Southwestern décor melds multiple influences

DEAR DESIGNER: I have treasures from Spain I would like to display in my home. I live in the desert and I like Southwest style. Can these two styles be blended successfully? Is Southwest décor in style? -- Randy

DEAR RANDY: Southwest style is influenced by Spanish, Mexican, American Indian and Anglo-American cultures. Utilizing your Spanish acquisitions in Southwest décor is a natural.

There are many interpretations of Southwest design. This style can be very rough hewn and earthy, minimalistic and modern, Western, colorful or traditional with elements of Europe.

One of the first things many of us remember when Southwest design is mentioned is white-washed furniture used with teal and peach American Indian-style fabrics. This interpretation came into vogue in the late '80s. It became incredibly popular across America. This interpretation is out of style -- for now.

A popular version of Southwest design that has never gone out of style is more rugged and filled with artifacts of the Old West. This interpretation didn't get the widespread attention of the white-washed wood, but is still used on ranches throughout America. It is a user friendly choice for ranches.

Desert design, desert Southwest and Southwest desert are some of the newer names used to describe this eclectic mix of cultural influences. Desert design is thriving in the Southwestern desert areas of America.

Before the Spanish settled in the South, mud huts were built by American Indians. Spanish settlers taught the Indians how to make adobe brick and later introduced elaborate wood carvings and hammered iron. Eventually, Europeans, who had previously settled in the East, moved West (during the gold rush). Anglo-Americans added glass, bricks and newly developed building materials. Each culture added and improved on the previous buildings until we now have beautiful adobe-style homes, decorated with care and respect to our ancestors both here and abroad.

It's no longer common to build a home from real adobe brick (made from sand, clay, water, sticks, straw and dung), but many elaborate desert homes are built to look like adobe. A common feature in desert style is the adobe or kiva fireplace. This smooth and round corner fireplace can set the mood for an entire home.

Brightly colored fabrics with traditional American Indian motifs are seen throughout desert Southwest design. Whether they are hung on walls and viewed as art or used as rugs and blankets, these patterns add color and culture to the earthy desert palette.

Wrought iron is used for function as well as décor. When the home is traditional Southwest, you might see bulky wrought iron hinges and pulls on rough-hewn wood doors. If the décor is more modern or European, the wrought iron is simple but curvy and used for drapery rods, stair railings and decorative wall accents.

Mexico adds artistic impact with its tile work. In almost all versions of Southwestern design you will find colorful accent tiles from Mexico. These decorative tiles are used on the rise of a staircase, accents on a backsplash and floor accents. The clay-colored Saltillo tiles (Mexican pavers produced in Saltillo, Mexico) are a popular floor and shower tile.

In the featured picture you can see how all of the mentioned influences work together to create a beautifully designed kitchen with a Southwest flair. The arched hood vent made of a smooth plaster, mimics adobe style. The carvings on the island are European. The wrought iron you see behind the cooktop and in the pass-through window have a Spanish feel. The Saltillo pavers and decorative tile on the backsplash are influences from Mexico as is the wooden burro head above the cooktop. The large black iron pot on the stove and pot hanger could represent Spain or the Old West.

Southwest design brings together elements of many civilizations, creating dwellings that will remain as timeless as the cultures they represent. Good design based on function and culture is always in style.

Cindy Payne is a certified interior designer with more than 25 years of experience, a member of the American Society of Interior Designers, as well as a licensed contractor. E-mail questions to her at deardesigner@projectdesigninteriors .com or send them to her at Project Design Interiors, 2620 S. Maryland Parkway, Suite 189, Las Vegas, NV 89109. She can be reached online at www.projectdesign