Native American interior design is a great way to approach either a single room décor or an entire home. The cultural values of the Native American Nations are conveyed through the use of symbols and patterns found in art and textiles.
Architectural Features for Interiors
A lodge, Southwestern or woodland style décor with large exposed logs used for support columns and beams are appropriate choices for an architectural approach to designing a Native American styled home. Adobe homes or wall finishes are also good choices. Highlight architectural features or emphasize the following in your home to create a base for the rest of the décor:
- Take advantage of modern materials that are light-weight faux wood if you want to save money compared to buying real wood or replacing your current features. You need a high ceiling to make this design style effective. If working with a smaller room, then use smaller scaled faux wood elements for aesthetic balance.
- Round rooms are especially ideal spaces since these reflect how ceremonial gatherings were housed in the tipi (teepee).
- Adobe houses were also constructed by the Pueblo Indians. If you don't live in an adobe home, you can use plaster or paints to convey this design feature. The Riviera, Bousillage Rustique, Intuel, and Aura interior paints may work well.
- Large rooms, such as great rooms that include the kitchen, dining and living areas are perfect for a Native American lifestyle. Traditional Native American homes are open and designed to entertain large numbers of people.
Incorporating Native American Cultural Elements
There are some common elements shared by most Native American clans that can be used in this style of interior décor. One of the best ways to decide on colors, motifs, and style is with the sacred Medicine Wheel. This sacred wheel can be used as a guidepost to ensure you stay true to the Native American culture with specific attention to the four directions, elements, totem animals, plant life, and other aspects.
Medicine Wheel Example as Interior Design Guidepost
The Medicine Wheel, or Sacred Hoop, represents the four directions that are considered sacred and used for healings and health, according to the U.S. Library of Medicine's Native Voices Exhibition. The wheel depicts the four directions of North, South, East and West. Each direction relates to a specific color, plant life, totem animal, element, season, and attribute.
Mesa Creative Arts states that "There's no 'right way' to build a Medicine Wheel". Different clans use different colors, totem animals, sacred plants, elements and other properties for the four directions.
Below is a representation of several medicine wheels to be used as an example guidepost. The properties were chosen mainly from those listed with the Native Voices Exhibition, Mesa Creative Arts, and others. If your medicine wheel is different, follow the same principles outlined below.
Ideas for Using Medicine Wheel in Interior Design
Once you determine the four directions of your home, you can use them to select colors and other properties for your home. The suggestions below are based upon the example compilation used above.
Design a north room to reflect the properties assigned to the Medicine Wheel. You aren't limited to these, but they present an excellent starting point.
- Color: The prominent color for this room direction is white. Add two accent colors to give depth to your room, such as brown (buffalo color) and green (cedar color).
- Totem animal and plant life: The totem animal buffalo and assigned plant life of cedar can be found in design motifs for paintings, art, pillows, rugs, bedding, decorative bowls, and sculptures.
- Element: The air element can be conveyed with a wind chime with a buffalo design to reflect the element.
- Season: To capture the feel of winter, select a white shag rug, white art objects and paintings, or objects of winter scenes. Drape a couple of iconic throws over a couch or bed.
- Attribute: Add a curved wooden bookcase filled with books to complete the chart for this direction. Be sure to include books about Native American history.
For a south room select textures, colors, art and furniture to convey these properties. Be sure to select Native American patterns and styles.
- Color: The prominent color for this room is red. Add two accent colors to give depth to your room, such as green, light brown (sweetgrass), and gray, or white and brown (wolf).
- Totem animal and plant life: The totem animal wolf and assigned plant life of sweetgrass can be used as design motifs for fabrics and objects. A wolf sculpture or statue or series of photo/paintings are a great choice for accent pieces. Sweetgrass and other grasses are used to weave baskets, so be sure to include a nice collection of hand-woven baskets with decorative patterns
- Element: The water element can be used in photos or paintings. You may want to place a related water feature in this room.
- Season: To capture the feel of summer, add floral arrangements, colorful summer colors for upholstery and curtains. Use colorful Native American rugs in traditional designs.
- Attribute: Add a collection of framed art and photos that depict the emotional nature of the life. Photos of full regalia tribal costumes as well as art objects, such as a headdress recreation. Add your family photos in this room using frames with Native American motifs.
Designing for an east direction room gives you many different choices for color and pattern styles.
Color: The prominent color for this room is yellow. For the other two main colors use green and brown (tobacco) or go with black/brown and white (eagle).
Totem animal and plant life: The totem animal eagle and assigned plant life of tobacco provide interesting art objects and motif ideas. Select a painting or a unique eagle dancer sculpture. Use feather patterns in pillow fabric choices. A yellow floral arrangement, tobacco colored rug will brighten any room. Wooden furniture in a rich tobacco color becomes the focal point to a living room design.
Element: The fire element (symbol of sun) can be introduced via a fireplace with a mantel to display some of these totem animal art objects. Use the fire symbol in various design choices, such as a sun keepsake box. A traditional pipe can be hung on a wall or placed on a stand for display.
Season: Spring is the season of renewal, so be sure to add elements to your design that renew, such as plant life and flowers that hold meaning to Native Americans.
Attribute: Use a moon mandala wall decal or hang a dream catcher to represent the spiritual nature of this direction. Photos, paintings or actual artistic ceremonial objects use in various spiritual ceremonies of Native American life can be placed in this room.
You can add several iconic pieces to your existing décor if you don't wish to undertake a complete room makeover. You can still enjoy the effects of Native American style with just a few accessories.
- Color: The prominent color for this room is black. You can add brown (bear) and green or blue green (sage). If you wish to add another color, go with a corn yellow or fire red.
- Totem Animal and plant life: The totem animal bear is a fun additional to any décor as decorative items, especially those that are woodland or rustic themed. These two styles lend themselves to Native American interiors. Sage is often burned in sacred ceremonies. Place a smudge stick in a ceramic smudge bowl on a table, mantel, or bedside table.
- Element: The earth element is found in decorative Native American pottery. Add various dried grasses to the pots and urns for a decorative touch. Create a curio display of pottery or showcase a collection on a table, bookcase, or fireplace.
- Season: Fall is a time of harvest. The Southeast Cherokee were farmers and fishermen. They knew how to prepare for the fall. Add fall colors with dried ears of colorful corn, corn wreath, or pillow and various Native American crafts to convey this skill.
- Attribute: This direction is attributed to being fit and strong. Add carvings of Native Americans or paintings of hunting parties or a display of arrowheads and various weaponry.
Ideal Furniture Styles
The furniture styles best suited for Native American décors reflect the architectural styles of Old Spanish Mission, Southwest, Mexican, rustic cabin, and woodland. Pick up pieces from the following retailers to create an entire room grouping or add to your current furnishings:
- Hacienda Style: Add antique Old Spanish Mission style furniture pieces to your rooms for a touch of history.
- Lone Star Western Décor: Many of these Western furniture designs can be used in a Native American style home.
- Great Southwest Furniture Design, Inc.: You can achieve an authentic Southwest style with these furniture pieces and accessories.
- El Paso Saddleblanket Co., Inc.: This 2-acre store has anything possible for a Southwest/Western décor.
- Tres Amigos Furniture: Go for a Mexican and rustic look with special style and appeal for a dining room, bedroom, office and other rooms.
- Black Forest Decor: This company features several styles of rustic and cabin furniture for living rooms, bedrooms, and dining rooms, along with accent furniture and wall art.
- Rocky Mountain Cabin Decor: Choose from rustic furniture styles featuring hair-on-hide upholstery, leather cushioned rocking chairs and more.
- Woodland Creek Furniture: You can find several one-of-a-kind pieces of wood furniture and other designs for every room.
Additional Native American Symbols and Motifs
Aside from using the color wheel to determine various design elements, you can also use a medicine wheel wall hanging in a bedroom, den, or other room. Display a medicine wheel above a fireplace or over a sofa. This is just one of the many symbols you can use to create a Native American décor.
Other symbols and motifs you can use in your Native American décor include:
- Turtles are a sacred symbol as told in the tradition of oral history. After the flood, the Great Spirit created North America (Turtle Island) on the back of the turtle.
- Circle shapes represent the Earth and can be emphasized with various design elements, such as round tables, area rugs, art objects, and fabric patterns. You can recreate this shape by a curved sofa and half-circle chairs to create a living room layout.
Sandpaintings are used in Navajo healing ceremonies and can take days to create by the medicine man or shaman.
Native American Design Choices
There are limitless choices when it comes to incorporating Native American art and textiles into your home décor. Take time to search out authentic replicas or invest in antique artifacts to complete your home design.