Get the Look: Modern & Elevated Southwest Interior Design Style
Southwest interior design style has long been associated with rustic charm, traditional elements, brightly patterned textiles, blocky wood furnishings, and masculine furniture silhouettes. But as interior design trends evolve, tastes change, and functional needs for the home shift, we’ve seen southwest design sensibilities and trends adapt accordingly!
You can embrace the warmth and vibrancy of the Southwest while still achieving a sleek, modern, and more minimal look for your home. As an interior designer in Sedona, I’ve learned how to design interiors that celebrate the beautiful red rock landscapes we’re surrounded by, while designing unique spaces that embrace a modern Southwest interior design style.
In this post, we'll explore what modern Southwest interior design is, the do's and don'ts of achieving this style, and some of my favorite modern Arizona home decor styles.
What is Southwest Interior Design?
Modern Southwest interior design is a combination of colors, textures, materials, and artwork inspired by the American Southwest, with contemporary design sensibilities, modern silhouettes, and subdued natural colors.
It combines earthy tones, natural materials, and rich textures with clean lines, minimalism, and sophisticated decor and furnishings. This style draws inspiration from the diverse cultures and landscapes of the Southwest – including Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Texas and California.
We’re also starting to see more and more influence from Mexican design in Southwestern interior design. Think: the sparse furnishings and textured walls of Tulum, and the interplay of light and form like the spaces built by Luis Barragán.
The Do's and Don'ts of Modern Southwest Interior Design Style
It’s easy to fall into common cliches or overload specific motifs when you’re picking your Arizona home decor. To achieve a modern and elevated Southwest interior design style, follow these do's and don'ts:
Embrace Earthy Color Palettes & Natural Desert Tones
Modern Southwest interiors feature a palette of warm earthy tones like terracotta, rust, sandy beige, and muted greens. These colors reflect the natural landscapes of the region and create a cozy, inviting atmosphere.
A modern desert home starts with a neutral color palette as the base. Especially if you have bold artwork or you’re working with bright and colorful decor accents and textiles! Use muted paint colors for the walls, opting for soft whites, cream, or pale taupes.
Incorporate Natural Materials in Modern Ways
Use materials like wood, stone, leather, and wrought iron to add natural touches to your design. These elements bring warmth and texture to your space. But this doesn’t mean that these pieces have to be bulky or look traditional!
Example: the traditional Southwest look featured rustic framed doors with a tongue-in-groove detail that had a lot of ‘imperfections’ in the wood (think knots and rough textures). The new door in the modern Southwest home is much more simplified, straight, and vertical in design. It eliminates the rustic wood details with a more uniform wood grain, but keeps the same warm stain that we’re used to seeing in Southwest interior design style.
Image source: Pinterest
Mix Contemporary and Traditional Elements
Balance modern furnishings and clean lines with traditional Southwestern elements like woven textiles, pottery, and geometric patterns. This mix creates a dynamic space, but the key here is balance.
So for example, if you’re going to do a detailed kitchen cabinet knob that’s more traditional in style, stick with a more simplified cabinet detail (or vice versa!). Instead of a traditional finish like oiled bronze, go with a more of-the-moment aged brass.
Overload on Southwestern Motifs
Don’t think of “Southwest style” as a theme – think of it as a concept instead. This helps keep you balanced so that you don’t overload on desert motifs. If you think of your space as “Southwest themed”, it often translates to overwhelming your home with traditional Southwest decor pieces like colorful woven baskets, bull skulls, cow skin rugs, photographs of cowboys, and plenty of reds, oranges and taupes. If you combine all of these elements together, you get a look that’s instantly overwhelming and dated.
Focus instead on Southwest style as a concept rooted directly in a sense of place. Elevate the elements that actually exist within your current architecture. Pull in the colors of your surrounding landscape. Work with a base of muted desert colors. Use touches of Southwest style and decor to create moments and vignettes without overwhelming the space with loud overuse.
No matter the design style, always pay attention to lighting design. Bulky or poorly-designed light fixtures can date a space instantly. Incorporate natural light as much as possible to compliment the spacious and natural feel of Southwest design aesthetic, and complement your space with modern fixtures that enhance the ambiance of your space. The right lighting can warm up a space, enhance entertaining, and draw focus to beautiful art and architectural features throughout your home.
Overcrowd Your Space or Clash Styles
Modern Southwest interior design thrives on simplicity. Avoid clutter and overcrowding, which can detract from the clean and elevated aesthetic. Remember to zoom out and focus on the bigger picture when you’re selecting pieces. You may love a particular armchair – but does it fit with the other pieces in the room? Balance bulky shapes with ones that have modern simple, lines, and be mindful of how textures and colors play together when combined in a space.
My Favorite Modern Arizona Home Decor Styles
Arizona's unique blend of desert landscapes, Native American influences, and modern living has inspired a range of contemporary home decor styles. Here are some favorites:
Organic Modern Interior Design
This is my absolute favorite interior design style, and it’s the style I’m known for as an interior designer who creates luxury homes here in Sedona. It’s a warm, earthy, and inviting style that still maintains the clean silhouettes, soft colors, and simplicity of modern design. My focus is always on designing a calming, livable space with details that enhance the beauty of the surrounding landscape and create a quiet visual impact.
This style emphasizes clean lines, neutral colors, and minimal furnishings to create a serene and uncluttered environment that mirrors the desert's vastness. It shirks any bright colors for a more monochromatic palette, drawing its visual interest instead from architectural shapes and mixed textures. It differs from organic modern design in that it’s far more minimal.
A fusion of Southwestern and bohemian elements, this style incorporates vibrant textiles, eclectic decor, and plenty of plants to bring life and energy to your space. You’ll probably know it best from Joshua Tree – the rise in this style’s popularity exploded in recent years with the rise of beautiful properties being designed in the California desert.
Modern Southwest interior design style proves that you can blend the timeless charm of the American Southwest with contemporary design elements to create an inviting and modern desert home. By exploring these ideas in your home you can achieve modern and elevated Arizona home decor that reflects your unique personality while paying homage to the rich cultural heritage of the region. You can infuse your home with the warmth and vibrancy of the Southwest while keeping it fresh and up-to-date – no cow skulls required!
Thanks for reading!
If we haven’t had the chance to virtually meet yet, hi! I’m Mary Senft — interior designer and owner of SenHoma, a luxury interior design studio in Sedona, AZ.
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