Southwestern Architecture and Interior Design - Explained

Southwestern Architecture and Interior Design - Explained

By Dikran Seferian October 25, 2021

Solely judging by the name, you may think the Southwestern design is all about saloons, cacti, and other elements you see in Midwestern-themed movies. While some elements of the American wild west do exist in this interior and architectural style, you’ll find out that it’s actually a fusion of three different ones — The Navajo culture, the Spanish influence, and the aesthetic of the wild west. Each of these styles provides different elements that brilliantly fit together to create one unique sub-style of architecture and interior design.

Southwestern houses have been growing in popularity throughout the United States, attracting demand from many celebrities as well. One example would be Val Kilmer’s fascinating house in Santa Fe, which the Architectural Digest describes as “casual, unpretentious, unexpected”. Kilmer’s Santa Fe house is a fusion of the Southwestern and Pueblo revival styles, with a lot of emphasis on Navajo elements.

Roots of Southwestern Design

Getting Familiar With the Southwestern Design Is Important

Getting Familiar With the Southwestern Design Is Important

The influence that shapes the Southwestern-style comes from the Navajo people, the Spanish settlers, and of course, the wild west. The indigenous people of the Navajo tribe, who used to inhabit parts of the Southwest, were gifted artisans and craftsmen who handcrafted many of their household accessories. The Southwestern style of interior design has adopted many of these Navajo ways of life for their aesthetic value; the beautifully hand-woven textiles, baskets, and blankets that adorn the living spaces are based on the handicrafts of the incredibly skilled indigenous people. When the Spanish colonialists arrived later in southwest America, they brought their architectural methods with them. Their elements of architecture suited the climate of the Southwest as it somehow resembled that of Spain. Such elements appear in the form of white stucco walls and rooftops made of red clay. Eventually, the Spanish influence made its way to the Southwestern school of architecture. Lastly, the rustic elements of the American wild west also made their way to the Southwestern style. Rustic elements such as wooden surfaces, antler chandeliers, and cowhide rugs celebrate the lifestyle of the American West. 

How to Recognize Southwestern Architecture and Interior Design

Take Some Time to Appreciate the Splendor of Southwestern Architecture

Take Some Time to Appreciate the Splendor of Southwestern Architecture

Mediterranean Facade

To maintain the Spanish influence, the rooftop is made of red clay tiles that complement the stucco walls of the exterior. Moreover, Southwestern architecture does not hold back from the amount (and size) of windows that cleverly brighten up the interior. The end result is a facade that boasts the grandeur of the Southwest with Mediterranean qualities. Over at the back, a rustic patio with a Spanish touch may feature a Southwestern grill made of clay and terracotta tiles leading you towards an arched doorway.

There Are Endless Southwestern Design Ideas for Your Backyard

There Are Endless Southwestern Design Ideas for Your Backyard

Rugged Greenery

Of course, what’s a Western design without a cactus? No Southwestern design is complete without the natural icon of the wild west. You may very well find a cactus garden in the backyard, and even a few smaller ones inside the house.

Untamed Decor 

A lot of Navajo elements are highlighted in the Southwestern interior. You may find hand-woven decor proudly displayed on the walls, in addition to baskets and hand-made pottery. Meanwhile, the wild west appears in the form of rugged materials; you may come across an antler wall piece or chandelier and wooden furniture with a typically natural finish. Regarding upholstery and textiles, the colors will mostly range from beige to maroon.  

Southwestern Flooring and Ceiling

The flooring is mostly hardwood — accessorized with either cowhide rugs to maintain the theme of the wild west, or choosing to honor the Navajo culture with hand-woven floor pieces. In more modern settings, however, you may find any outland-colored rugs. Other architectural elements include exposed wooden beams on the ceilings and terracotta tiles in certain rooms.

Keep an Eye Out for the Color Scheme of Your Southwestern Interior

Keep an Eye Out for the Color Scheme of Your Southwestern Interior

White Stucco and Brick Walls

Due to Spanish influence, the walls are mainly painted white. The white color reflects the heat, which helps keep the indoor air cool in warm climates. Several rooms may also feature brick walls to complement the rustic style. From the outside, the Southwestern house features light-colored stucco walls paired with heights of stone to bring the rustic elements to the exterior. Since eastern Europeans typically enjoy their privacy, another aspect of Spanish influence would be high stucco walls embracing the patio on most sides, if not all. 

Variations of Southwestern Design

What is the Pueblo Revival Style?

What is the Pueblo Revival Style?

A variation of the Southwestern style is the Pueblo Revival style (aka Santa Fe style), famous for the beams coming out of the limestone and clay facade. The modern version of this style celebrates its ancestral features by maintaining certain elements such as the extended beams. The style was originally brought forth by the peoples of the Ancestral Pueblo culture, who have inhabited the American Southwest since 1150 AD. Pueblans built these architectural masterpieces out of limestone and adobe brick, with roofs serving as terraces for even higher floors. The use of natural elements such as limestone, in addition to the earthy colors, is what ties the Pueblo Revival to the Southwestern style.

The modern country house is yet another variation of Southwestern interior design. Many of the elements found in Southwestern houses are also common features of modernized country homes. Such features may include wooden tables and benches laid atop hardwood flooring and white walls elegantly contrasting their brick counterparts. The style is modernized with contemporary shades of gray. You may find these colors on upholstery and on other furniture such as modern-looking bar stools and lamps.

Modern Country House Inspirations Are Everywhere for Your Next Home Reno

Modern Country House Inspirations Are Everywhere for Your Next Home Reno

Achieving Southwestern Design in Your Home

Whether you are planning to remodel your living spaces or to start from scratch, you can get a Southwestern-style home by adopting several of its most remarkable features.

Rustic Room Designs Are a Great Addition to Southwestern Interiors

Rustic Room Designs Are a Great Addition to Southwestern Interiors

Consider a Southwestern Color Palette for Accents

A selection of earthy colors such as beige, rust, red, mahogany, and cactus green are suitable options for cushions, pillows, rugs, and other accents. Undertones of sky blue are also common among Southwestern decor

Choose Your Fabric

You could select natural colored leather or hand-woven upholstery for sofas. As for your bed, hand-woven blankets can be an ideal choice to tuck yourself in. 

Don’t Shy Away From Wood

Pinewood dressers, cabinets, tables, and dining chairs can make for ideal Southwestern furniture. Hand-carved wooden furniture would be a huge plus as well. 

Southwestern Biophilia

A couple of small or medium-sized cacti can be a great addition to the living room. Cacti are one of the easiest plants to maintain and can go for days without water. Consider adorning a backyard or a patio with a few bigger cacti.

Make the Walls Speak Spanish

Go for white stucco walls to create a contrast with the otherwise warm and earthy colors that are present in other elements of the interior. You can’t go wrong with a couple of brick walls either.

Go for Wicker

Since chests are common accessories in Southwestern houses, another great addition to consider is a wicker trunk or two.  You could also use other wicker accessories throughout your living spaces since the color and texture perfectly accentuates the Southwestern style.

Interesting Facts About The Southwestern Style

One interesting cultural antique which has made its way to the Southwestern style is the ‘nicho’. A nicho is essentially a wooden shrine that honors a patron saint or marks an important religious event. It was introduced by Spanish missionaries who spread their religious beliefs in the Southwest and Mexico. After the latter’s independence from Spain, many native Americans started practicing something called “folk Catholicism” which suited their lifestyle of being self-sufficient. Although they are items of antiquity, nichos have become a part of Navajo as well as Latin American heritage. Nichos gradually grew in popularity within Southwestern culture, eventually turning into a form of art. It was later incorporated as an element of interior design.

One type of nicho combines both Spanish Catholicism and Navajo culture in the form of a cabinet featuring a ‘bulto’ and a sun symbol. A bulto is a carved figure of a saint and was introduced by the Spanish missionaries, whereas the sun symbol — which usually appears on the top of the cabinet — is an icon of the Native American heritage of the Southwest. A cabinet of such historical value not only adds to the aesthetic of a Southwestern interior design but also holds a great deal of cultural significance. That being said, it is a good idea to avoid cultural appropriation by choosing such items with respect for their value —as opposed to getting one simply because it looks nice.


Written by
Dikran Seferian

Written by Dikran Seferian