Barbie Tafel likes to surround herself with beauty, whether that’s inside or outside your home. She is an exterior designer as well as a realtor, two jobs which incorporate the best of both worlds for her.
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What do you do for a living?

I am a realtor with Kentucky Select Properties and I’m an exterior designer. I am fortunate in that I am energized by working with people on their houses in many different capacities.
I have been been in business for 24 years as a landscape and exterior designer. I love creating plans and implementing brick and stone terraces, walks and walls, pergolas, driveways and courtyards, pools, ponds, vegetable gardens, lighting, and irrigation. I love helping to develop a manageable plan based on a budget.Having the opportunity to list a magnificent home overlooking the river prompted me to get my real estate license several years ago. I was able to combine my experience designing exteriors, (aka creating curb appeal), writing articles for Kentucky Homes and Gardens Magazine, and my incredible network of friends and family into a huge business of buying and selling homes. It is all the same skills: listening to needs, managing details and personal relationships.

Have you always loved working outside?

Without a doubt! I have never had a job that did not involve the outdoors. From being a camp counselor, teaching tennis, working as coordinator of the Louisville International Tennis Classic or as manager of Mockingbird Valley Tennis Club, to what I do now, I gravitate to outdoors.

Even when my children were young, we always found our most enjoyable activities outside. That says something, because they are all three boat captains in totally different capacities. My son Grant is a Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander, my son Clay is a private boat captain in Fort Lauderdale, and my daughter Lee was the director for a sailing school in San Diego.
Barbie points to all the initials on her tree of her children.

What is the best life lesson that you have ever learned?

I have a few life lessons:

  • Life is unpredictable. You can choose to surround yourself with positive people who can help keep you focused on determining the things that you can control and things that you cannot!
  • There is always a silver lining; life experiences are building blocks for the next chapter.
  • Follow the rules.
  • When in doubt, take the high road.

Who is your mentor?

My parents, who at 85, are still totally committed to their 6 children (I am the oldest), 13 grandchildren and 2 great granddaughters. They taught us how to work, interact, laugh, dance, play sports, share, pray, commit and give to others.

My other mentor is Mary Webb, who took me under her wing soon after Landscape Design school. We were partners for 15 years and not a day passes without my referring to her incredible wisdom. I am the most fortunate person ever to have had her as a mentor and friend. (I had the privilege of writing an article about my experience with her. To read it, click here.)

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What is the best advice you have received in business?

  • Listen intently. Formulate your questions, interpret their needs, and then speak.
  • Provide a service or design that will make people LIKE you in five years rather than curse you.
  • When in doubt, simplify!
  • Honesty is the best policy.

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If you were not in your current job, what would you like to do?

Be a guest speaker or find any way to participate in the European barge trips or the small, high end cruise ships. I would also like to volunteer for a non-profit in another country.

Is it true that you do not like air conditioning?

Yes! My kids jokingly claim child abuse when they come home to visit because I love to have the doors and windows open. I love to hear the birds in the morning and the crickets in the evening and feel the air.
Who needs air conditioning with a sunroom like this?

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I was born in Japan and traveled the world at three months. My dad was stationed at Tachikawa in the Air Force and asked my Mom to come over and marry him. She did, and I take great delight saying that I was “Made in Japan.”

Also, I ran a marathon! I was challenged by the Leukemia Society to become involved when my brother Bill survived a successful bone marrow transplant for leukemia to run the first Team in Training marathon, which was held in San Francisco. I had never been a runner, but made a commitment on February 1, 1991, to run 26.2 miles four months later. I have never had such a intense, committed, emotional experience, and when I jubilantly crossed the finish line, it was a testament of mind over body! It must have made an impression because all three of my kids have each completed at least one marathon.
What is your favorite place to go for dinner?

Definitely someone’s home. I could care less whether it is a picnic with paper plates on your lap or china, crystal and candlelight. It is a delightful and intimate experience to be with friends in their homes.
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Where do you like to shop?

I am not a shopper but my very favorite store in town is Colonial Designs. I get so inspired by their displays and always find something whether it is for my home or garden!

What is a treat or luxury you give yourself?

Travel. My three adult children live in San Diego, Fort Lauderdale, and Washington DC. I visit them several times a year and enjoy planning other bucket list adventures.

What is your weakness?

Yikes, I have several. Getting sidetracked: I can start a conversation and spin off in multiple directions getting totally exited about a tangent and totally forgetting where I was going. I have a condiment addiction: jams, mustards, chutneys, pickles. I love to cook and entertain! Asking for help is one, too.
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What is your favorite thing to do in Louisville?

Enjoying the river. It is constantly changing and I get the pleasure of seeing it every day.

What are three things you cannot live without?

  • My huge, paper, Month-at-a-Glance calendar. I have them saved for 40 years in a box. It’s my life journal.
  • Fresh air.
  • Travel/adventure, and the good food, wine and friendships that come with it.

What are you reading right now?

I find it very difficult to sit still long enough to read. I am busy until my head hits the pillow and I relax with magazines. However, I have my favorite books by my bedside, which are:
A Pearl in the Storm, by Tori Murden.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
The Secret  by Rhonda Byrne

What are three of your favorite things right now:

  • My iPad for FaceTime and Pinterest
  • My new camera
  • McDonalds large iced tea with 3 lemons for $1.06 to sip on for the day. (I am not a coffee drinker.)

Thanks to Barbie Tafel for sharing both outside and inside of her beautiful home. To learn more about Barbie, visit her website at

And special thanks each week to Adele Reding Photography, whose beautiful pictures inspire us to be the “best of the best.”


About the Author
Heidi Potter