Southwestern Style Defined

Spice up your home with this Southwestern decor inspiration

By Lisa Frederick

Southwestern style presents a bit of a paradox. While it's among the most distinctly American design approaches, it has mystery and an exotic undertone that give it an element of spice and surprise. Rooted in an air of history and a sense of place, it bridges the gap between past and present.

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The Basics

Cozy Country/Rustic Living Room
Jennifer Visosky
This design approach is surefooted, comfortable in its own skin, and confident enough to pull off unorthodox marriages of materials and a blended family of furniture. It is less prescriptive than many other styles, with a great deal of flexibility; its anchors, as described below, are bold enough to carry the look.

These designer rooms display southwestern style:

Get the Look

Laredo Aluminum Skull

Iconic motifs.
 From sun-bleached, longhorn steer skulls to cowboy lassoes, the Southwestern look is studded with evocative symbols and imagery. The key? Incorporate them in subtle and sophisticated ways that don't turn your home into a life-size cartoon. Choose a limited number of authentic accents to showcase solo or turn into an artful display.

Rustic materials. The rugged landscape and culture of the Southwest region inform the substances and surfaces that characterize this style: rough-hewn timbers, thickly layered stucco and adobe, weathered tin or chunky tiles. Keep fabrics and fibers natural and heavily textured—consider burlap, cotton twill, denim, and leather. Earthenware, such as hand-thrown pottery, adds an appropriate top note.

Handcarved Side Table
Pfeifer Studio

Desert colors. The Southwest conjures a mental picture of vibrant landscapes awash in rusty reds and oranges, pale tans and camels, cactus greens, rosy pinks, and dusky purples. Layer these hues into your home with neutrals as the main backdrop and brighter shades in the form of fabrics, accessories, and art. 

Heavy metal. From hammered iron to tarnished silver, metals figure prominently into Southwestern décor. Choose pieces with large scale and bold lines, and mix humble and precious with warm and cool; the contrast between them lends extra energy. Don't be afraid of a little rust and crust—delicate versions look too timid for this exuberant style. 

Rounded corners. One distinctive mark of this style is its emphasis on smooth, rounded edges rather than sharp ones. That's not to say that everything in your home has to curve, but the overall effect should be soft rather than angular. Consider a barrel-shaped adobe corner fireplace rather than a classic brick one, or a range hood with sloping corners, to get the effect even in a traditional home.

  • If you like Southwestern style, you may love Rustic style design, as well.  

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