In this paper we present an innovative approach to incremental quad mesh simplification, i.e. the task of producing a low complexity quad mesh starting from a high complexity one. The process is based on a novel set of strictly local operations which preserve quad structure. We show how good tessellation quality (e.g. in terms of vertex valencies) can be achieved by pursuing uniform length and canonical proportions of edges and diagonals. The decimation process is interleaved with smoothing in tangent space. The latter strongly contributes to identify a suitable sequence of local modification operations. The method is naturally extended to manage preservation of feature lines (e.g. creases) and varying (e.g. adaptive) tessellation densities. We also present an original Triangle-to-Quad conversion algorithm that behaves well in terms of geometrical complexity and tessellation quality, which we use to obtain the initial quad mesh from a given triangle mesh.