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Six Ways To Use A Southwestern Style To Add A Little Flair To A Ranch Style Home

Ranch-inspired spaces are often rather rustic in design – featuring lots of rugged wood, stone, and leather that give the look its signature old-west feel. But layering a lot of “rustic” materials can also make a space feel dark and dingy. One simple way to combat this is with color; even a little bit of color can help balance out the rough quality of ranch-style architectural features. So if you want a ranch look, but maybe not one that looks like something straight out of the wild west, consider putting a colorful southwestern twist on the style.

Southwestern style ranches spice up the traditional style by incorporating colorful textiles and accents (by Blackburn Architects, photo by Paul Schraub)
Southwestern style ranches spice up the traditional style by incorporating colorful textiles and accents (by Blackburn Architects, photo by Paul Schraub)

In the design world, the term “ranch” can be interpreted in a lot of different ways. Ranch style houses, for example, aren’t necessarily little houses on the prairie, and in terms of interior design, a “ranch style” can range from a picture perfect replica saloon to an otherwise rather contemporary space that just happens to feature a bleached cow skull wall hanging and a nice hide accent rug. The one thing that most variations on a ranch style decor share is that they’re rather devoid of color – mirroring the drab palette of dry grassland and rocky plains. Southwestern style ranches share this wood-and-stone color scheme, but also incorporate the bold earth tones of a red rock desert and the intricate and colorful pottery and textiles of Mexico.

Terra cotta and turquoise are relatively muted colors, but they can give a rustic space a much more vibrant feel (design by Urban Design Associates, photo by Dino Tonn)
Terracotta and turquoise are relatively muted colors, but they can give a rustic space a much more vibrant feel (by Urban Design Associates, photo by Dino Tonn)

A really vibrant,¬† Santa Fe style southwestern ranch will probably feature vivid colors – intense pinks and blues and greens and yellows that can make a ranch style feel very bright and cheerful. But by and large when you’re adding color to a ranch style, you want it to be a little bit muted and weather-worn. Really bold colors can feel overly loud against a dusty western backdrop, but more mellow colors – like orangey terracotta reds, sage greens, and dusky blues – can add a subtler liveliness to a really rustic space and fit better with the slightly antique, weather worn quality of the style.

Native American inspired textiles feature bold, eye-catching patterns and muted colors that beautifully aaccentuate a ranch style design (by Nizhoni Ranch, photo by Robin Stancliff)
Native American inspired textiles feature bold, eye-catching patterns and muted colors that beautifully accentuate a ranch style design (by Nizhoni Ranch, photo by Robin Stancliff)

Patterns are just as important as colors when it comes to sprucing up a ranch style space. Native American rugs are also quite popular for this look, because although they tend to be a little more muted in terms of color scheme, the patterns are generally bolder and have more assertive lines. This makes them a great counterbalance for a really rustic ranch style because they help draw the eye to something solid and clean and let the more rustic elements fade into the background. Adding in decorative pottery or baskets can also help give the weathered, aged architectural features a more artistic air.

Hacienda style detailing - like colorful adobe walls and arabesque tile - can give a ranch style home a colorful southwestern flair (by The Sky is the Limit Design)
Hacienda style detailing – like colorful adobe walls and arabesque tile – can give a ranch style home a colorful southwestern flair (by The Sky is the Limit Design)

For a slightly less rustic ranch style, consider adopting more Mexican-inspired elements, both¬† in terms of decor and architecture. Thick adobe walls don’t come standard on most houses, but the look is easy enough to mimic, and whether you keep them off white or paint them in a bold earth tone, the look will definitely make a ranch style feel a bit less rustic and a little more hospitable. Arabesque style tile is another feature that shows up in southwestern style ranch homes, and as with rugs and pottery, these are a great way to add visual interest to your decor. Even opting for terracotta floor tiles rather than a more conventional wood can add personality and verve to a ranch style home.

Adding a few southwestern style accents can give even a contemporary space a unique ranch style flair (by Elena del Bucchia Design, photo by Martin Tessler)
Adding a few southwestern style accents can give even a contemporary space a unique ranch style flair (by Elena del Bucchia Design, photo by Martin Tessler)

Many of these techniques also work in reverse. If you have a space that doesn’t feel particularly rustic or ranch-like, incorporating a few southwestern accents is a simple way to evoke the look and feel without having to change any major architectural elements or even swap out any furniture. This small family room has a strong contemporary feel, with high white walls, a very sleek stone fireplace surround, and overtly modern furniture. But the addition of a colorful vintage rug and the bleached cattle skulls immediately evoke a more rustic, rugged ranch style.

It doesn't take much more than a southwestern palette and a little exposed rock and wood to give a contemporary home a distinctly ranch-like feel (by Fusion Interiors)
It doesn’t take much more than a southwestern palette and a little exposed rock and wood to give a contemporary home a distinctly ranch-like feel (by Fusion Interiors)

For more modern ranches – the single-story kinds you find out in the suburbs rather than in the mountains or out on the range – even simply adopting a southwestern style color scheme can help give a drywall-and-hardwood home a more distinctive, ranch-like flair. It helps to have at least one stone or wood accent to infuse the space with that rugged, rustic vibe, but even if your home is about as architecturally removed from the old west as it gets, that doesn’t mean you can’t capture just a little bit of the style’s charm.

While stereotypically “old west” or cowboy style decor can feel a bit heavy handed or kitschy anywhere but maybe Texas or Wyoming, a southwestern ranch style is versatile enough to work with just about any architectural style, making a really rugged ranch feel brighter and more inviting, and infusing a less conventional space with a simple but distinct ranch style.