Designers seeking to add more zest to their designs may want to look south of the border. After all, with their focus on dark woods, natural materials and family-friendly designs, Mexican- and South American-inspired designs, perhaps more than any other, convey a sense of the warmth and home (see related story, Page 56).
These are the sentiments of Roger Karr, showroom director for Lubbock, TX-based Ortega Kitchen and Bath, who notes that you don’t have to live south of the border to love this look. However, he adds, “With this style, people [in the U.S.] want and authentic look…but if they are going to put down money, they also want it to be very functional and family friendly.”
Darius Baker, CR, CKBR, and owner of Sacramento, CA-based D&J Kitchens and Baths, agrees: “[The key] is to create a sense of function in relation to the size of the family.”
He continues: “[As a rule, Mexican-styled kitchens have] to be larger and offer suitable space, because the nature of [the cooking style associated with this type of design and culture] requires more from a preparation standpoint. That’s why you will see a larger cleanup area and maybe even two sinks.”
“They are combining the kitchen and den into an all-in-one space, so it needs to be functional and efficient, yet still have that Old World look,” he adds.
Karr notes that a popular trend with this design style is having the island or raised bar feature a different material than the main countertop. “The main countertop may be granite while the island may feature an engineered stone,” he says. “We also see people using tumbled tiles and accent tiles to create that Mexican flavor.”
“It is a warm, cozy look,” offers Laurel Osborne, designer, for Mesa, AZ-based Stradlings, Inc. “The Mexican influence is a very heavy, furniture-style design theme. We’ve even seen mesquite being used in cabinetry, and that is a very heavy wood.”
Sarah Jason, president of San Diego, CA-based Kitchen Idea Center, cites a project she designed that reflects this style. “The home has a Spanish influence to it, so we brought in red tiles, which complemented the gold and orange found in the countertop. We also selected light wood cabinets with dark doors and combined that with tile backsplashes,” she explains.
“We’re doing a lot of undermount sinks mixed with granite, and have also done copper sinks. It gives a different flavor than traditional homes,” Karr says.
Osborne continues: “People also want stone surrounds for their cooktops and venting systems, and [as a result] we’re doing a lot of concrete countertops.”
Karr says that another key to the Mexican-influenced design style is – simply put – options.
“There are so many textures involved that you may not be able to decide between engineered stone and granite – but you can have them both. Everybody gets what they want because you can combine textures in one area.”
Baker agrees: “These designs force you outside of the design mold that so many of us get trapped in. Your experience of designing will be enhanced and you can improve your design process for the ‘common’ projects.”
A Whole Old World
The trademark of Mexican-influenced design is the Old World aesthetic, Karr points out.
“Old world is huge with Spanish influence,” he says.
For Baker, this means that proper tile selection is crucial.
“We will use a red body tile with painted finishes and earth tones combined with yellows and blues. The tile selection alone can go a long way toward creating that overall look,” he says.
Jason agrees: “The right tile will set the theme and set off the countertops when the cabinets are installed.”
Baker continues: “We also see a lot of arched [cabinets]. So, when we start a project, we may start looking at some cabinet doors with arches that can work into it. Therefore, I suggest a glazed finish because it gives you the antique look that is so important to this design style.”
For a more authentic look, Karr notes that wood species such as pine are a strong choice, especially if they feature a glaze to make them appear weathered.
“We might select distressing from our cabinet manufacturer that gives it that more Hispanic, rustic look,” Baker adds.
But that is not to say that designers cannot infuse contemporary elements into these designs either, Osborne notes.
“You can take things in a very contemporary direction and still add some Southwest elements to make it flow with the rest of the architecture,” she says. “For instance, people like to put panels on the appliances, so it is combining the best of both worlds.”
Jason sees metal tile backsplashes with light-colored, enlarged tiles as one way to achieve this look.
Another key element to creating authentic Mexican-influenced design is color, Jason points out.
“When you are doing a Mexican look, you want to bring in the excitement of color by incorporating a copper color or something like that,” she says.
“It definitely is more of a casual look, and often color will be brought in to create a very festive atmosphere,” Osborne adds.
“There are a lot of oranges and copper tones, as well as browns and beiges. There are more earth tones with this style, although they seem to accent with brighter accessories,” Karr says.
“These designs use a lot of earth tones,” Baker says, citing cabinetry and flooring specifically. “You don’t see the blues and greens and bright colors there, other than accent colors.”
To that end, Karr says textured walls with a stucco finish and glaze is a popular look. “You could also add in a farm sink with copper accents or a brushed nickel look for the faucets as opposed to chrome,” he adds.
He concludes: “The look here is adding texture on texture, whether through paint, stain, stucco, granite or engineered stone.”
According to Baker, a recent project he completed is a perfect example of this style.
“The client had adult children and a lot of grandchildren who came by on a regular basis, and she wanted to have as much of a ‘south of the border’ feel as we could accomplish,” he offers.
To that end, a mural conceived by the client stands as the focal point of the design.
“The mural was created based on a story handed down from this woman’s grandmother. It tells the story of when her grandmother was a child and her [job] was to go to the well to fetch water for the evening meal. The client had an artist in Mexico paint the mural and the tiles were shipped to us,” he explains.
Baker notes that the color selected was an off-white and beige tone for the mural, which stands at 30"Wx24"H.
“It was placed right behind the 36" Dacor commercial-grade gas cooktop [as a centerpiece for the design],” Baker adds.
To complement the mural, the client selected DeWil’s cabinetry that features a miter frame and raised panel.
“We put a brown glaze on it to give it more of a rustic look,” he notes. “We also added a number of arches into the house where there were squared off doorways from one room to the next.”
Other product lines chosen by Baker included a Dacor hood and warming drawer, a KitchenAid refrigerator and a Kohler sink.
Since the client spends so much time with her family, the space required other design elements, as well. “We integrated in a lowered food preparation area because they roll out their own tortillas. She also wanted an island because they eat in a buffet style setting,” he describes.
Completing the look, Baker selected engineered wood flooring with a scraped and distressed look, and applied a heavier finish on the walls for contrast.
Karr cites a recent project in which, “We did an 80-square-foot kitchen with a granite island and terra cotta flooring. The granite was the most unique part of this project, because it had a lot of high movement. We put it on the raised bar and it totally changed the look of the island,” he says.
The main challenge, he adds, was one that’s common to Mexican-influenced designs – getting the textural balance right. “The key was fitting in all of the textures. You have to decide what you’re going to use because you need consistency,” he explains.
For Osborne, a project she worked on in collaboration with Scottsdale, AZ-based Elite Luxury Homes, also fits the bill. “[For this project] we were looking for woods with darker tones to create a Southwest feel,” she says.
“The kitchen had seeded glass doors and a wrought-iron corbel to support the countertops [and act as a seating area]. We also put glass door cabinets and molding in the butler’s pantry to create a heavier look,” she adds.
She concludes that the joy of this style is that clients do not have to live in the desert.
“A lot of our clients aren’t Arizona natives – they just want a different element than what they may have been accustomed,” she says.
U.S. Design Influence Felt in Latin, Central America, Dealer Says
As designers in the U.S. continue to embrace trends from around the world, some may be interested in the true impact of American design styles on other countries – especially those in Central, South and Latin America.
These are the sentiments of Mike Toth, partner and co-founder of San Salvador, El Salvador-based Interiors SA, who along with partner Alejandro Lugo has had some 13 years of experience in the Central, South and Latin American kitchen and bath markets.
“The U.S. market has clearly set the tone for kitchen design in Latin America,” Toth notes, citing a shift in the Latin American consumer’s ideology, as well as currency stabilization as contributing factors.
“Latin American kitchen design has long been either a very rustic, simple wood style or an American traditional style. Up until 1992, kitchens were built for pure function – an area just to process meals,” he explains, adding that low mortgage rates around this time led to many younger, first-time home buyers who desired a kitchen they could better enjoy.
He continues: “Many people who returned to Latin America after the war years had lived in the U.S. and brought back with them U.S. kitchen styles and tastes. These tastes – combined with cable TV networks like HGTV – have made the U.S style very fashionable.”
To that end, Toth notes that consumers in Latin America want flat-slab, wood-tone cabinet doors as well as granite countertops with squared edge detailing. He also notes that stainless steel is very popular.
Other popular materials include solid wood cabinet doors – especially in a cherry or dark finish – as well as plywood cabinet carcasses, which he notes is due in large part to the high humidity of the region and the lack of air conditioning.
“More U.S. suppliers are also making contemporary styles to serve this market,” he adds.
Toth also believes that the recent ratification of the free-trade agreement (CAFTA) – which will essentially reduce import tariffs to 0% on all products traded between El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic and Costa Rica – may greatly affect this balance in the future.
He offers: “We pay 15% to bring in U.S. cabinets, and CAFTA will eliminate this, which means that the cost of kitchen cabinets might soon cost less than in the U.S.”
This is crucial, Toth believes, because nearly $15 million worth of cabinets are purchased a year in Central America, with sales rising about 20% annually. South America, by comparison, buys nearly $150 million worth of cabinets, and the Caribbean nearly $75 million, respectively.
But, he quickly adds: “Latin Americans [still] prefer cabinet imports over local products, so U.S. imports will continue to rise at the expense of the local guy.”
He concludes: “Many U.S. sales for states like California, Florida and Texas conceal a lot of product that actually ships to Latin America. Since all shipments go through these states, they’re counted as domestic sales – while they’re actually going south. So, U.S. manufacturers might be surprised to know how much they’re already selling to Latin America.”