What Does Southwestern Design Style Look Like?

The modern Southwestern house design style celebrates the rustic charm of the American wild west and is influenced by both Native American crafts and the Spanish settlers’ building style. It is also inspired by the vast American southwestern desert terrain. The style’s chunky monolithic statements reflect rocky mesas whittled into geometric shapes by the action of centuries of wind and water. Meanwhile, nature’s palette dictates an organic theme dominated by green cacti and the earthy yellow-orange-red ochre colors of the desert dirt and clay.

The arid southwest American desert landscape is typified by tough, architectural-shaped plant-forms clinging to the steep rock formations and high plateaus, while opportunistic scrub stubbornly colors the valleys in sporadic clumps of green amongst the ochre dust and boulders.

When you marry these natural earth elements with the vibrancy of a colonial Spanish influence blended with native Indian traditional themes, you are rewarded with a winning design style, capturing the best elements of both cultures. There is little wonder that this last-century housing style has persisted into modern times and remains popular today. Its organic honesty resonates with many a discerning homeowner’s vision of the classic southern Californian homestead.

The structure of a Southwestern design home is reminiscent of adobe brick houses and decorative ironwork melded with the tenacious palette of the desert while the interior favors vibrant Spanish textiles and functional furnishings crafted from natural materials like wood, terracotta, and cane.

What Influences the Southwestern Design Style?

The design of the Southwestern-style home has several traditional themes that include the style’s central building design elements. Typical characteristics can range from the Pueblo Revival style through to the Contemporary Southwest design or any blend in between but there are three major historical design influences.

·       The Navajo indigenous people of the American Southwest have provided a rich legacy of beautiful woven textiles like baskets and blankets, and exquisite handmade jewelry and pottery.

·       The 'Wild West' of the first American pioneers is a major influence in modern Southwestern décor with rugged wooden furniture, rustic decorative accents, and wrought ironwork that formed utilitarian key elements.

·       The original Spanish settlers embraced the climate that recalled their Spanish homeland. They employed the same traditional building techniques with local desert materials for adobe walls and red clay roof tiles on hewn timber roof beams.

With the Pablo Revival design, the home features an earth-toned palette often with a stucco exterior finish, and plenty of bold timber beams and curved corners. The rough-hewn viga beams and rafters dominate the roof and interior ceilings and protrude through the outside walls. Another typical trait of the Pablo Revival Southwestern-style home is the flat and staggered rooflines and recessed casement windows that feature timber supporting lintels. Design options often include enclosed courtyards or perhaps a wide, covered veranda at the front entrance. Typical of this style is the decorative iron grills offering security at the windows.

As a variation on the American Southwestern design style, the Contemporary Southwestern house design blends traditional organic design features with modern architectural elements like steel vigas, squared corners, and a vividly colored stucco exterior rather than the original earthy palette.

The Characteristics of a Southwestern Design Style Interior

The style of Southwestern décor evokes the wide-open energy of desert vistas full of warmth and a rugged serenity. The interior design recreates the same characteristics of the building itself, which reflects the living desert environment. It repeats the theme of natural living materials, robustly crafted and functional.

Several signature elements belonging to the Southwestern décor style deliver that charming, rustic ambiance. The main features include:

·       Pale beige or white walls. Interiors can be personalized with vivid textiles or natural-themed accents against this muted backdrop.

·       Choose earth-toned palettes like turquoise, ochre, and terracotta punctuated with the occasional vivid accents in reds and blues in pottery, blankets, pillows, or rugs and feature tiling.

·       Recall the early pioneers and ranchers with wrought iron, brass or copper pots and planters, lamps, and mirror frames.

·       Mix and layer with different textures to create depth and interest.

·       Utilitarian wooden furniture with a worn or distressed look can evoke the feeling of a bygone era in your lounge or bedrooms.


Just as on the outside, internal walls can feature a stucco finish in muted organic colors like pale cream, wheat gold, or the shifting hues of ochre tones. The ceilings are timber or have timber beams, capturing the natural texture and warmth of the desert landscape. Rugged Southwestern style furniture continues the theme in warm wood tones mixed with vibrant upholstery from leather or cowhide to colorful woven fabrics and bold textiles that emphasize the authenticity of the desert design style.

Floor Tiles

Tiles are a signature feature of the Southwestern décor, with lively colors and bright patterns for a feature wall or wet area splashbacks. Other bright accents can also feature through the home in decorative splashes of turquoise, orange, gold, cobalt blue, and red in soft furnishings, pottery, artwork, and household textiles. These rich hues represent the serenity and solitude of vast blue desert skies, red sunsets, and tones of ochre in the rock formations and dusty desert floor. On the floors you might find terracotta tiles the color of honey or wheat, paying homage to the wide-open, living environments of the Southwest region.


A typical earthy design theme is achieved by pulling together fabrics and nature’s textures like rattan and leather, rough-hewn timber pieces, chunky furniture, and furnishings in decorative accents. The Southwestern décor is further enhanced with woven Native American textiles like colorful, boldly patterned rugs thrown over tiled floors and furniture, for added warmth and interest. Interior accents replicate the colonial Spanish influence, melded with native American inspiration from wall hangings to earthen pottery, woven blankets, and wrought iron touches in lamps, baskets, and candleholders.

This authentic American design style is in no danger of losing popularity as it continues to capture the imagination of the Californian homeowner, as it evolves through the decades.