Southwestern  Outdoor Ideas with a Modern Touch

By Interior Designer TRACY SVENDSEN | Published March 21, 2021 | Updated June 2023

Southwestern outdoor ideas: The Southwestern aesthetic is one of the most enduring classic design styles popular in North America and other parts of the world. No matter how grand or rustic your home is, imbuing it with a touch of Southwestern design is one way of making it look cozy, inviting, and inspired by nature — including your home exterior.

Southwestern design today often includes modern touches to the overall look. You can implement specific design changes and decorating tweaks to achieve a healthy mix of classic and contemporary. But before we go there, let’s revisit the origin of Southwestern design and what makes it so remarkable. Feature mage courtesy of Drewett Works

Southwestern Outdoor Ideas

Log Home Porch With Southwestern Blankets & Throws
Image courtesy of Hamilton Design Associates

What Is Southwestern Design?

Southwestern interior design is an aesthetic aptly named after the American Southwestern states from which this distinctive style emerged. These states include Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of California, Colorado, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah.

Southwestern design is associated with the generous use of earth-tone colors and natural elements reminiscent of the American Wild West. To understand the spirit behind the Southwestern aesthetic, we need to know the people whose unique cultural contributions led to its formation.

Just like the rest of America, Native Americans were the original settlers of the states. This is why the influence of Native American culture is a crucial element in Southwestern design, especially the art and craft of the Navajo people.

The Navajo have a rich history living in the southwest and are talented textile craftspeople. A distinctive graphic style characterizes their blankets, quilts, and wall hangings. It’s no wonder Southwestern design continues to use Navajo-inspired elements, including artworks, pottery, and woven baskets.

However, the American Southwest was later invaded by Spanish Europeans, whose design styles have influenced even more traditional “American” styles. The Spanish brought along their ironwork, textiles, and wooden carvings.

Mexican design is another significant influence on the Southwestern aesthetic, as reflected in traditional Adobe-style homes that are still being built today. The Mexican influence enhances the relaxed Southwestern approach to design and mirrors the simple way of life in the American Southwest.

Mixed into this fascinating jumble of aesthetic influences is the American approach to design. This characteristic American touch is embodied in the minimalist design preferences of missionaries who settled in the American Southwest. Their taste is reflected in their plain wood furniture done in the Shaker style, which focuses on simplicity, utility, and honesty.

Another distinctively American Southwestern influence is the rustic design sensibilities of ranchers who lived off farming and cattle-raising. Ranchers typically decorated their homes with objects taken from their ranch or excursions, such as hunting. This is where décor like ram’s or deer’s horns and cowhide or bearskin rugs come in, as well as leather accents. 

Southwestern Outdoor Ideas

Arizona Desert Mountain Retreat
Image courtesy of ArchitecTor, PC

A beautifully designed outdoor seating area by ArchitecTor.A successful landscape design aims to integrate architecture with the natural surroundings, creating unity between your home and nature.

Southwestern Porches and Patios

Stunning Southwestern Backyard with a Swimming Pool
Image courtesy of Robinette Architecture

Outdoor Southwestern Design

The Southwestern style we know today has changed over time. However, the distinct stylistic influences of the Native Americans (especially Navajo), Spanish, Mexicans, and Americans remain. Moving away from the overly traditional, the exteriors of Southwestern-style homes today are built according to various architectural styles. These include Pueblo Revival and Contemporary Southwest.

Pueblo Revival homes typically include:

  • Stucco walls with rounded corners done in earth colors
  • Rows of wooden beams
  • Protruding vigas or wooden beams jutting out of exterior walls
  • Flat roofs drained by canals
  • Recessed casement windows with lintels
  • Staggered roof lines

Of course, Southwestern-style homes continue to be made with design variations. Some of these features include:

  • Enclosed courtyards
  • Ornamental grillwork over the windows
  • Gently and ever so slightly sloped terracotta-covered roofs
  • Covered porches or patios at or near the front entrance exterior

Contemporary Southwestern outdoor design mixes traditional Southwestern architecture with modern design elements. These modern touches include vigas made from steel or glass, squared or more angular corners, and stucco finishes with bright or vibrant hues.

Southwestern Patio Ideas

Colorful Southwestern Seating Area | Southwestern Outdoor Ideas
Image courtesy of Robinette Architecture

A lovely backyard seating area around a fire pit adds a bright splash of color.

Elements of Outdoor Southwestern Design

In considering the Southwestern approach to outdoor design, you need to be familiar with the elements that make it truly unique.

1. Southwestern Color Palette

The hues of the American desert inspire the colors used in Southwestern design. This is reflected in the preference for the following color palette:

  • Cactus green
  • Terracotta
  • Sand
  • Rust
  • Mahogany brown
  • Sky blue
  • Bright red
  • Sunset yellow

All these colors blend well with rich neutrals and brighter hues serving as accents, imbuing the Southwestern look with warmth.

You can see these colors in the following:

  • Terracotta floor tiles
  • Brightly colored accent tiles
  • Warm-colored walls
  • Red, green, and blue graphic wall hangings and artwork
  • Natural wood furnishings
  • Colorful throws draped over sofas and chairs
  • Pillows and cushions
Southwestern Backyard Ideas

Southwestern Backyard Area in Santé Fe
Image courtesy of  Linda Applewhite

A backyard entertaining area designed by Linda Applewhite that shows how color can be integrated seamlessly into outdoor spaces.

2. Southwestern Textures

Like the colors used in Southwestern design, the textures mirror natural elements of the American Southwest, as embodied in the use of rough or raw and natural sources.

  • Woven grasses (e.g., rattan chair seats)
  • Stone and clay tiles
  • Hand-carved furniture
  • Cowhide or bearskin rugs
  • Wooden structural beams
  • Wrought-iron railings, doorknobs, and light fixtures
  • Loosely woven wool, linen blend, or cotton for upholstery, rugs, and bed coverings
Southwestern Outdoor Entertaining Areas

Southwestern Outdoor Ideas: Entertaining Area
Image courtesy of Tate Studio Architects

The Territorial style and adobe exterior of the house were designed to complement the architecture of the local community. While the exterior remains more traditional, the interior spaces — like this covered sitting area and its furniture — are heavily influenced by contemporary style.

3. Furniture

Southwestern-style furniture can be intricate, as seen in traditional chair backs and headboards. However, the modern Southwestern approach has a more minimalist aesthetic, with a preference for simple, unadorned plank tables and chairs with clean lines. Southwestern upholstery may come in leather or loosely woven fabrics, usually featuring a Native American motif.

In selecting outdoor furniture, the focus should be finding materials that can withstand exposure to the elements. Aside from metal (aluminum, steel, and wrought iron), wood, and rattan, modern Southwestern outdoor furniture may feature recycled plastic, polymer, and resin made to resemble natural materials.

Southwestern Concrete Patio

Southwestern Concrete Patio
Image courtesy of:  Houzz

Colorful Porch Swing

Southwestern Outdoor Ideas: Colorful Porch Swing
Image courtesy of Pinterest

4. Accessories

Whether practical or fanciful, Southwestern accessories are crucial design elements to help you achieve an authentic feel of the American Southwest in your home exterior. So, make sure to incorporate some of the following items:

  • Heavy woven quilts
  • Rugs as tile floor coverings
  • Woven blankets and pillows
  • Woven wall hangings
  • Clay jars and pots
  • Potted or garden succulents and cactuses
  • Mosaic art and dishes
  • Wrought-iron statuary
  • Wrought-iron lamps
  • Wagon wheels
  • Leather saddles
  • Cowboy art
Southwest Patio with Desert Views

Southwest Patio with Desert Views
Image courtesy of ArchitecTor, PC

Southwestern Outdoor Décor — Mix and Match the Old and New

An outdoor patio, courtyard, or garden is a Southwestern-style home staple. Serving as traditional socialization spots, these open-air spaces typically feature a clay fireplace, a lush display of tropical plants like bougainvillea, and a cactus garden. Terracotta tile is usually installed as patio flooring, while four-foot stucco walls enclose patios for privacy.

You can update the look of your Southwestern-style outdoor space by mixing things up with modern and fresh touches without losing any of the classic warmth and textures of the original design.

  • Put together non-matching furniture pieces that can add an eclectic vibe to your Southwestern home exterior.
  • Make use of inventive wall décor by lining up a wall with baskets or Southwestern-inspired pots. Be sure to include terracotta pots to hold air plants or succulents.
  • If you have sufficient space and the topography allows it, install a terraced cacti garden instead of a traditional level one.
  • Use the Southwestern blanket ladder as inspiration for creating plant stands to hold small cacti and succulents in clay pots.
  • If you’re not a minimalism fan but want to add a more modern, eclectic vibe to your outdoor area, mix patterns and prints with your throws or pillows. Don’t be afraid to include a few simple or plain ones.
  • Include a bar as a stylish yet functional section of your outdoor area.
  • Aside from the traditional Southwestern terrarium or cactus garden, consider installing a water feature like a waterfall, wading pool, or pond. This will add to the relaxing mood in this area and imbue it with a touch of freshness and vitality.
  • Add some plant boxes filled with your favorite succulents or blooms.
  • Use Scandinavian furniture and match it with Aztec pillows or other Southwestern retro elements.
  • Scatter outdoor area rugs and throw in some floor cushions with Southwestern and other prints or patterns.
  • Add small accents with non-traditional Southwestern hues like purple, pink, and cream.
  • Opt for stainless steel appliances, mahogany cabinets, and granite countertops for your outdoor kitchen. You can even add a wood-fired, bespoke, or gas-powered pizza oven.
  • Aside from featuring an outdoor fireplace, install a modern fire pit as an accent or the centerpiece of your entertaining outdoor area.
  • Add outdoor sectional furniture to accommodate your family for a movie or game night.
  • Be sure to add mood lighting, including a few fairy lights, to inject a fanciful yet relaxing ambiance into your outdoor area.
  • To maintain a modern, streamlined look, avoid going overboard with conventional “matchy-matchy” Southwestern accessories.
Contemporary Southwestern Backyard

Contemporary Southwestern Outdoor Entertaining Area
Image courtesy of Tate Studio Architects

Southwestern Landscaping Ideas

Southwestern Landscaping Ideas
Image courtesy of Robinette Architecture

Southwest Landscaping

Southwestern Landscaping Ideas
Image courtesy of Robinette Architecture

Southwest Landscaping

Southwestern Outdoor Ideas
Image courtesy of Robinette Architecture

Southwestern Outdoor Ideas

Southwestern Landscaping Ideas
Image courtesy of Robinette Architecture

Southwestern Outdoor Ideas

Southwestern Outdoor Ideas
Image courtesy of Robinette Architecture

A Classic and Modern Mix That’s Uniquely Yours

Southwestern outdoor design allows for the easy expansion of your living space and integrates modern or eclectic design touches. With a well-planned home exterior, you can enjoy the beautiful homey Southwestern vibe and elements that reflect your modern aesthetic.

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