Desert modern interior design is trending — and not just in desert climate states like Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and California.
“It’s swanky, glamorous, organic, and boho all at the same time, without taking itself too seriously. That’s a combo that’s very appealing,” says Palm Springs, CA, interior designer Christopher Kennedy.
But don’t you dare call it Southwestern style. Out are the bright hues, bold patterns, and knobby furnishings. Desert modern is a minimalist mood, drawing inspiration from modern design, bohemian design, and desert landscapes. Cornerstones of the style include neutral colors, natural textures, sleek framed furniture, and artisan-made decor.
“It’s a lot of solids with a huge play on layering textures,” comments Jessica Moreau of Moreau Design in Sedona, AZ. “[As for] obvious Southwestern patterns, you wouldn’t want to incorporate too much.”
If you’re looking to transform your interior or simply add dashes of the trend, follow these seven desert modern styling tips:
1. Decorate with succulents, cacti, and other greenery
A common home-staging technique is to fill a vase with fresh-cut flowers. For a desert modern twist, fill natural ceramic vases with eucalyptus or olive branches. Hobby and craft stores like Michael’s and Jo-Ann sell synthetic versions for under $5, like this $3.99 Green Eucalyptus Bush.
Potted cacti and succulents are another must. The accompanying pot or vase should match the vibe. Choose bespoke, earth-toned containers over flashy metallic adornments and angular-shaped designs. Think soft, earth tones. This San Luis Terracotta vase sold through Crate & Barrel is a great find.
You can also find tiny vases and small planters on Etsy; we love this cup-sized stoneware planter with speckled white glazing from HaightPottery in Rio Verde, AZ. Kennedy recommends shopping on Etsy to support small, independent makers and artisans.
2. Incorporate baskets for storage
Baskets contribute style and function to a desert modern interior. The open weave design perfectly complements leather and stone furnishings. Plus, baskets create hidden storage to stow away television remotes, drink coasters, mail, and more. Look for styles with handles or fringe to add even more texture to the room.
Kennedy is a huge fan of Cost Plus World Market’s “small organic pieces,” he says, where baskets are born out of seagrass (like these Natural Seagrass Open Weave Dakota Baskets) and other natural materials.
3. Compose a neutral color palette with dashes of desert colors
Create a neutral base comprising shades like cream, ivory, white, and beige. Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Hearth & Hand with Magnolia farmhouse-style décor line sold through Target is a good starting point, featuring items like faux-leather curtain holdbacks.
“It’s a very restrained color palette. If you’re going to have any, it’s a maximum of two,” notes Moreau.
“It comes back to the colors you see in nature: rust, earthy brown, sunset colors, sky-blue colors, true to a natural, earthy essence with that chalky pigment.”
Kennedy echoes the sentiment: “Think the cool white of sand, the warm grey of stone, the brown of driftwood. For pops of color, nature has us covered once again: deep cactus green, the silver-blue of agave, or the burnt orange of terracotta will work beautifully.”
For a douse of color, draw inspiration from desert landscapes and open sky sunsets. Look at the colors present in Joshua Tree National Park, Big Bend National Park, Saguaro National Park, and Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. If you find the colors in an image particularly striking, you can upload the photo into a color palette generator to create a custom color scheme.
4. Cozy up the bedrooms and living room with woven linens
Desert modern interiors embrace artisanal textiles for rugs, wall tapestries, and throw blankets. Typically, southwestern textiles are made of cotton or wool and feature wide lines and stepped motif patterns.
“For accessories and pillows that feel totally fresh and current, on a budget, CB2 is a great resource,” says Kennedy. CB2’s 16″ Dorado Handwoven Pillow features colors reminiscent of a desert landscape: terracotta orange, creamy sand, stone grey, and black.
5. Paint your walls white or off-white
All-white walls are a cornerstone of desert modern interior design, mimicking white Spanish adobe buildings prevalent in California and the Southwestern states. The Spanish built white adobe missions beginning in the 1600s, and this architectural style remains popular in hot climate regions today.
From a design standpoint, white walls also help the desert modern décor and accessories pop. To get the look, paint your interior a shade of white like Benjamin Moore’s Decorator’s White.
6. Experiment with an accent wall
Play with an accent wall to lift color up onto the wall. We love Behr’s Canyon Dusk, a mauve-meets-dusty orange hue, and Magnolia Home’s Shades of Green Paint Collection. If you’re not comfortable painting an entire wall, consider two other options for adding accents: the protruding fireplace wall or an ombre rectangle mural behind your bed frame.
If, like Moreau, you’re a fan of ochre, try Benjamin Moore’s Chestertown Buff, part of the company’s Color Trends 2021 Palette.
7. Don’t overtheme your interior — stick to subtle references
Beware of verging into “theme” territory with a gallery wall of canyon photos or cacti decorative pillows in every room. You want to draw inspiration from desert scenes, not to recreate them literally.
“If you stick to neutrals and subtle tone-on-tone patterns, you won’t overdo it,” Moreau advises.
Kennedy shares that mixing desert modern decor with other styles can help make your home unique. “You don’t have to get rid of everything and bring in all mid century furnishings. It’s good to be a bit collected and eclectic,” he says.
Header Image Source: (Christopher Kennedy / Moreau Design)