on Kyle, the owner of a Southwest furniture and décor business in Henderson called Rustic Living, had to chuckle to himself one day when a man walked in, looked around and said, “Thank God you’ve got rustic furniture. We’re not into the Southwest stuff.”
It can be a little confusing. There are some old ideas about Southwest décor usually based on a somewhat shaky past. Just think of those doctors’ offices in the ’70s awash in peaches and pale blues, as if the rugged landscape of the desert Southwest was made from scoops of sherbet. And not every home with Western-style décor, its close cousin, has to have a horseshoe over every door.
It’s no wonder people are confused. In fact, even folks who think they know exactly what they want aren’t exactly sure what they want. But for Kyle it’s very simple.
“(Southwestern and Western décor) really are for people into natural woods and that feeling of comfort, and it’s more about a lifestyle, from how it looks to how it makes you feel personally,” he said. “It may bring out your Southwestern nature, or the horseman in you, or the urban cowboy or cowgirl … We quit trying to predict who people are when they walk through the door.”
Kyle’s 8,000-square-foot store is filled with handmade items such as yellow-pine furniture from Mexico, colorful Tecate tiles, thick place mats woven out of hand-dyed wool and pottery from as far away as Indonesia. He recently sold a coffee table made out of a mesquite door more than 100 years old. “There are so many stories behind all this stuff,” he said.
He also carries chairs made entirely out of horseshoes by a local craftsman and rusted hardware for furniture detailing. So whether it’s Southwestern or Western “cowboy” décor, what connects most of the items in his store are their individuality, their nod toward natural materials and, in many cases, their simplicity.
New West Traditional and Contemporary Furnishings, a company based in Cody, Wyo., has been specializing in hand-crafted Western furniture for 24 years and has customers across the United States, parts of Europe and even Asia. The company sells everything from leather-topped side tables with thick metal tacks and elk horn table bases to buffets supported by thick burl legs and highlighted with stained-glass Western motifs.
While most of the pieces reflect a traditional Western look, New West also offers a small selection of items in the minimalist arts and crafts style including a side table made from wormy maple and fir, and its Wyoming Club Chair with antiqued-leather upholstery and “x” stitching along the cushion.
The company also has a line of artistically inspired chairs that truly stand out on their own. What would be considered imperfections in the world of manufactured furniture are embraced in these pieces, known as Art Chairs. Back rungs are made from curving branches that seem to be in perpetual motion, and incongruous pieces of wood are fitted together as if by mischievous elves. Matt Sheridan, owner of New West, says the wood for the chairs is usually found by himself or one of his craftsmen, stumbled upon during a hike or fishing trip somewhere in the plains or forests of Wyoming.
“We’ll bring these pieces back to the shop and each one provides its own inspiration based on its characteristics,” Sheridan said. “It may be juniper, burl or pine wood. A nice arch or winding piece may inspire the back support. For the upholstery, we use leather, hair-on-hide or Chimayo, which is a hand-woven wool. Each piece is different and each is a piece of art, but still functional — functional and beautiful.
“I think Western furniture is always in style in some kind of way,” he added. “You can go a little bit Western or go all the way. You can go cowboy or wildlife-outdoors. These are not the clunky, conventional, overbearing pieces (of the past). It can have some elegance to it.”
Even the operators of the World Market Center Las Vegas, where millions of square feet are devoted to exhibiting the latest in décor for the furnishing industry, would have to agree that the look and feel of the West are not only here to stay, but adapting to the changing needs and inclinations of consumers. The center opened a Lodge Living section last year featuring the current trends in this laid-back, informal style, including nods to the West, Southwest and cabin or lodge look.
But perhaps the future of rustic décor and the way it seems to be crossing boundaries is best summed up by one of the companies that exhibited in the Lodge Living space last summer. Woolrich Inc., a 180-year-old company that makes rugged outdoor clothing such as wool shirts and flannel-lined jeans, displayed its line of lodge-inspired items including wall coverings, rugs and bedding. Recently, it also announced the creation of its Heritage Loft collection for young professionals interested in “an urban rustic flair,” according to Sharon Kepley, licensing manager for Woolrich home furnishings. It includes a media consul that can house a big-screen TV but is also trimmed in distressed mahogany, a bed bench made with hand-stitched leather and a dining room set with a tall, contemporary table in mahogany and leather chairs.
You can call it Western, Southwestern, cabin or “urban with a rustic flair,” what it all comes down to is bringing the outdoors in, and in the true spirit of the western United States. In other words, it’s all about finding a style that is, without a doubt, all your own.