New Mexico About La Dona Luz Inn
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La Doña Luz Inn • Taos
By Kelly Koepke
One could say Paul “Paco” Castillo was born to create. Though formally educated in geophysics, he found himself creating jewelry at the family trading post, an art he learned from his grandmother. When his mother suggested buying the neighboring historic adobe and joining it with her own El Rincon Bed and Breakfast, it was a eureka moment. That afternoon, Paco was measuring and imagining what could be done with the primitive, old building.
He embraced the creative aspect offered by the ancient adobe walls. His grandfather, Ralph Meyers, a well-known early artist, craftsman and builder who was also a close friend of Mabel Dodge Luhan and frequently attended her artistic and cultural soirées, had done much the same with the adjoining family property. From this rich legacy the idea of creating an inn that featured original art and authentic historical items from the area grew. Paco renamed the inn La Doña Luz for an ancestor, herself a gracious early 19th century Taos hostess.
Once I bought the building, I dove into what I thought would be a six-month remodeling project; 32 years later, I’m still at it! In the beginning, I was fortunate to work with a fine woodworker and Taos Pueblo natives that were expert in mud and adobe. Over time, I’ve learned a lot about the preservation and restoration of time-worn adobe walls. I’ve really embraced the creative aspect of being an innkeeper, the architecture and interior design, as well as the technical, engineering, plumbing, electrical, etc. The challenge and sense of accomplishment it brings are very rewarding.
My grandmother was a Taos historian and my mom, an artist. Our home was filled with art, color and history. Growing up in that environment gave me a strong visual memory of what ‘old Taos’ was like. I drew on this memory for inspiration and created themed rooms, sometimes built around a piece of art in my collection or something I bought from a gallery or a trader. That made it a lot of fun. I’d get what seemed like a crazy idea at the time and run with it! Jacuzzi bath in the Garden of Eden anyone?
I love history and enjoy sharing stories of ‘old Taos’ with my guests. It sometimes seems that every day, old friends return to my door. Having run the inn for over 32 years, I have many memorable guests. Among them are a couple that spend a week here every year before Christmas. On one of their first visits, they brought a Christmas cactus and left it in the common room where it has thrived. When it starts to bloom, it always reminds me that Ed and Patti will be here soon!
Why do I keep doing it? The inn draws a wonderful clientele! They come from all over the world and bring their stories with them, sometimes adding to my own. Being an innkeeper is like a window into a moment of people’s lives and I’ve been witness to the full range of the human experience; new love, weddings, birth, children and death. All the joy and some of the sorrow.
Sometimes my guests bring amazing coincidences with them. A couple of years ago I was researching ancient Puebloan civilization and bought a rare book online. Within minutes, I had an email from the seller that read, “Hi Paco! I’ll send the book as soon as I get home.” Amazingly, she was one of my long-time guests that was staying at the inn just 50 feet away from me! What are the odds?
One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced was becoming a full-time, single dad to my two and four-year-old boys. Remodeling and running the inn while caring for kids in diapers was a bit overwhelming. My sons are now at college. Now that I’m an empty-nester, I’m focusing more on finishing projects and polishing this little jewel of an inn.
I’m a young 60 years old, and God willing, I expect to carry on for a long time. On my 60th birthday this year, as I reflected on my life and my work, I had the disturbing realization that I may not have enough time to finish all my projects. I’ve been chipping away at the someday wonderful Moon Dancer Suite for 11 years now! To be fair, I have remodeled the entire inn around it, but still, that’s a long time! Hopefully when I awaken on my 70th birthday, I’ll be reflecting on how wonderful everything turned out.
LA DOÑA LUZ INN
Paul “Paco” Castillo