The Ultimate Guide To Southwestern Decor

If you're a fan of cacti and rustic color palettes, a Southwestern-inspired style might be for you. According to The Manual, the Southwestern style originated in the 1920s in Southern California, drawing inspiration from the desert, Mediterranean-style architecture, and the flat-roofed homes of the Pueblo and Hopi tribes. There was minimal to no change in the Southwestern style throughout the 20th century. However, as early as the 2000s, elements of the Scandinavian trend and minimalism started influencing Southwestern design trends. The Scandinavian and minimalist influences resulted in a careful curation of decor and furniture, and people scaled down to single-level homes.

Regardless of the changes, the connection to nature and the desert remained unchanged. The Southwestern style features natural elements like woven fiber rugs, sheepskin throws, and vibrant greenery like potted plants. If you are head over boots in love with this colorful, fresh, and fun style, here are some great Southwestern decor tips for your home.

Get inspired by the colors of the desert

Desert hues are a primary feature of Southwestern decor trends. These tones often appear in draperies, walls, and bedding. If you are unsure which colors to use, draw inspiration from warm colors reminiscent of the desert. For example, think about sandstorms, warm dunes, bleached bones, mirage blue, and cactus green. According to Fabrics That Go, no color should be random. On the contrary, they should be selected carefully and symbolize the vibrancy of nature that you would witness in the desert.

Terra cotta reds, purples, sunset blues, mirage blue, and golds are all excellent choices for bolder pops of color, and they can create a dramatic look. However, the key is to use a consistent color palette for harmony instead of chaotic and clashing colors. Light yellow and beige walls provide a neutral base for wood furniture and decorative elements in natural shades of tan and brown (via Quadrostyle).

For the floors, settle for tiles

Southwestern desert homes often use handpainted tiles for flooring because they serve a dual purpose. Tiles stay cool during hot summer days and retain warmth from the sun to help keep you warm on cold nights. If you are thinking about decorating with Southwestern-inspired tiles, terra cotta red makes for an excellent choice because it helps you stay consistent with the desert theme.

According to Horses & Heels, adding turquoise blue tiles for an accent color is a good idea. The blue provides a pop of color that is visually appealing and screams Southwestern style. If terra cotta red or terra cotta orange is not your preference, consider brick floors from the Spanish Colonial era. These brick floors pair well with wrought iron staircase railings and other decorative items. Decorate tile floors with woven fiber or sheepskin rugs to stay warm on cold nights. Place the floor coverings strategically in areas where you will spend most of your time.

Bring in the desert sunset with lights

Desert sunsets are full of color and drama. If you are adding Southwestern decor to your home, aim to bring the sun indoors with warm lighting. It's best to opt for lights with a golden tone because this warms up pink and brown tones in a space.

According to Brumbaugh's Fine Home Furnishings, layering light can help you to create a warmer lighting scheme. To layer light, use several different light sources in a single space. For instance, place a lantern on a center table while adding track lighting to your ceiling. Strategically place table lamps on a console table and some flickering candles on the mantel. The aim is to create a cozy feeling generally associated with a desert sunset. Be careful when adding warm lighting and try not to restrict it to a single room. The other rooms will look uninviting in comparison.

Leather is a must

For many, leather remains an essential component of Southwestern decor. Using leather or vegan alternatives will create an authentic and cozy vibe associated with the Southwestern style home. According to The Vegan Review, vegan or artificial leather looks exactly like the real thing without using animal skin. Upholstered leather furniture in a family room or living room will give the quintessential Southwestern look you are trying to achieve.

For a charming and rustic look, use rich and warm tones such as medium browns with red undertones for your leather additions (via The Leather Sofa Company). You can also opt for earth-colored leather for your brown sofa, accent chair, or other furniture. Decorative items like pillows and side tables in tan and brown colors give your home a leather look. Just stay away from grays and blacks. Those colors give off a cold feeling that doesn't pair well with the Southwestern style.

Play with patterns

One of the best things about Southwestern decor is the bold and colorful patterns, which means you can have fun experimenting with your interior design and truly make it your own. According to Fabrics That Go, it's best to use bold patterns to spice up the neutral and plain backgrounds typically seen in Southwestern design. For example, you can combine neutral drapes with patterned valances. Take it a step further by adding patterned throws to brown leather and suede chairs, or use patterns for your dining chairs and table runner.

When selecting your colors, draw inspiration from desert sunsets (via The Manual). Desert sunsets often feature a burst of bright colors. You can incorporate the same tones by decorating with fiery oranges and deep purples. If you want more drama, consider using Aztec patterns. Never shy away from bold and colorful designs. They complement every room in the home, including your bedroom. Remember, there is always room for personalization.

Introduce skylights for a natural feel

Why not let the sun light up your home? Adding skylights to a room is a great way to have natural light illuminate your living space and infuse it with a quintessential Southwestern vibe. According to Home Addict, skylights bring light to dark corners and shadowy hallways in a home. Adding bright recessed lighting around your skylights will help maintain the same look and feel after the sun goes down.

However, make sure you install your skylights correctly. When not done properly, they can cause your home to overheat. If you want to add skylights to a room, use specialist shading services to achieve a balance between light and dark. While skylights make a space feel brighter and airier, they also help reduce your gas and electricity bills, making it a win-win situation. Keep in mind that they may require significant alterations to your home's existing architecture.

Embrace curved lines

While deserts are often unforgiving and harsh environments, gentle arcs and curves accentuate these spaces. Think of soft clouds, saguaro cacti, and rolling dunes that add a sense of calm and serenity to the otherwise cruel ecosystem.

Introducing those subtle curves will add more authenticity and tranquility to your Southwestern decor. Straight lines and minimal design can make Southwestern designs feel stiff or heavy. According to The Manual, curves and arches bring fluid movement to a space for a lighter, relaxed atmosphere. Arched doorways and windows are a great way to introduce curves, but there are other simple elements you can easily add. For example, a rounded fireplace or furniture, curved bookcases, mirrors, asymmetric rugs, and circular or oval chandeliers are all excellent choices. However, don't let yourself get too carried away. Decorate with curves in moderation to create interesting visual contrast instead of overwhelming the space.

Incorporate vintage and contemporary touches

One clear advantage of Southwestern decor is that it includes influences from different design styles. According to HGTV, you can enhance the drama in your living space by combining contemporary console tables with traditional touches. To keep the Southwestern style intact, add a couple of ceramic lamps to the darker corners of the room. Finally, complete the look with warm recessed lights and large open windows adorned with neutral drapes. The idea is to retain the original vibe of Southwestern decor while showcasing your personality. Feel free to experiment until you hit your desired design style.

Another tip is to add unique vintage elements to create a truly personalized Southwestern space. For instance, combine distressed wooden furniture with a Navajo-style area rug to create a striking contrast. You can further liven up the color story with some vivid woven wall hangings and pillows with Aztec patterns.

Focus on the furniture

When you decorate your home in the Southwestern style, select your furniture wisely. Clean, sleek, or minimalist furniture does not match this design trend. According to Love to Know, the Southwestern style pairs well with wood headboards, intricately carved chairbacks, plain plank tables, large chests, and cabinets. Pine is a common material paired with woven fabric or leather upholstery. You can add a decorative accent by incorporating lamps and iron tables. Bringing reclaimed wood furniture into your home provides the perfect rustic touch.

Furniture from the mid-century modern style is incorporated into Southwestern homes because it offers a calm and neutral feel with plenty of dark brown tones (via Curated Interior). However, you can also opt for vintage wooden furniture for an eclectic edge. If your budget doesn't permit authentic vintage pieces, opt for distressed items with an antique look from secondhand shops or local flea markets.

Curate your decor carefully

The overall warmth and coziness of your Southwestern-inspired space depend on the decor you select. According to Better Homes & Gardens, a cow skull is the most iconic Southwestern decor accessory. If you are not in favor of decorating with an authentic head, opt for a faux option. Another tip is to hang a Navajo-patterned blanket on your wall (via Mansion Global). If you incorporate textiles in your living space, support Navajo and Indigenous artists and makers if possible. 

If these decorating tips don't speak to you, enhance your decorations with a large sun motif. This decor element will be a constant reminder of the desert sun. A beautiful coyote design is another piece of artwork to consider for your walls. This desert scavenger is an iconic figure in various Southwestern indigenous cultures and mythologies (via The Oregon Encyclopedia). You can also incorporate unique roadrunner art throughout your living space. This fast-running ground cuckoo is a common sight in the Southwestern United States (via National Wildlife Federation).

Include some cacti

The Southwestern-inspired home is not complete without cacti. These spiky succulents come in many shapes and sizes, including towering saguaros, adorable barrel cactus, and the flowering mammillaria, as reported by Home Stratosphere. One easy way to add some natural touches to your Southwestern living space is to decorate with a few cacti and succulents (via Hayneedle). Decorating with a mix of cacti types with terra cotta pot bases will bring the desert inside your house.

Once you have the experience of dealing with a couple of cacti, you can start growing an entire garden of succulents and cacti. However, keep in mind that cacti spikes can be a safety hazard. Introducing prickly cacti might not be a great idea if you have pets or small children. If you don't exactly have a green thumb, you can also decorate with artificial desert plants. Alternatively, use cacti-themed wall art to adorn your living room or sculptural decorations for a mantel or coffee table.

Pay attention to architectural details

If you are building a home or in the process of remodeling, focusing on architectural details will help you achieve a true Southwestern style. According to Love to Know, key architectural elements include curved archways, stucco-style plaster, dark wooden or large pine exposed beams, heavy doors made of pine with accented iron hardware, and terra cotta tile floors.

Apart from these features, you can also enhance an outdoor patio with terra cotta tile floors, a cacti garden, an outdoor clay fireplace, or some tropical hanging plants like bougainvillea. These elements will give your home an authentic Southwestern spirit. To add some privacy, consider enclosing your patio with stucco-style walls. A pergola is a great way to add shade and create a gathering spot for al fresco meals and outdoor parties. Adding some open-air spaces for socializing brings a sense of calm and serenity that we usually associate with a desert environment.

Throw in some fringed accents

Decorating with fringed accents is the top way to add texture to a Southwestern style home. The good news is you don't need a cowboy vest or leather chaps to add some fringe. There are easier ways to bring this element into your living space. For instance, you can add some fringed blankets or opt for lampshades with fringed edges. According to Brumbaugh's Fine Home Furnishings, decorating with too much fringe can cause visual clutter or destroy the entire aesthetic. Use fringe accents sparingly.

Want some decorating inspiration? Consider adding a brown ottoman with fringed trim to your living room. Feel free to experiment with fringed table runners and throw pillows as well. Fringed wall decor is a great way to add subtle texture while making a bold statement. No matter how you choose to add fringe to your home, play with the colors and patterns.

Don't forget baskets and macrame

Woven tribal baskets are a central element of Southwestern decor. According to Captivatist, the best way to decorate with these baskets is to hang them vertically on your walls. It's a good idea to select baskets that complement your color palette.

In addition to woven baskets, you can also use macrame to achieve Southwestern style. Just avoid hippie, old-school macrame since this will not complement Southwestern interiors. Opt for fluid pieces with soft curves reminiscent of desert scenery. Look for macrame designs with faux feathers, bright colors, and natural elements like wood. Muted and earthy colors are a great choice since they draw inspiration from the dramatic desert environment. However, the golden rule of thumb is to select colors that pair well with the room's existing color scheme. Wayfair and Etsy have a great selection of macrame wall hangings and other Southwestern wall art to inspire your interiors.