Continuing our journey around the world’s most influential interior design traditions, we uncover the secrets of Mexico’s vibrant decorative style – plus tips on how you can use lighting to achieve some Mexican-style dazzle in your own home…
In the middle of an English winter, the thought of Mexico is very inviting: warm, dry, sun drenched, bursting with colour, and with great food (which is possibly why more than a million UK tourists visit Mexico each year).
But the country is also notable for its approach to the indoors… Step into a traditional Mexican home and you’re immediately surrounded by a wealth of cultural features, colours, textures and materials that reflect the country’s history - from the influence of indigenous peoples such as the Aztecs, to the impact of Spanish colonialism. It’s a heady and vibrant brew: very distinctive and all about maximalism.
Traditional Mayan home, Santa Elena, Mexico. Image: creative commons
What makes Mexican interiors so special?
So what is it about Mexican style that makes it so distinctive? Here are seven key elements…
1. Intense, landscape-inspired colours
All the colours: family kitchen, Guadalajara. Photo: Wonderlane via creative commons
The obvious starting point is vibrant colour: on walls, textiles, accessories and in artwork. We are talking about vivid, bold colours inspired by the Mexican landscape – including blues, oranges, greens, reds and yellows, all of which create a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
2. Patterned textiles
Pumpkin flower textile, made using a waist loom, Amuzgo village, Xochistlahuaca, Guerrero. Photo: creative commons
As well as colour, intricate pattern is a major feature of Mexican textiles. Serapes, the traditional shawls worn by Mexican men, are often used for upholstery and curtains. Frida Kahlo championed—and frequently wore—traditional textiles and embroidered clothes. If you are visiting Mexico, look out for Otomi embroidery; developed in the 1960s, its motifs date back hundreds of years.
3. Talavera tiles
Wet room featuring Talavera tiles. Photo: Jose Magallanes via creative commons
Colour and pattern are hallmarks of traditional Mexican tiles, such as Talavera tiles, which date back to the early days of colonial rule, when the Spanish conquistadors brought their knowledge of pottery and tile-making to Mexico. Handmade Talavera tiles can add a dramatic decorative feature to kitchen and bathroom splashbacks, stair risers and hallways.
4. Rustic materials
Traditional 19th century Mexican kitchen and stove. Photo: creative commons
Authentic, rustic charm is another distinctly Mexican flavour; homes frequently feature natural and rustic materials such as clay, wood and wrought iron, as well as exposed wooden beams, rustic furniture and terracotta or Saltillo floor tiles. Exactly the type of features you might expect to find in a Modern Rustic home.
5. Folk art, crafts and candles
Wall display of traditional art and artefacts, the Robert Brady Museum, Cuernavaca. Photo: creative commons
Folk art and craft and religious art have always been popular in Mexico: examples include hand-carved furniture, hand-painted pottery, intricate papel picado (cut paper) decorations, icons, crosses and statues of saints. Mexican homes often have one or more walls covered with folk or religious art; it’s a great way of displaying a collection of small items, space-saving too.
Handcrafted candles and lanterns are particularly popular; they work well with those vibrant colours and enhance that sense of warmth and welcome, so typical of Mexican homes.
Bedroom, Robert Brady Museum, Cuernavaca. Photo: creative commons
Look out too for archways and niches in Mexican interiors. Not only do they create focal points, they draw on the country’s Spanish colonial history too.
7. Courtyard gardens
Garden courtyard, Puerto Vallarta. Photo: Mick Haupt via Unsplash
Mexicans love their courtyards and gardens, which they fill with lush plants and brightly-coloured flowers. Cacti and succulents flourish indoors. Failing a garden, they make the most of balconies and window sills with flowering plants throughout the year.
The Frida factor
We can’t talk about Mexican design without acknowledging the importance of Frida Kahlo, the artist who woke up the world to the richness of Mexico’s cultural legacy, in particular its indigenous legacy. The Frida factor– a celebration of brilliant, riotous colour, pattern, flora and fauna – has had a major impact on design disciplines across the world, including interior design.
The Colors of Paradise - Tribute To Frida Kahlo by Daniel Arrhakis (2021). Image via creative commons.
Along with her husband, Diego Rivera, Frida was at the heart of a community of artists, designers, photographers, and activists, which attracted like-minded people from around the world. Frida was just 47 when she died in 1954; her work, a blend of magical realism, surrealism and the naive, disappeared from view until the late 1970s, when it was rediscovered by art historians and political activists.
Since then, Frida has become an icon for Chicanos, feminism and the LGBTQ+ community. Her image can be found on everything from tea towels to playing cards and, yes, there’s even a Frida Kahlo Barbie® doll… For a more authentic Frida experience, you could try a visit to the Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo, the adjoining houses and studios where Frida and Diego lived and worked. It’s just a 15-minute drive from Museo Frida Kahlo, Frida’s Blue House.
Get the Mexican look with lighting
Keen on the Mexican look? Lighting is a smart and easy way to bring a touch of Mexican-style colour, warmth and welcome to your home. Here are some ideas to inspire you…
Mexican interiors often feature rustic materials. This is a beautifully simple table lamp: our smaller Ambrose in natural terracotta (above). It’s based on the shape of a traditional Galilean water holder that dates back more that 3,250 years, but the natural, earthy look and feel of the material makes it perfect for a Mexican-inspired interior.
Another key ingredient is colour, so go for bold lamp and shade colour combinations. For sheer vibrancy, our Olly table lamp (below) in distinctly Mexican turquoise is hard to beat. It’s a beautiful plump berry of ceramic with a light crackle.
If you’re after a floor lamp with a hint of Mexican colour magic, how about Pooky’s Bamboo floor lamp in green polished resin? For a dramatic colour combination, here we've added a drum lampshade in fuschia dupion silk.
We also mentioned the Mexican love affair with candles and we are pretty sure that our Ferris range would feel very much at home in Mexico. Available in three sizes, Ferris candles are available as here in French blue, and in burnt orange, emerald and warm red.
If you want to find out more about Mexican design, check out Mexican: A Journey Through Design by Newell Turner and Susana Ordovás. Published in 2023, it’s a glorious book that will take you on a photographic journey behind the walls, gates and doors of private Mexico, celebrating many centuries of the country’s design history, up to the present day. We love the authors’ Instagram accounts too: @tnt3 and @susana_ordovas
Image top: The interior lobby of the Hotel California in Todos Santos, Mexico. Photo by Kirt Edblom via Flickr creative commons