Southwestern decorating is heavily influenced by the vast landscape of endless, deep blue sky and desert, multi-layered red rock mesas, canyons and mountains, blowing tumbleweed and cactus ... all of which conjure up images of the wild west, complete with gun-slinging outlaws and saloons where town folk gather for a night's worth of drinking and gambling.
The southwestern decorating style is a conglomeration of architecture and motifs rooted from 19th century American pioneers, Mexican influences and Native American Indian traditions. This region, which spans west Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and southern Utah and Colorado, has a combined area of over half a million square miles.
Classic southwestern design, following in suit with its surroundings, is warm and vibrant with organic color tones and natural textures. Traditional building materials in this region include clay, straw, wood and stone, and are used to construct homes made of adobe, which is a sun-dried brick of clay and straw and found in areas where rainfall is scarce.
Two dominant architectural home styles are found throughout the southwest: Pueblo and Territorial.
The Pueblo-styled, flat-roofed adobe home, with plaster-walled interiors and terracotta flooring, iron-gated patios, rounded corners and exposed wood ceiling beams, is a very popular architectural style to consider when constructing your home in this style.
A modern, pueblo-styled home situated in Arizona.
The Territorial style, has a more country look to it, and blends the adobe framework of exterior walls with such things as a pitched tin roof, window shutters, stone-walled interiors, wood planked flooring and exterior wood trim.
Going beyond architecture, below we outline some basic concepts for consideration when outfitting your home in the southwestern decorating style.
Colors & Textures
Primarily factoring into the bold southwestern decorating color scheme is what you find in the region's multi-colored rock formations, landscape and sky. Neutral earth tones, lending themselves to the rich soils found in riverbeds, mesas and old driftwood, grace both interiors and exteriors.
Southwestern decor leans toward the warm end of the color spectrum, with shades of yellow, orange and red dominating. There are many colors, however, that symbolize different aspects of life on the rustic realm, reminding home owners and guests of the great Southwestern wilderness.
At the brighter end of the spectrum, you have red, rust, pink, purple, orange and yellow reminiscent of vibrant yet peaceful sunrises and sunsets, wildflowers and rock formations, exclusively observed in the Southwestern region.
Blue, representing big sky country, turquoise stone, and life supporting mountain rivers which complement the arid surroundings. Signifying indigenous trees, shrubs, grasses and cactus, you have many different shades of green to choose from. White or bone, symbolizing clouds, snow-capped mountains, or sun-bleached steer skulls lying in the desert sands.
Towards the darker end, you have tans, browns and black. Tan and brown are colors used to offset brighter colored objects found around the room, such as rugs, wall hangings and artwork. Hardwood flooring and ceiling beams, leather upholstered furniture, sandy-colored stucco walls and pottery are all great choices to consider for adding variety, texture and balance to the room.Black is most often found in the form of ironwork around the house, such as in fireplace screens, hand railing, lamps, wine racks and artwork.
Color cues in Southwestern decorating.
For assistance selecting your southwestern decorating theme colors, try these free online tools, the color wheel calculator (from Sessions School of Design) and thecolor visualizer (from Sherwin Williams).
Textures, colors and shapes in southwestern decorating, in much the same way found in the Asian themes, are often played as opposites against each other in an attempt to reach a balanced or harmonic state. Some examples of how these opposites are used may include things like hard and soft (a soft Navajo blanket hung on a thick adobe wall), dead and alive (an old steer skull used to pot wildflowers), and light versus dark (black iron work in front of a roaring fire).
Other areas where you can get inventive may include placing big objects against small, rounded versus angular, and smooth to rough. Achieving balance through contrast with creative offsets will add depth, complexity and symmetry to your environment.
Textures and materials found throughout southwestern decorating include a variety of materials taken from the surrounding region.
Hand-forged iron, which became popular during the Spanish colonial period, is known for its characteristic swirls and curls, and found in abundance in and around the home. Ironwork is primarily used for such things as door and cabinet hardware, lamps, furniture, gates, fireplace screens and handrails.
Timber of all shades, both glossy smooth and rough hewn, is used in furniture, flooring, ceiling beams and doorways.
Terracotta, the ubiquitous fire-baked clay, can be used all over the home as it can be molded into virtually anything imaginable, but is primarily used in flooring, pots, vases and water fountains.
Keeping a watchful eye over wandering coyote, a cat sits in the window sill
of this adobe structure in the desert just outside El Paso, Texas.
Stucco on Adobe wall surfaces is generally coarse, with a cement plaster used as the coating. Flecks of glittery minerals or even bits of straw are often mixed into the plaster to attain a more primitive look.
And finally, stone (primarily sandstone, limestone, and quartzite), which is gathered from the region and known for its multi-colored attributes, is used in fireplaces, walls and flooring.
Carved Spanish antiques, or rough-hewn furnishings of driftwood, manzanita and peeled-pole, will complement any room with their distinctive characteristics of wormholes, burls, and various shades of browns and grays. The more natural, aged and rough finished, the more desirable.
Wooden end-tables, stools, dining room sets, coffee tables, chairs, chests and dressers with dark iron hardware will add the rustic element that our ancestors from only a few generations ago enjoyed. Depending on how rustic you want the room to look, pieces can be chip-carved for a rough finish, or sanded down and varnished to a smooth surface.
Sofas and chairs in the living area should be comfortably stuffed, and situated in such a manner so as to stimulate conversation and interaction among family and guests. Depending on other furnishings and the look you are striving for, leather, Navajo patterned or neutral colored upholstery all work very well in this design.
The colorful geometric patterns of Native American and Mexican fabrics are emblematic in southwestern decorating. Loosely woven cotton or wool make for excellent rugs, blankets and wraps, which accent the room as well as adding regional appeal.
Mexican and Navajo blankets, offering a variety of colors
and patterns to homes in the southwestern design.
For windows, gauze curtains (either off-white or darker stained) are often hung on simple rods, allowing plenty of daylight into the room.
Accessories in Southwestern Decorating
Accessories in southwestern decorating are made from a variety of natural materials, including stone, wood and metal. When accessorizing your home, keep in mind that a minimalist approach is preferred over a cluttered or stuffy interior. This approach applies to both your walls as well as the room itself.
Wildlife silhouettes, rustic lanterns and weatherworn furniture are all icons that symbolize the proud southwestern culture.
Along with the other suggestions below, you will have no problem achieving the look of the great Southwest.
- Coyote figurines
- Kachina dolls rendering ancient Hopi Indian spirits, wood-carved and clothed in masks and costumes
- Native American artifacts, including colorful pottery, rugs, blankets, dream catchers, wood carvings, sculptures, rawhide drums and head dresses
- Mexican ironwork and wood carvings
- Cactus and other indigenous plants in terracotta pots
- Wrought iron statues
- Unpolished metal (copper and brass being the most prevalent) used for urns, pots, cookware, kettles and lanterns
- Colorful woven Navajo or Mexican rugs placed on terracotta floors or used as wall hangings
- Woven baskets made of rattan, wicker, or yucca, used to display pinecones, books, flowers and plants
- Bright red chili-pepper motif and figurines
- Wooden, hand-painted figurines (called bultos) of Catholic saints
- Mexican tinwork, either punched or stamped, into picture and mirror frames, figurines, lamp shades, light switches, socket covers and chandeliers
- Choices for planting in and around the home include Autumn Sage, Wine Cups, Flowered Hedgehog Cactus, Red Yucca, Spanish Bayonet, Desert Sunflower, Indian Paintbrush and California Fuchsia
Southwestern decorating utilizes many different forms of lighting, such as brass candlesticks, oil and kerosene lamps, sconces, wrought-iron lamps, hurricane lamps and tin lanterns. In addition, weathered, wrought-iron, or wooden chandeliers provide the lighting and comfortable ambience that the southwestern theme so readily exudes.
Fireplaces are also central in this theme. In pueblo-styled homes, adobe fireplaces protrude from the corner of the room and are called beehives (or kivas) due to their bulbous appearance, and can be large or small depending on the design of the room. Territorial-styled homes typically have stone fireplaces embedded into the wall with a wood-beamed mantelpiece.
A modern bedroom in southwestern decorating,
with bright colors and plenty of natural light.
Natural light also plays a large roll in this style; with clean blue skies and bright sunshine illuminating through open windows and doorways, wall colors, fabrics and accessories seem to jump to life.
See Also ...
Return to the Rustic Home Decorating page from here
Southwestern Decorating Sensations - Southwest and Mexican Furniture, Pottery and Accessories
Southwest Rugs and Wall Hangings in Traditional Navajo and Mexican Design
Native American Accessories & Baskets, Pendleton Fabrics and Glassware