Jan 19, 2012

La Casa Mexicana

I’m just back from a blissful week in Tulum, Mexico, a super casual beach town on the Mayan Riviera.  The turquoise water, the sun, the food, the language, the people – all contributed to a fantastic memorable experience!  And of course, any trip to Mexico is chock full of lush visual inspiration for a designer.  The country has a vibrant style that is definitely all its own.  While the unique look of Mexican interior design is embraced by South Western homeowners in states like Arizona and New Mexico, it’s a trickier style to incorporate wholeheartedly into a traditional New England home.   But, if you are looking for an upbeat, casual, colorful interior you should consider adding some Mexican elements to your decor.

The first thing you notice about Mexican style is the universal use of bold, saturated color.  Cobalt blues, deep reds, golden mustard yellows, cactus greens and terracotta are the mainstays.  Walls are painted in these lush hues – often the very same room will sport walls of different colors!   Mexicans are not shy about color – they use it in a carefree, spontaneous, generous way and the resulting interiors are warm, relaxed and joyous.  And the color doesn’t stop at the walls.  It’s layered on – in the textiles, the patterned tiles, the artwork and furnishings.   All interior elements traditionally incorporate lots and lots of  happy color.

Mexican furnishings have a distinctive rustic look, often handcrafted from either pine or mesquite wood.  The finish is left natural – or sometimes dark stained.  Pine pieces are often painted colors.  Pieces are constructed in simple, sturdy shapes with straight lined profiles.  However, the simple forms are often just a canvas for further ornamentation.  Carved details – like scalloped edges, zig zags, entwined flowers, stars – turn each piece of furniture into a work of art.  Dark iron hardware details embellish drawers or doors.  Hinges, knobs, rings and pulls are usually hand hewn and show the hammer marks.  Antiques in Mexico are valued not for being pristine.  Instead imperfections that come with age show that they’ve been well used and loved.

You can’t get far in Mexico without encountering the ubiquitous tiles that sometimes seem to cover every available surface!  A traditional handmade Mexican tile is covered with painted patterns and used with abandon.  The same painted designs you find on tiles, will also appear on other things like sinks, dishware and pottery.  Multiple patterns are routinely mixed together and this makes for a festive, spirited interior.   You can certainly find places in your home to incorporate a hand painted piece like a tile or pot.

Finally, fabrics in Mexico continue the use of color and pattern.  Textiles are woven in the time honored tradition and if you’ve ever seen a poncho or Mexican blanket then you know the look – big swaths of bright color.  Many designs come from traditional Aztec or Mayan patterns.  Another popular look for fabric is the use of embroidery with thick yarn-like thread, which gives simple white cotton fabric a folk art touch.  These woven and embroidered fabrics make authentic and charming pillows, upholstery, and bedding.

So, if you’re looking for a truly spirited and casual interior, consider some of these Mexican design elements and the ways you might add little South of Border spirit to your own home.

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