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
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.
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.
Fab Frontier #3: Exuberant Nature
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 White Fan Club
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.”
True Value, Palm Springs
Ace, Santa Fe
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.