Southwestern Decor Style: A Complete Guide
If you’ve ever traveled to the American Southwest, you understand the allure of its wild, jagged, remote beauty. Southwestern Decor brings it all home, drawing inspiration from warm desert hues like terracotta reds, cactus greens, and cowhide browns — with bright blues, oranges, and yellows bursting into the scene. Bold patterns, rustic textures, casual comfort, and an organic vibe characterize this interior design style.
Where Did Southwestern Decor Originate?
Becoming popular around the turn of the 20th century, Southwestern Decor evolved thanks to a melting pot of people groups: Native Americans, Spanish settlers, Mexican artisans, and cowboys of the Wild West. The indigenous people of the Navajo tribe hand-crafted many of their textiles, baskets, and blankets in colors inspired by desert hues and geometric patterns. When Spanish colonialists arrived in the American Southwest, elements of their architectural style — white stucco walls, wooden beams, and red clay rooftops — fit in well with their new climate. Hopi and Pueblo tribes added their influence through adobe homes. Intricate Talavera tiles that are iconic to this decor come from the rich volcanic soils around Puebla, Mexico. Finally, American ranchers contribute all things animal — hides, leather, cow skulls, and taxidermy.
Who Does Southwestern Decor Appeal To?
Especially unique to the United States, Southwestern Decor is most prevalent where it all began — in Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Texas, and New Mexico. However, you can breathe a Southwestern flair into your home no matter where you live.
Color and Craft
As with any interior design motif, you can dial the intensity up or down. Today’s Southwestern Decor tends to be a refined version of the original, mixing in streamlined pieces to add a contemporary dimension to a space. In this article, we’ll examine how to go “all-in” Southwestern and ways to create a more subdued look. Whichever your preference, here are a few quintessential touchstones to inspire your design:
- Native American textiles in bold geometric patterns and colors
- Photos or paintings of Southwestern landscapes, i.e. art by Georgia O’Keeffe
- Well-worn natural materials like stone, wood, hammered metals, leather, and suede
- Animal hides in the form of rugs, upholstery, or wall hangings
- Simple, unadorned shapes to showcase raw materials and textures
- Terracotta tile and hand-painted Talavera tile
- White plaster or stucco walls, both interior and exterior
- Pops of color: Bright and vivid or warm and rich
- Tribal patterns such as arrows, feathers, flowers, and suns
- Leather furniture with clean lines, accented with wood or iron
- Exposed or ornamental wooden beams
- Textiles on walls and flooring
- Knotty pine or ceramic tile flooring
- Potted cacti, succulents, snake plants, and other desert plant life
- Real bull or cow skulls on the walls or their imagery on pillows, blankets, etc.
Southwestern Decor Style, Room by Room
The continuum of Southwestern Decor is long and wide enough for you to create your own personal version. Let’s peek at some rooms that lean more toward classic and some that veer toward contemporary.
In Your Living Room
What better place to cozy up than a Southwestern living room? For a traditional ambience, crisp white walls and neutral furnishings provide the perfect backdrop for a Navajo-patterned rug and throw pillows. Create a focal point with a molded stucco fireplace. Sofa and chairs should be comfortable above all else. Accessorize with handmade pottery and functional woven baskets. Natural or painted wood floors set an organic foundation for the scene. To update the look, go with sleek tile flooring the color of desert sand, kaleidoscopic artwork, matching leather furniture, a glass coffee table, and floor-to-ceiling windows. Deep-green desert vegetation adds beauty and a general feeling of well-being to the room you “live” in.
In Your Kitchen
Here, we see two takes on a Southwestern Decor kitchen. One begins with a neutral palette, adding high beamed ceilings, dark wood floors, and a waterfall-edge granite island countertop. The next kitchen ventures into the super-saturated end of the Southwestern spectrum, with brightly colored walls, handmade figurines, and intricate tiles. The possibilities of Talavera tile are endless, offering as much or as little color as you like. Whichever design path you take, Southwestern Decor creates a welcoming, let’s-break-bread-together vibe.
In Your Bedroom
Creating a soothing sanctuary is always the goal for a bedroom. In both these Southwestern boudoirs, we see plush fabrics and modern lines. The first example features natural woods and woven accessories against white-washed walls. A deer head appears on a whimsical pillow rather than in 3D taxidermy. Colors are neutrals in varying values to add small punches of contrast. The second bedroom is awash in sunset, desert and mountain colors, with a bench that undulates like the landscape. Since the Southwest is known for its sunny climate, infusing natural light into your space through oversized windows, sliders, or French doors makes perfect sense.
In Your Bathroom
Natural wood, especially knotty pine, is popular in Southwestern-style bathrooms, lending a rustic energy to the space. Painted wood floors add to the cohesion, but Terracotta tile is also an excellent option given that it stays cool underfoot even when the bathroom steams up. An elaborate wall hanging gives subtle drama — or bold drama if brightly colored — while green plants liven up the room organically. Of course, you could spice up the space with hand-painted tiles in large or small doses or even a vibrant multi-colored sink. Whether neutral or daring, the overall aim is a refreshing space to get ready for the day or wind down from it.
Go Get the Look
We hope you’re inspired to translate Southwestern Decor into your own personal style. Rugged or refined, this timeless design brings the beauty and heritage of the American Southwest into your home to enjoy year-round.
Last updated December 13, 2023