What Is Southwestern Style?

A southwestern-style living room with wooden ceiling beams.

thejoshuatreehouse / Instagram

Known for its earthy color palettes, rustic accents, and layered, bohemian vibe, southwestern style has become incredibly popular in the home decor and design world. Pulling influence from Native American history, culture, and textile craft, Spanish settlers' building methods, and the rustic charm of the "wild" American west, southwestern style has a much longer and far more varied history than you might think.

The History of Southwestern Style

In historical terms, southwestern style has three major influences:

  1. Native Americans: Long before any settlers arrived in the American southwest, the region was inhabited by Native American tribes—particularly, the Navajo. The Navajo have an incredibly long history of producing beautiful, vibrant, woven blankets and textiles; handmade pottery and woven baskets; and personal goods, like turquoise jewelry and leather items. Today, you can still see much of the Navajo influence in southwestern style. If you choose to decorate with Navajo-inspired home accents, opt to purchase your goods directly from Navajo craftsmen and women, or those residing in the Navajo Nation. Not only will it directly support a local artisan, but it'll boost the local economy, too.
  2. Spanish settlers: Spanish settlers were some of the first to arrive in the southwestern United States. Because the southwest has a climate similar to Spain, many settlers used traditional building techniques to build their new homesteads. Using the materials available in the region, like adobe (for the walls) and red clay (for roof tiles), these settlers propagated their building style across the region. Some key elements of Spanish Colonial style include thick, white stucco walls, red clay roof tiles, wooden beams and accents, and earthy color palettes.
  3. The American West: The iconic "wild west" is also a major influence in today's southwestern home decor. Because many American settlers arrived in the hot, harsh terrain with very little, they had to make do with what was available to them. Items that were once considered utilitarian—like cowhide rugs, rustic, wooden furniture, and hammered metal accents—are now key elements in southwestern style.
Southwestern textiles on a canvas bench.
loomandkiln/Instagram 

Elements of Southwestern Style

When it comes to decorating your home, you should always use your own personal touch—and incorporate furniture, accents, and decor that suit your family's lifestyle. There are, however, some key elements to southwestern style, if you really want to nail the rustic, earthy look:

  • Simple, white walls. Like a traditional Spanish Colonial home, stick to white walls. A simple backdrop will showcase any vibrant weavings, earthy-colored accents, or wood pieces in your home. Plus, white walls can brighten a darker space.
  • Earthy color palettes. Terracotta, brown, and turquoise are colors you'll commonly see in southwestern decor—and for good reason: They mimic the surrounding desert environment and pay homage to the materials Native American tribes and settlers had available to them. Feel free to punctuate an earthier color palette with more vibrant accents, like woven textiles (rugs, pillows, and blankets,) and brass or copper planters or mirrors.
  • Layered textures. Layering different textures can give your home depth and dimension. Try pairing a vibrant woven rug with leather upholstered furniture, cowhide or sheep fur pillows, and a sturdy wooden coffee table or side table.
A southwestern style master bedroom.
jamielee_designs/Instagram
  • Wooden furniture. Once utilitarian, wooden furniture and accents can give your home a super rustic vibe. You'll often see wooden ceiling beams in southwestern homes—because, traditionally, adobe homes aren't finished with trim, so the beams support the walls and ceilings—as well as heavy, wooden tables, chairs, and dressers. Don't be afraid to mix wood finishes either—it'll just add another layer of dimension to your space.
A southwestern style dining area.
the.thrifty.photog/Instagram
  • Natural accents. If a longhorn skull isn't your thing—although, we have to say, they look amazing over a fireplace, bed, or desk—accent your space with other natural elements. Cacti are incredibly easy to care for, while geodes can add a pop of color and whimsy to a room.
  • Hammered metals. Another utilitarian object gone home decor, hammered metal light fixtures and accents are commonly found in southwestern homes. Try using different finishes, like aged bronze, copper, or brass for some extra color and texture.

When it comes to southwestern decor, don't be afraid to experiment. Your favorite home goods store can be an excellent source for jute rugs, woven baskets, and accent pieces. If you choose to incorporate woven textiles and blankets, try to support Navajo and other Native American artisans and vendors.