Go West, Young Decorator: Simple Tips For "Westernizing" Your Home
"The West has defined for generations of Americans what we dream to be our national character." So speaks J. Michael Patrick, founder and president of New West furniture, the man who has been at the forefront of bringing Western-style furniture out of his Cody, Wyoming horse barn in 1988 and into the national and international designer furniture limelight.
"Western design reflects that character. It is casual, warm, friendly, utilitarian, and makes wonderful use of the experiences, materials, and native traditions of the West," he explains.
Patrick should know. A fourth-generation Wyoming rancher who grew up on the 50,000-acre Diamond Bar Ranch, the inspiration for his artistic creations stems from a life rich in Western culture. His grandparents were close friends of the legendary Western designer Thomas Molesworth, a constant source of inspiration for Patrick.
Patrick found his calling when he started New West in 1986. Located in the old ranch town of Cody, Wyoming, the company's craftsmen utilize traditional Western materials and motifs in their designs: knotty, burled woods, dyed leather and hides, as well as hand-woven fabrics. New West has furnished homes, resorts, hotels, and corporate facilities in over forty states and around the world. The company prides itself on its unique designs, meticulously crafted to individual client needs.
With a design "Oscar" - a Metropolitan Design 100 - under his belt, Patrick has also collected "Best Exhibit" and "People's Choice" awards at the annual Western Design Conference in recent years, as well as a string of other accolades. Architects and designers are increasingly turning to the firm for hospitality and corporate roomscapes to capture the inimitable Molesworth or "Cody style," as Patrick calls it.
Just as the Western school of design is rooted in the materials and experiences of the common man, creating a Western flair in the home is relatively straightforward. We asked J. Michael Patrick to share a few tips on "Westernizing" a roomscape using furniture and other elements:
1. Think about the room's function before you decorate: Patrick recommends taking time to consider the function of a room or space before starting down the Western trail. "I'm a very strong believer in 'form follows function.' You should give a lot of thought to how you really want that room used before you lay out what you're going to do there," he advises. "Is it a family room where people will sit around and watch TV? Then it should be designed that way. Do they want a sense of formality, or do they want casualness that encourages people to interact and converse? Western furniture design is fairly casual; it has a sense of humor, and while it may be rustic in nature, that doesn't mean it's not sophisticated. It doesn't lend itself particularly well to formality. Once the room's function is determined, the job of decorating becomes much easier."
2. Build intimacy through cozy groupings: "Western style tends toward a more intimate atmosphere, which probably originated in the smaller spaces and houses in the West. Old ranch houses and cabins tend to be fairly small.
"The effect I always try for is a bit of intimacy, whether in a conversational grouping or a dining setting - something that draws people together and speaks to whatever the client's interests are. It's important to group the couch, chairs and coffee table so they're conducive to conversation, especially if you have a very big room," Patrick explains.
"The simplest way to give almost any room a Western flavor is to lay some Western-style rugs on the floor, and perhaps hang a bit of Western art on the wall. Western design tends to use imagery and strong geometrics, whether it's in carvings, incorporated in paintings, or graphic designs in the furniture pieces themselves. By imagery, I mean cowboy figures, brands, Native American patterns, rustic outdoor scenes, etc. Different types of rugs can be used to define the seating groups, and are a good way to unify the dÄcor in a room," he advises.
3. Use warm, inviting colors and textures: Once the room is laid out as a functional living space, Patrick suggests using earthy colors and textures to set the tone. "Color choice and texture are some of the first things to consider in establishing a Western dÄcor. Inviting, warm colors and textures are the essence of Western design, which is based on living with the land and the environment. These include earth tones such as brown, green and dark red, as well as the primaries, and textures such as wood grain and rock. That's what's attractive to people - this sense of naturalness.
"We like to show off what the furniture does and the way it feels, and color is one good way to do that. Our work reflects more the color way that the Northern Plains Native Americans used - bright primary tones; we find that imagery and color fascinating and compelling, and also very fitting with the environment," Patrick says.
"Don't be afraid to use counter-colors, that is, accent colors that set each other off. Blacks and reds used together are the best example of these very strong colors used in Western design, as well as browns and whites. It's not terribly subtle, but at the same time it isn't gaudy."
4. Textiles can evoke a Western spirit: Western or similar-style textiles also help set the scene, he explains, whether used as an element of the furnishings or as stand-alone pieces. "We think it's fun to put textiles or weavings on the wall. Whether they're saddle blankets or fine weaving, textural elements lend a lot of warmth to a room, especially with a fire in a darker setting.
"We use hand weavings for our furniture upholstery. You can get much the same effect using saddle blankets or different kinds of textiles - Pendletons, things like that - as throws on couches. You can incorporate leather - a very Western element - into a room by using leather pillows. Alternatively, you can create pillows out of some textiles that were found at a flea market or bought at a fabric store to add a lot of color and texture throughout a room," Patrick says.
Window treatments - curtains and accessories - are another area for creative expression. "You can dress up your windows without spending a lot of money," he affirms. "There are a lot of fabrics, such as whimsical cowboy-and-indian patterns, that can be made into café-style curtains that evoke a Western spirit where privacy isn't absolutely crucial."
The designer discourages people from mixing a hodgepodge of fabric styles - such as different prints, chintzes - in their Western room: "Pick a Western-style fabric and maintain one or two patterns throughout the room, mixing it with leathers and stronger solids; don't get too busy."
5. Use found objects: "One of the fun things to do in Western decorating is using found objects, especially those found in the local environment. It's a type of rustic archeology, if you will. As people walk through their surroundings, whether they have two acres or 200, there's always something that catches their eye. It might be an interesting rock, a horseshoe - something that has meaning for them, and we encourage people to bring these things inside to reflect that which is outside. Anything that can introduce a natural element into a room is not out of place; virtually everything I do has a natural component to it.
"You need to find objects that give a sense of the West and use them creatively. Hang them on the wall, set them on the mantle. Stick an old pair of boots by a fireplace or by an old chair. You can go over the top with those kinds of touches if you're not careful, but strategically placed they can be very effective," he advises.
6. Lighting and accessories: Lamps and sconces with a Western theme are particularly good choices for setting the scene, Patrick advises. "Lighting can help define spaces and enhance the intimate and rustic feeling necessary for Western dÄcor. Use lots of lamps highlighting the spaces, but keep the wattages low; in other words, use more lamps with less wattage. Sconce lamps with hide or crinkle-craft shades are particularly evocative, but try to stay away from the really sophisticated types of shade materials.
Canvases, rustic weaves, or even hide shades are wonderful on sconce lamps. It's a great opportunity to use what you find in antique stores and flea markets.
"Mica, a translucent amber sheet-like mineral, is another wonderful material to use for lamps. It's our lens of choice in most of the lighting we build because of its wonderful color, glow and warmth," he says.
7. Follow your heart: "A lot of people come to us without a decorator or designer to work with," Patrick confides. "They want to decorate but they're timid. They're afraid of their own feelings, if you will. They know what they want to do, but they're unsure if they should-if it's the right thing.
"I would say to basically follow your heart: do what you want to do. I find that it's amazing how much taste and style most people have if they follow their own heart and not what somebody else thinks they should do."
For more information about New West's quality furnishings and accessories, contact them at 2811 Big Horn Ave., Cody, WY 82414; Tel. 800-653-2391; or visit them on the Web at www.newwest.com.
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