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Southwest Color Can Thrive in Palm Beach

Posted on July 26 2019

By Carleton Varney- Special to the Palm Beach Daily News

Decorating inspiration can be found beneath your feet if you’re in Arizona and New Mexico.

Those living the desert life long have loved all that is clay — and that includes the color we call clay. Imagine the color of a terra-cotta pot, and you’ll know what I mean.

Large urns of all kinds of shapes and forms are manufactured in the American Southwest or in Mexico and find their way into American homes, where they are filled with blooming plants and ferns. Perhaps they are then placed on a clay-tile floor.

Plants in clay pots sitting on separate clay trays to catch the water are always in style. Lately, however, I have seen in hardware and garden centers a variety of plastic plant pots in pink and green. I have no use for such pots, no matter how much the garden center staff may tout their worth. In my mind, they’re a design and decorating disaster — not to mention a non-sustainable option. Let the plants be appreciated for their beauty. Why should nature’s greenery and blossoms have to compete with an over-the-top colored pot? I say, give me the natural look.

But natural doesn’t mean dull. Clay flooring tiles, for instance, come in a wonderful array of colors. In fact, in Tlaquepaque, Mexico, I directed a tile factory to fabricate designs in my favorite aquamarine blue for use in a home in Montana.

If you visit New Mexico, you are most likely to see adobe-style homes painted a natural clay color or a rich-and-deep burnt orange. The hues also are popular in Palm Beach and South Florida, thanks to our Spanish- and Mediterranean-influenced architecture. In fact, a combination of clay, pink and aqua blue is one of the most used color schemes in Palm Beach, where stucco-clad homes can be found on nearly every street. Stucco walls that are the color of rich clay provide a great background color for green ferns, flowering bushes and palms.

For the family who loves the clay color, here’s a living room scheme that may excite your fancy. I envision a room with ceiling beams of pecky cypress or cedar and walls of a natural clay color. Paint the ceiling spaces between the beams aquamarine blue. At the windows install small louvered shutters painted ink black.

Cover the floor in tiles of black and a toasty-brown clay color, laid on the diagonal. I would recommend that you choose tiles no smaller than 18-inch square. Border the floor in solid black tiles.

Upholster your sofa in a cream-and-white fabric with a nubby woven texture, and accent it with throw cushions of persimmon, candy pink and aquamarine. The backsides of all pillows should be black.

But do not be afraid of color in this room! Club chairs with wooden frames should have cushions covered in a geometric design of candy pink and orange. On the end tables, choose silver lamps fitted with black shades.

A long pull-up bench should be covered in a fabric that recalls the patterns favored by the Aztecs — one woven in Mexico or Guatemala or even in Portugal would be ideal. Lay a zebra-patterned on rug on the floor but not with the usual black-or-white design — choose one with stripes of lime green and white, or of pink and white.

I’d like to see your coffee table lacquered in bright orange. Set atop the table a large bowl filled with a mass of gerbera daisies of mixed colors — pinks, oranges, red, golds, and whites.

For a finishing touch, on the wall over the sofa hang a Mexican-style mirror, one made of silvery sheet metal with an unusual shape and, perhaps, punched-hole decorations. It will look terrific against those clay-colored walls.

The look of clay may be very popular in the West, where turquoise jewelry so beautifully complements the color.

But Palm Beach likes it, too, in part because it works so wonderfully with our turquoise water off the coast.

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