Country decor heads south Home: Country-casual design acquires a strong Hispanic accent.

January 14, 1996|By Michael Walsh | Michael Walsh,UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

Forecasting home-fashion trends is always a dicey bit of business. So predicting that country-style decorating is about to make a run for the border amounts to little more than crawling out on a shaky limb of limited length.

Still, it does seem that in the coming months and years, the United States increasingly will be looking to Mexico and points south for country-casual inspiration.

This is a movement that matters, because it represents the continued evolution of country style. It gives those who have a penchant for casual decorating based on rural values and sentiments a way to update, adapt and integrate fresh, new elements and to customize and personalize their homes with new ingredients.

Given the sustained popularity and broad appeal of Southwest style, it should come as no surprise that a new appreciation for south-of-the-border decorating influences would develop. But decorating trends become enduring movements only when they can be seen in a larger context.

In this case, the context is social, political and cultural. Consider the following:

* Population: There are now more than 26.2 million Hispanic Americans in this country. That's one in 10 of us.

* Food: Mexican restaurants have proliferated from coast to coast and border to border, in the smallest of towns as well as the biggest of cities, even in places where there is no Hispanic population at all. Taco Bell is as much a household name as McDonald's, and salsa is outselling ketchup.

* Architecture: Spanish-style houses with stuccoed walls and terra cotta tile roofs are becoming as commonplace in the Rustbelt as in the Sunbelt.

* Entertainment: Actor Antonio Banderas is the new Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Sylvester Stallone all rolled into one. Latin American music, art and literature are finding increasingly wide Anglo audiences, too.

* Tourism: Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, Cancun and Cozumel continue to be winter havens for sun-starved Americans. The best souvenirs from Mexico include a heightened awareness of and appreciation for Mexican decorating styles and lifestyles.

Sociocultural factors aside, there are some specific indicators in the design industry itself that point to the emergence of Hispanic-style decorating.

Imperial Wallcoverings, the nation's largest wall-covering manufacturer, introduced its Casa Hermosa collection.

Drawn exclusively from Mexico rather than other Latin American countries, the collection is composed of five broad groupings. Folkloric Splendor patterns take their cues from traditional Mexican clothing, folk art and native pottery. Calla Lilly showcases the flower identified with Mexican artist Diego Rivera. Pre-Colombian focuses on Aztec and Mayan motifs. Fruit Market evokes hand-carved papayas, watermelons, limes, oranges and other tropical fruits. Pottery exhibits patterns drawn from traditional Mexican ceramics and tile work.

The Mexican decorating influence doesn't stop at the walls. Vintage painted furniture from Mexico is pouring into this country by the truckload, destined not only for the Southwest, but for antiques shops and boutiques as far inland as Chicago and New York, Seattle and Vermont. These rustic hutches, chests, cabinets and tables bear a close resemblance to old American farmhouse furniture, except that the sun-faded paint is more likely to be dusky blue, red, ocher or yellow rather than farmhouse white.

Reproduction Mission-style furniture, which has enjoyed widespread popularity in recent years, is likely to get a boost from the trend toward Hispanic-style decorating. Pine armoires and harvest tables and wrought-iron coffee tables and lamps will remain popular because they'll blend so easily with Hispanic impulses.

The pastel hues long associated with Southwest style are probably going to get deeper, darker and more intense. Earth tones in Mexico include rain-forest greens, clay-tile reds, deep-river blues and high-intensity fruit, flower and vegetable hues, as well as sun-washed adobe and desert colors.

You won't have to buy the whole enchilada. The beauty of country style in all its incarnations is that you can pick and choose from a wide variety of influences. Whether it's the farm, the ranch, the lakeside cottage or the mountain lodge, you'll be able to achieve a casual and comfortable one-of-a-kind home that suits you.

The coming of Hispanic-influenced decorating elements simply gives you more freedom of choice. And that's something to ole about.

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