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  • Writer's pictureDebbie DeMarais

Interior Color Palette Inspired by the Colors of Santa Fe

Many elements constitute “Santa Fe Style”—it comes from the Southwestern landscape, its history, and our distinctive quality of light. Santa Fe style lives at the intersection of the profound beauty of the craft traditions of the Ancestral Pueblo People and Spanish influence beginning in the early 1600’s. Add to that the influx of artists over the past 125 years and you start to get the full picture of the aesthetics of Santa Fe.

And why have so many artists been drawn here? I think color has a lot to do with it.

How color affects us

Color has a profound impact on us. It can shift our moods and affect our productivity. Certain colors can alter our perceptions about the size of objects. And relationships between colors can enrich, or complicate, how we react to everything from buildings to throw pillows.

As a professional home stager and interior designer in Santa Fe, NM I’ve honed my relationship to various color palettes common in Northern New Mexico. I try to harmonize those palettes with what people expect to see in contemporary homes and spaces. Especially when those spaces are informed by styles that aren’t typical “Southwest.”

This is the first in a series of posts about Santa Fe style color palettes. I’ve found these palettes inspiring and wanted to share them with you. Perhaps they’ll bring you inspiration—whether you live in New Mexico, or just want to enjoy the beauty of the high desert in your own corner of the world.

How to find “your” color palette

Here’s a little interior designer secret: picking colors from paint chips in a hardware store (or referencing the deliciously dense Pantone color fan) isn’t really the best way to identify color relationships.

Close-up of Pantone color chart
So many colors… But how do you find a color palette in here?

If you really want to develop a color palette that speaks to you, look at your natural surroundings. Take note of the images you capture when you whip out your smartphone to take a picture. What appeals to you? You could probably scroll through your photos right now and get a feel for your color preferences. Go ahead and try it.

Do you see more neutrals (whites, creams, beiges, browns, grays) when you look through your favorite pics? You might be more of a minimalist. Seeing a bunch of bold neon colors? You’ll definitely want to visit Meow Wolf once this pandemic is over—it will blow your mind!

Santa Fe Color Inspiration #1: Adobe Courtyard Garden in Early Autumn

Brilliant natural colors and adobe walls in walled Santa Fe garden.
This beautiful Santa Fe courtyard is more inspiring than paint chips.

The first color palette comes from this lovely peek into a walled courtyard garden at the beginning of fall. That crisp high desert light is softened considerably by the shimmering shade of young Aspen trees and the laden branches of an apple tree. The leaves of the Fire Power Nandina are turning a strong red that is rendered almost coral pink within the rich warm tones of the adobe walls.

To use this image as the basis for a potential Southwest color palette, I have to think about the overall percentages of colors—especially when thinking about interior color palettes. The earthy tone of adobe would be a very dominant color, as would any tone approximating the natural greens within the garden. Between the two, there needs to be something that is much more neutral which would serve as the primary color (think wall color). To find that ideal neutral tone, I look for a color that blends the bark of the Aspens with the feeling of the light shining on the scene.

We’re off to the paint store

With the photo on my phone, I’ll go to the paint store to search for potential matches. Once you start laying paint chips next to each other, it’s important to retain the original intentions of your palette, while staying aware of how various colors play together (or don’t). After a bit of time at Sherwin-Williams, I ended up with this. Three colors that honor the tones of the courtyard scene without just copying them exactly…

Three paint colors from Sherwin-Williams inspired by a photo.
I chose this for the color palette—but it's not the only option!

Imagine a room painted in the soothing Crisp Linen with decor that emphasizes the green of the Houseplant color. These two tones are then grounded by the earthy stability of the Rookwood Terra Cotta, which could be a tone that emerges in exposed beams, wooden furniture, patterned rugs, or even tile. Wouldn’t that be lovely?

Admittedly, I trend toward a slightly more subdued palette, but if you prefer bold statements, you could always consider swapping that Rookwood Terra Cotta for an adobe tone closer to the orange of the walls in the photograph. In that case you might look to…

Orange paint chip to match Santa Fe adobe color
A bold orange for the adventurous.

Don’t forget the accents

Accents are those colors that provide a bit of surprise and vibrance in relation to the predominant color scheme. These are what you might think of as “pops” of color. Layering a couple of fresh accents into the mix gives your overall palette much greater dynamism and depth. In this case, you should try to find decor items that reference the softer and brighter greens of the Deer Grass outside the wall. In truth, actual house plants (that paint color was aptly named!) would bring this tender green into the space at a reasonable cost.

Finally, you could top it all off with a few bursts of dusky pink for just the right amount of contemporary drama.

Having trouble visualizing how these accent colors might work together? Take a look at how two potential accents work in relation to the neutral Crisp Linen which holds the whole color plan together...

Two interior design accent colors and a neutral color
See how the neutral base plays off the two accent colors I chose?

From inspiration to reality

If you’ve ever wondered just what an interior designer does, this gives you a taste. Good design brings the client’s inspirations to life—in ways that meet their dreams for their living space. In addition to finding the perfect palette for paint colors, designers also provide examples of decor and furnishings that complement the selected colors (all while working within the budget set by the client).

If you’ve ever wanted to turn the inspiration you see all around you into a color palette you can use in your home, I hope this helped you see how to do it. I’ll follow it up with more color palettes taken from my walks around town this past year. See what inspiration chile ristras, antique blue gates, and high desert sunsets in the City Different will provoke!


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