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Southwest Style

April 30 2010

Southwest style is more than a passing celebration of Native America, it’s about the appreciation of wide open spaces, stark desert beauty, and the lifestyles of pioneers as well as indigenous peoples.

For those living in the desert, southwest, or western areas, Southwest style is a classic blend of native, Mexican Indian, wild west and pioneer influences. It’s been the inspiration of home design and art for decades.

Cubistic forms of Pueblo and other Native American architecture and designs are the continual inspiration for the Southwest look.  Geometric designs crossed paths with Art Deco and Prairie designs in the early 1900s through 1930s and expanded to cowboy-inspired themes of rodeos, horses, and sunset designs of the 1940s and 1950s. 

These influences were embraced by notables such as architect Frank Lloyd Wright who used native geometric designs in his Prairie-style homes. Ground-breaking artist Georgia O’Keefe glorified the desert beauty found in bleached cattle skulls and desert flowers. 

Forget the romanticized pastel pinks and blues of the 1980s that were incongruous with the howling wolves, Kachina dolls, Indian rugs and blankets, and other Native Americana as imagined in the 1980s.  

Southwest style is much more universal, here are a few hallmarks of Southwest style, without the kitsch:

1. Leather – find it in chairs, sofas, even placemats.  Tooled leather, studs, leather laces and other treatments provide authenticity to furniture and accessories.

2. Adobe – think of it as Southwest Stucco. This building material made into brick is also a color inspiration of natural tones both indoors and outdoors. 

3. Bancos – these native-inspired banquettese are low earthen benches built into the walls for extra seating. 

4. Fogons – corner-set fireplaces save room and provide a focal point from two directions, allowing the masonry to blend into the décor.  The distinctive round-fronted fireplaces are called kivas.

5. Nichos – statues are placed in niches that are built into the walls. 

6. Saltillo clay tile – these are regionally-made terracotta tiles are cured in the sun.  They provide a rich, warm flooring that can be enhanced with decorative clay tiles.

7. Wrought iron or rusty iron accents – beds, tables, and chairs can have hand-crafted design details that speak to Southwest style.

8. Latillas – small saplings decorate ceilings of round wooden beams. 

9. Baskets and pottery- use these to hold magazines, kindling wood, or plants.  Collectible and valuable pieces can be displayed alone. 

10. Collectible Native American rugs and blankets.  Leading the way are the wool Navajo rugs and blankets.  With a wide variety of motifs, the geometric designs are simple yet stylish enough for contemporary home décor.  Colors can range from natural tones to reds, blues, blacks, oranges, and greys.   Mexican rugs and blankets also offer simple and colorful designs with expanded colors.  

11. An entry, hall or courtyard called a zaguan, accented by corbelled imposts.

12. Warm, earthy colors with a rich, gold undertone are a key.  Desert tans, golds, sage green, cactus, straw, terracotta, indigo, black, and turquoise are all colors associated with Southwest style.

Southwest style comes together best in home designs that lean toward a casual, but elegant ambiance, such as log cabins, ranches, vacation retreats and homes in warm to hot climates. Elements of Southwest style can be incorporated into other decors, to introduce both warmth and a little history.

Enjoy these solid furnishings, natural materials, and uniquely American images that truly stand the test of time.