Is There Such a Thing as Regional Color? Part Three: The Southwest

Laurie Lenfestey, Santa Fe and Parker Hotel, Palm Springs

Laurie Lenfestey of Bittersweet Designs (left) lives in Santa Fe. She has a knack for layering color, texture and jewelry. I don’t know if she’s ever been to the Parker Hotel in Palm Springs, but it looks like she’s wearing this room.

It’s ironic how America’s last frontier — The Wild West — is the birthplace and continued source of extraordinary and contagious style. Trends start there, and move east, while Easterners continue moving west. A long time ago, the quest was for gold, land, and new opportunity. While that’s still part of the attraction, but not all so literally, the Southwest has a remarkable natural beauty and spirit that is intriguing. New Mexico is called the “Land of Enchantment”, yet the magic spreads further. Desert style is simply mesmerizing and seductive, earthy and swanky, historical and modern.

The strength of desert style is a compilation of awesome terrain mixed with Spanish and Native American roots, the glow of Hollywood, and Ralph Lauren’s superb branding. In the hands of traditionalists, modernists, and rugged individualists, design is expressed differently here. When I asked Mary McDonald “Does L.A. have a signature color vibe?” she tweeted back, “I don’t know! Do My own Thing.” Yet even with all the celebrated and design influencers dressing residences and resorts in this magical part of the world, there are distinct color combinations that are repeated and just feel right in the Southwest.

Here are three palettes plus a word about whites:

Fab Frontier #1: Inspired by the earth

grand canyon color inspiration

Photo by Ginny Dixon

The Fab Frontier draws heavy duty inspiration from the sand, red clay, and soil of the desert. Interiors are layered with varied tones of neutrals and browns from white to dark brown. These rich, warm colors make spaces feel luxurious and casual, welcoming and unpretentious. The Fab Frontier palette is unisex. Leather, rope, wicker, linen and cotton are natural material coordinates. Accent colors vary.

Fab Frontier #1 adds minimal highlights of red/burnt orange, gray and black to its foundation of cream, brown and tan. Strong black elements coupled with metals or concrete feel durable, modern, and urban.

Mary Emmerling’s house; basket from Heard Museum shop; interior by Emily Henry, image from House Beautiful; a friend’s Santa Fe home

Photos: Mary Emmerling’s house found here; basket from Heard Museum shop; interior by Emily Henry, image from House Beautiful; a friend’s Santa Fe home; Interior by Peter Dunham Design.

 color of southwest terrain

Photo by Ginny Dixon

Fab Frontier #2 is a more electric Southwest palette, using powerful color borrowed from minerals and stones such as coral, amber, turquoise and silver.

Samuel Design Group, Bells by Bill G. Loyd; fashion from Trina Turk; C6 Pre-Fab by Living Homes

Photos: Image from Samuel Design Group, Bells by Bill G. Loyd; fashion from Trina Turk; Photo by Jane Dagmi; C6 Pre-Fab by Living Homes.

Fab Frontier #3: Exuberant Nature

color inspiration from southwest desert plants

The Free Spirit palette is drenched with color and decorated with pattern. Walking into a space decorated in this style makes one’s heart skip a beat. Most people don’t associate rainbow brights with the desert, but this spectrum actually reflects the vast range of wild desert blooms — living miracles in a rain-deprived place. Whether painting a whole room, just an accent wall, or a piece of furniture for some va-va-voom, this type of kaleidoscopic, jewel-toned color is joyful. Bold patterns are layered, and have a bohemian vibe reminiscent of Morocco and Mexico. Color this rich and committed has a confident playful energy.

The Saguaro, Scottsdale; photos of Colony Palms Hotel designed by Martyn Lawrence Bullard; boot by Ralph Lauren;

Photos: photo from The Saguaro, Scottsdale; dresser from here; photos of Colony Palms Hotel designed by Martyn Lawrence Bullard; boot by Ralph Lauren; kitchen from here.

The White Fan Club

Laurie Lenfestey bedroom

Laurie Lenfestey’s bedroom in Santa Fe. Image from here

Can’t depart from the desert without mentioning white! There’s a big consortium of white lovers in this region — like everywhere else! That’s no big surprise for a region that has embraced the clean modern aesthetic and launched the white slipcover Shabby Chic craze. Whether your style preference is modern, country, vintage glam or just plain pretty, white has a significant role to play. It shows everything off, is a great contrast maker, and offers peace and calm. As Californian Gillan Abercrombie of Grace & Blake says, “I like white paint because it provides a clean background that sets off all the color noise around it. I paint everything white, even furniture. All that white paint frames the views out every window.”

Simply White
Gillan Abercrombie

Swiss Coffee
True Value, Palm Springs

Navajo White
Ace, Santa Fe

 Parker Hotel, Plam Springs

The Parker Hotel in Palm Springs, photo found here

Last Word: Orange Doors

A past Elle Décor article on Palm Springs mentioned an abundance of orange doors. Gary at the True Value on Palm Canyon Drive confirms the demand for orange paint. When people ask for “Palm Springs Orange” he proposes Electric Orange or Citrus Blast.

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8 thoughts on “Is There Such a Thing as Regional Color? Part Three: The Southwest

  1. It brought back beautiful memories of our last trip out West several years ago. The warmth of the color and the way it was used was a pure delight.

  2. Thanks from CO! This is helping me refine color choices in our remodel. I’ve been drawn to both more neutral /natural backdrops (more walls closer to white, more wood or jute like floor coverings) and more intense color accents. I loved my former Eastern and Midwestern views of lawn and trees and garden… so tranquil and private… but mountain and plains views cannot be ignored and it changes the whole way you look at a window from peaceful backdrop to attention getter. For example–putting a landcape near a window seems futile and silly!

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