, though at the time we thought it looked great," Rundel said. "Since we're from Germany, we really like the modern European styles for furniture and homes. And over the years, it's come closer to that look."
The end result of the years of gradual tweaking mixed in with big changes is a home that exudes European cool with surprising touches of warmth, Southwestern and otherwise.
What's cool: polished concrete floors in the kitchen and wooden floors in the living rooms and hallways. A pair of modern-looking, low-slung couches in the living room (no legs - they sit right on the floor) lit in the evenings by a pair of egg-shaped floor lights.
"I love my sofas. If I had to save something in case of a fire, it would be them," she said. "They're like sophisticated beanbags."
Another piece of coolness: A sleek kitchen that sports a mixture of stainless steel and wooden cabinets; smooth, black Richlite counter surfaces; and a futuristic-looking faucet that twists out of the center island.
What's warm: Rundel's do-it-yourself approach to decorating, a mix of natural ornamentation and colorful paintings that pop against the home's many metallic surfaces and fixtures. Rundel - or her friends and family - created many of the home's works of art and accessories.
Perhaps the most unusual touches are the reminders of the desert just outside. A single skeleton of a saguaro arm is installed in one of the industrial-looking metal planters lining the front hallway. Two pieces in the living room draw the eye: a tangle of devil's claw suspended from the ceiling by a single white ribbon, looking very much like a snarled globe of thorns, and, at the other end of the room, a dried ocotillo branch with a bleached white antler dangling from it.
Both pieces are improvisations by Rundel, who can't help but bring back some kind of souvenir from a hike.
"I like to collect things. Whenever I go to the beach, I come home with bags and bags of shells," she said. "I guess it softens the looks when you have natural things when you have fairly modern, cold-looking furniture."
There are other moments of fun accessorizing. For example, a splash of red in the niche above a doorway leading to the kitchen: a few dried pomegranates, a vase and a set of ruddy antique spice containers collected on a trip to the gem show. A picture book about Morocco.
"I love color. I guess I like color in my accessories. I wouldn't want to have red walls, but I do have a red corner," Rundel said.
Also striking are the vibrant paintings to be found lining most every wall in the house. Rundel took up painting classes after the elder of her two daughters - now a freshman at the University of Arizona - was born.
"I hardly spend money on art because I look at something and think, 'Maybe I could do that.' "
Case in point: one of Rundel's largest pieces welcomes visitors just inside the doorway. It's a pointillist painting - a series of intricate patterns and designs made with dots - inspired by some of the indigenous art she saw on a trip to Australia.
Rundel and her daughters created most of the paintings in the home, though some are by artist friends and acquaintances. As for her own personal art, it's more of a hobby. She says she plays to her strengths. Nothing too realistic - just funky, fun paintings.
"It always has to be very colorful, very abstract," she said.
"I never name my paintings. Maybe that's something I should start," said Rundel, laughing.
Rundel says she tries to keep things simple. Accessories, decorations, even appliances need their own space to achieve a clean, modern look. No surface is overburdened.
"I think that's key. Almost anything can look good if it's not cluttered with too many items," Rundel says. "You need to look at things critically and get rid of excess."
Get to know local artists.
Building relationships is important when it comes to buying local, not only for getting referrals, but also for making the most out of the experience, said Rundel who, with the exception of her favorite pair of sofas, has worked with local craftspeople on most of the large pieces of furniture in her home.
"It's always a team effort," says Rundel. "I would not walk into a gallery and buy something where I haven't met the artist."
To gather ideas and otherwise get her creative juices flowing in interior design, Rundel says, she reads. A lot. A few of her favorite English-language magazines are Dwell, a monthly architecture and design publication, as well as Sunset magazine. She also devours copies of Côté Maisons, a French homes magazine. Rundel is fluent in French, but that doesn't mean anyone can't enjoy it.
"It's all about the photos," she said.
Alex Dalenberg is a Tucson-based freelance writer. Contact him at email@example.com