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February 9, 2023

Understanding the Design Culture of America’s Unique Regions

Understanding the Design Culture of America’s Unique Regions

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America is famously called a melting pot where the cultures of the world merge, commingle, and fuse into one diverse but united culture.

But there is another metaphor for America’s culture that is equally valid: the mosaic. Instead of a homogeneous amalgamation of everything that exists within our borders, we are better thought of as a stunning collection of individual colors and textures, each with their own specialized character, that form a cohesive picture when viewed all together. America, after all, is too big to have just one style.

A mosaic can describe Americans as individuals, but it also can refer to the distinctive regions that make up the country. In this article we’ll describe what makes these regions special and the style of design that is best suited to them.

Southwest

The prevailing mindset of the U.S. Southwest is a desire to be outdoors. It is a region filled with spectacular National Parks, gorges, canyons, mountains, and deserts. Many of the most important cultural moments in this region happen outdoors and their buildings are designed to allow as much of the outside in as possible. Of course, given the high heat that is also typical of the Southwest, that mission is a challenging one. Designers are expected to respect the weather and sustainably exploit the natural materials on hand.

The ancient cultures of the Southwest, including the still present and vital Navajo and Apache tribes, also influence much of the area’s architecture. Many time-tested techniques, such as the use of adobe, a mudbrick construction material, are still employed, and some modern constructions mimic its appearance even if they use more advanced materials.

Interior design in the Southwest is typified by earthy hues, pastel shades, and artistic cues derived from the Native American, Mexican, and Spanish traditions of the area. In practice, those influences can be seen in hand-painted ceramics, the copious use of the color turquoise (in honor of the semi-precious stone that has been mined in the Southwest for generations), and rustic features like exposed wooden ceiling beams.

Pacific Northwest

The Pacific Northwest, a region sometimes called Cascadia or simply the PNW, that encompasses Oregon, Washington, and much of Idaho, developed its own architecture approach in the 1960s called the Pacific Northwest style. It is defined by a respect for the land, strong use of wood (owing to their abundant natural resources and massive, old growth forests), and a focus on craft and handmade goods and materials.

Buildings in the Pacific Northwest are intended to fit harmoniously within a natural landscape. But that doesn’t mean they have given up on innovating. To the contrary, PNW architecture also uses advanced manufacturing and building tools to push the boundaries of what is possible and situate abodes and offices perfectly in seemingly difficult to access environments, such as on cliffs or nestled among large trees and boulders.

There is a mix of styles in the PNW that fuses colorful and heavily-patterned Native American motifs with more minimalist and understated Scandinavian designs and furniture. Some other common interior design elements include wooden furniture with live edges (where the edge of the piece is left in its natural shape), decorating with ferns (which are very common in the region), and, of course, gorgeous hardwood floors that take advantage of their natural resources.

Urban Living

America’s cities each have their own special style and character, but a common thread that connects them is an overriding priority for the maximum utilization of space. Unlike the wide expanses of exurban and rural areas, cities are all about density. Cities are also defined by the activities that take place there, which are often business related. Perhaps that’s why urban environments traditionally give off a tough, hardscrabble, and competitive aura.

In the last few decades there has been a movement away from diversity and variation in city architecture. Instead of assorted and different buildings from various schools of design, glass curtain buildings dominate the building facade trends. Still, some designers push for more unique and special designs that standout even in a crowded urban skyline.

Rustic and homey interior design might work in more rural parts of the country, but in the cities, current interior design trends call for more contemporary, modern, and industrial designs. Brutalist slabs of polished concrete, classic red brick walls, and exposed ventilation ducting all help create a feel that is both utilitarian and cosmopolitan.

Coastal

America has long coastal regions abutting the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, but perhaps no region represents coastal living quite like California. The climate, culture, politics, history, and ecology of the California coast all inform the architectural ethos that imbues its structures.

Part of that story is the story of the counterculture movement that took root in the Bay Area in the 1960s. It opened whole new avenues for experimentation, including radical new types of communities, greater emphasis on compassion for the environment and a move to “get back to nature,” and a desire to live life far differently than the traditional values of the 1950s. West coast architecture today, consequently, reflects a more inclusive vibe where diverse ways of being and living are all equally respected.

That diversity is also seen physically in the vast array of western coastal styles which often incorporate natural views, open floor plans inspired by Japanese architecture, Spanish-style homes with terracotta tiled roofs, and extensive windows to let in the abundant California sunshine.

Like the attitude of its communities, coastal interior design is often more laid back and breezy than in other places. It often has a soft, comfy, even lived-in feeling. Common themes include neutral to warm color palettes, furniture and decorations that are made from eco-friendly and sustainable materials, and outdoor kitchens that take advantage of the climate.

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