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DECOR : Nature Itself Inspires 'Southwest Spirit'

August 27, 1994|ROBERTA GRAFF

In the magical and mysterious land known as the American Southwest, even the cities speak of the country. The color and texture of painted sunsets and dusty desert blooms are as much a part of the shopping malls and condominiums of Phoenix and Scottsdale as are the sunbaked adobe houses of Santa Fe and Taos.

This rough-and-tumble terrain has brought forth an environment with its own distinct voice. It resounds loud and clear in a free-spirited, down-home lifestyle.

The landscape--a panorama of endless mesas, majestic mountains and cactus forests, is the soul of the American Southwest. It has crossed the boundary between indoors and out and given birth to a new aesthetic in home design. It is called the "Southwest Spirit," and nature itself is the interior designer. This is a style not to be confused with the too-muted tones of many mass-produced furnishings marketed as Southwest style in the '80s.

Not unlike the weather, with its sun-soaked days and cool nights, parched deserts and sudden rain showers, this look in home decor is a study in contrasts. Native American and Spanish, old and new, sophisticated and primitive have been joined together and have found their niche in the lexicon of American home design.

The ambience created when Western antiques and reproductions are set against a backdrop of textured stucco walls, deep-set windows, bleached, wood-beamed ceilings and natural stone or tile floors can be found in New York apartments as well as London eateries and Parisian boutiques. However, it is possible to get the rich and rugged look of the American West with a few well-chosen pieces of furniture, a bevy of simple but beautiful accessories and a cactus or two.

Southwest Spanish Craftsmen of Santa Fe (800-777-1767) have epitomized the style and unique grace of 19th-Century New Mexico with an extensive collection of handcrafted, superbly detailed and finished furniture, doors and accessories. There are chairs of pine and mahogany with leather seats and antique brass nails, chests with reproductions of original hasps and locks in wrought iron and Cibola beds, with headboards and footboards featuring the legendary "sunburst" design that connotes health, wealth and strong family unity.

Authentic antique reproductions of classic New Mexican trasteros, upright storage chests; amarios , traditional cabinets, and roperos, spacious wardrobe closets, are available through TAOS Furniture of Santa Fe (800-443-3448). They also offer a complete line of handmade tables, chairs and bedroom pieces rooted in the Southwest of past centuries.

Bed linens and fabrics that capture the austere landscape are available at major department stores and specialty shops. Wamsutta Pacific has introduced "Taos," an ensemble of sheets, pillowcases and drapery, while Osborne & Little for Revman Industries is showing two styles for the bedroom, "Omega" and "Mesa Verde." Stevens presents "Arcosanti" and "Raffia" by Collier-Campbell.

The American Southwest is one of the rare places where craft and art are regarded as one. It is not surprising to find fine art, hand-woven textiles, pottery, baskets and hand-painted furniture side by side. Indian pottery and rugs, created in centuries-old tradition, are available at the pueblos as well as at Indian markets and shops that specialize in such accessories.

The "Southwest Spirit" is an eclectic mix of rough-hewn furniture, natural-fiber textiles and handcrafted items. It has harmony, a sense of adventure, a touch of romance and the color palette of the sagebrush. It is the best of the Native American, the Spaniard and the Anglo who settled in this part of the country. The style of living they created blends into the rugged desert landscape. It is casual and devoid of pretense and frequently colored with humor.

(c) Copyright, 1994, Roberta Graff. Distributed by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate.

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