Desert Style Has Come to Town
Get the dusty lowdown on new Southwestern design trends, colors and wares
If you’ve noticed the slow creep of cool cowpoke vibes into most major facets of popular culture over the last year—from the western influence in film mega-hit A Star is Born to the surprising fervor for country rap song “Old Town Road” to cowboy boots and bolo ties appearing on global runways and the grounds of this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival—then you won’t be surprised that the movement west is making its mark on the world of interior design as well.
Etsy’s list of “Top Trends to Watch for in 2019” included “Southwestern Styles” and the shade “Burnt Orange,” both of which tip their hat to the rise of western- and desert-influenced design.
Since the early 2000s, the world of interior design has been enamored with bohemian style—especially here in Southern California where it has practically become synonymous with our laid-back image—and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. While boho’s popularity has stayed consistent, the style itself is constantly evolving and embracing elements of other design movements such as the creation of #scandifornian style (the comfortable minimalism of Nordic design and the concept of hygge coupled with California’s brand of bohemian style).
The most recent fusion is #desertboho, a combination of Southwestern and bohemian design elements—which come together in a seamless melding of mix-and-match prints, earthy textiles and intricately carved wooden pieces.
Desert Tints & Textures
Etsy wasn’t the only tastemaker with an eye toward the desert horizon, with Sherwin-Williams declaring Cavern Clay as their 2019 Color of the Year.
“Our choice of Cavern Clay (SW 7701)—a rosy terracotta that calls to mind beaches, canyons and deserts and embodies warmth and simplicity while bringing the outdoors in—was inspired by the American Southwest, and the emergence of the ‘desert modern’ trend, which fuses Southwest and midcentury-modern styles,” says Sue Wadden, director of color marketing for Sherwin-Williams. “Additionally, metals for the home have been warming up, leaning away from steel and silver and using more copper and rose gold, which Cavern Clay reflects.”
The striking orange shade is part of a larger collection of colors that draws from this aesthetic. “The whole Wanderer palette from our 2019 Colormix Color Forecast is inspired by the American Southwest,” Sue explains. “In addition to Cavern Clay, other hues in the palette include: Distance (SW 6243), Moth Wing (SW 9174), Origami White (SW 7636), Baked Cookie (SW 9098), Dark Clove (SW 9183) and Caramelized (SW 9186). They’re all warm, earthy tones that can be mixed and matched to create an inviting palette inspired by the desert.”
The hues in this collection look best with natural materials and finishes, like leather and woodgrain, and are also a great backdrop for greenery, Sue notes.
Lauren Hitchcock who, with her hubby Ryan, designs and sells homes through their company Shelter Residential, wholeheartedly agrees. “When searching out materials to go with a Southwestern aesthetic, look for things that are rough and imperfect with lots of texture and character such as leather, clay, wood, wool, brick and other organic materials.”
Lauren names terracotta, rust, mustard, dusty pink and brighter yellows and reds as some of her favorite shades to utilize when going for a modern-desert look.
Bringing the sun-drenched warmth of the Southwest into your spaces can be achieved in many ways—both great and small. Pieces that embody this look can work in any space, but areas that already have a bohemian, Spanish-traditional or midcentury-modern vibe are ideal candidates for their inclusion.
If you think you might want to bring this look into your home in a big way, Lauren suggests always starting with crisp, white walls that will turn your space into the perfect backdrop for standout decor.
“The white walls also add a more modern feel to the space,” Lauren says. “If you’ve got those and you stick to large furnishings made with a classic look in mind, such as midcentury furniture—which really complements this style—you won’t be in danger of going too cowboy. As the focal point for this type of space, I love using a great vintage leather couch—one with a fabulous aged buttery patina that exudes natural warmth—and then loading it with pillows that have bold patterns and lots of textural features.”
Stephanie Hamilton, co-founder and principal designer of Design Theory Studio, also looks to midcentury furnishings as great anchor pieces after utilizing them in a project with desert-modern aspects.
“We [Stephanie and her co-founder Audra Siao] were hired to design a conjoined living room and dining area in a Spanish-style Del Sur home—so we had white walls, exposed beams and natural flooring to work with,” Stephanie says. “We wanted to be true to the home’s architectural style while also incorporating the homeowner’s preference for midcentury furnishings and ethnic objects that they collected from their travels. We ended up calling the end result a combination of desert modern and boho chic with an ethnic flair.”
To achieve this look, Stephanie and Audra fulfilled the homeowner’s wishes for midcentury elements by going with large furnishings—custom dining-room chairs, living-room sofas and a coffee table—in that style in both spaces and chose an overall black-and-white color palette with supporting shades in desert-inspired brown, mustard and turquoise. They then incorporated accent pieces with natural finishes and distinct textures—a cognac-leather statement chair, throw pillows with raised patterns, fibrous wallpaper, tiling in an aged patina and a chandelier with a distressed look in black-bronze—wherever possible.
Stephanie notes that when embracing a fresh trend in your home it is a good idea to follow many of the guidelines they used in their Del Sur project.
“Buy your large, permanent pieces in long-lasting, traditional styles and neutral shades and bring in fresh looks with the smaller accent pieces,” Stephanie says. “When choosing decorative items, take inspiration from things you already own—note color, texture and material types—and mix fresh (but complementary) finds in with them.”
Lauren loves bringing the modern-desert look in by sprinkling smaller decorative objects, textiles and artwork throughout a space—especially on a great set of shelves.
“Items made from natural materials and with a lot of texture are staples of Southwestern style, so handmade pottery and ceramics are perfect and combine ideally with greenery—a good potted cactus is a great statement piece or try a bundle of palo santo in a low dish,” Lauren says. “Air plants and succulents work very well with this look too. Carved wooden pieces, woven baskets and beautiful stones fit the aesthetic too and can be fun vintage finds to search out.”
To bring this look in on other surfaces, Lauren suggests adding texture on the floor with a jute or woven-wool, tribal-pattern rug and showcasing photographs on the walls. “I like to use a lot of photography on the walls—Wilder California has captivating California desert landscapes and Max Wanger Print Shop has beautiful cactus and horse prints. Sometimes I also incorporate watercolor paintings of desert landscapes for a more organic feel.”
TIP: If you are a DIY enthusiast, Lauren says that Southwestern style is perfect for adding homemade decor with a natural flair. (She has made a trio of side tables from logs and a whimsical chandelier from a tree branch.)
Gettin’ the Goods
“Kurtz Street Vintage Marketplace in Point Loma and Sea Hive in Oceanside are both great for unique western finds,” Lauren says. “Ryan and I also hit the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena every now and then. For new wares, I love Maven in Normal Heights. They have lots of fabulous handmade local ceramics. I get a lot of stuff from Norden in Encinitas [see page 88 for more on the Norden founders]—especially their candles and planters—and SoLo on Cedros Avenue in Solana Beach.”
Stephanie also counts local antique shops—particularly those in Ocean Beach and Oceanside—as some of her favorite places to locate one-of-a-kind decorative pieces.