What do mint green, coyotes and handkerchiefs have in common?
They all represent a Southwestern trend that had its heyday 20 years ago when Santa Fe style trickled into Arizona and flooded homes with pastel depictions of desert living.
Thanks to that craze, many people remain fearful of Southwestern design, but a growing number of adventurous Arizonans are discovering modern Southwestern style, which interprets the Old West with a new twist.
"In the past, Southwestern design has been more rigid in the sense that there were certain ways to do it and not to do it," says Suzanne Pickett Martinson, Paradise Valley resident and author of "The New Southwest Home."
"But now, Southwestern has evolved to where it is so creative," she says. "It works well with so many different design elements: Victorian, contemporary, country, antique, period pieces. It really lends itself to working in tandem with other design styles, which makes it really exciting because you can express your personality and your lifestyle through that."
Pairing Southwestern pieces like American Indian pottery, Mexican rugs and distressed wooden beams with other design elements like a contemporary couch or a Tuscan table is key to keeping your home from looking like a dude ranch, says Martinson. Just make sure the accents you pick are "things you love, not things that you think will look good," she says.
"Be subtle in expressions of regionalism in design — the look of the interior will much more easily stand the test of time," says Scottsdale interior designer David Michael Miller. "Then, be inventive and don’t just do the same old thing. We are all creative beings, so reinvent Southwestern design to reflect your own interpretation of it. Make it personal."
Using Southwestern accents is a great way to reflect Arizona’s beautiful desert environment and celebrate its rugged beginnings, says Tom Reimers, interior designer for DS The Studio in Scottsdale.
"It fits perfectly with the architecture out here and the environment," says Reimers. "It’s really taking the desert from outside, inside. In Arizona, it’s the perfect style to bring the environment into your home and mix it with any kind of style."
Not surprisingly, Martinson says it’s typically newcomers to the Valley who are most interested in Southwestern design because they’re discovering Arizona’s desert landscape and studying its history for the first time and want to incorporate it into their homes.
While some are interested in decorating with a Southwestern theme throughout their homes, most want to retain their personal styles from their last residences and add a few subtle touches that pay tribute to their new state, she says.
In turn, that tasteful technique is making Southwestern design more appealing to Arizona natives — many who swore off Southwestern style after they ditched their collection of wooden coyotes years ago.
That makes Martinson happy.
"It’s exciting that people who are natives to Arizona are realizing, ‘Wow, I really do like Southwestern design,’’’ says Martinson. "All these things they’ve taken for granted, they’re starting to appreciate."