Top 5 Mistakes People Make When Furnishing a Home
So you’ve bought a home in Mexico and you’re all ready to move here, either part-time or full-time, and you’ve got a big decision to make about furnishings. Some homes are sold as a package deal, completely furnished right down to the tacky sombrero hanging in the entryway. But what do you do when it’s completely empty?
Furnishing an entire house at one time can be a daunting task, especially in a new country where your favourite stores are nowhere to be seen. Even if you did have access to those familiar haunts, even the thought of having to make that many decisions at one time is overwhelming—at least to me.
So where do you begin? For myself, I like to look at examples of what others have done to determine what I like or don’t like before making a single decision. But this is a long process for an over-thinker like me and by the time I make any big decision we could be living on a blow-up couch for a year!
Since there are so many factors to consider including your budget, climate, size of the rooms, natural and artificial lighting, etc., we talked to two of the top interior designers here in La Paz, Baja California Sur: Dulce Huerta and Gabriela de Vaca, to gain some perspective.
A bit about our experts
Dulce’s path towards interior design began as a young child and eventually led her to study with world famous designers in Milan, Italy. Her studies started in a local La Paz university, then on to a university in Guatemala for courses in lighting and furniture design and ultimately to Milano Politecnico University. She has two retail studios located in Cabo San Lucas and La Paz. Her clientele is a blend of business and home owners and as the demand for custom work grew her company expanded to include an in-house carpentry shop that now employs over 50 people.
Gabriela de Vaca’s journey into interior design actually began in architecture which she studied for 2-1/2 years in Tijuana before coming to La Paz and switching to interior design at the Mundial University. In addition to the typical courses, she specialized in exterior landscaping and outdoor structures. Her clientele is also a blend of business and home owners plus various government projects that spread from Los Cabos to La Paz.
Interestingly enough, both designers use similar words when describing their style. Modern, clean, simple with a love of natural materials.
Trends in Mexican Decor
If I were to ask you what words you would use to describe Mexican decor I am pretty sure that most of you would use words like rustic, handmade, bright, and traditional. That’s because as expats this is how we view what we think represents Mexican culture. When we land here we are often enamoured with woven blankets, Talavera pottery and porcelain geckos. We paint our walls outrageous colors that we would NEVER use in our former homes and happily sit back on our chunky furniture made by Juan Carlos at the local carpentaría.
But is this actually what constitutes typical Mexican decor? Both from my own experience and from our experts the answer is a resounding NO! Out of all the Mexican homes I have visited I cannot think of any that have a single one of these elements in it. No catrinas, no sombreros, no painted wooden bowls. Colors tend to be fairly neutral and furnishings are typically of simple design. Of course, there are always exceptions and I can’t speak for every age group or class in society.
For those in the business like Gabriela and Dulce, the trend in Mexican design is not unlike many other countries. The most recent International Furniture Exposition (Expo Mueble Internacional) in Guadalajara featured a very popular look called Mid-Century. For myself, being of a more senior age, this looks a lot like the Scandinavian influence that I saw back in the 70s and 80s. It’s kind of like clothing fashions where there really is nothing new under the sun, just a variation of the same. Different woods, newer fabric blends, more curve and less straight lines, etc., but essentially the same European influence.
Both designers talked about the use of earthy materials like wood, natural fibre fabrics, brick, stone or rattan but lean toward shapes and craftsmanship that are more refined. Instead of a chunky rustico-styled coffee table out of stained pine, utilize an interesting wood like parota, stained natural with a “live edge”, supported by hairpin metal legs. Or substitute throw pillows covered in typical Mexican striped fabric with a more modern ethnic design on bamboo or eucalyptus fabric. Still handmade but with a different level of craftsmanship and design flair that make it interesting rather than your garden variety slipcover.
In terms of basics, the paint and flooring colors are definitely in the neutral ranges or more muted colors that reflect our natural surroundings. This provides a background palette that won’t compete with your furniture or accent pieces and gives a more spacious feel. Plus those strong tones that some of us are drawn to get pretty old quickly. And having lived through the color-blocking and sponge painting era I have had more than enough of “wow” factor paint schemes for my lifetime. I wouldn’t go so far as my parents penchant for bone white in every room but I’ve definitely toned things down.
We also asked Dulce and Gabriela to share the most oft-repeated mistakes that they have observed when homeowners take on the task of furnishing a house themselves.
Top 5 Mistakes People Make When Furnishing a Home
#1 - Those Who Fail to Plan . . .
Hands-down the biggest mistake that people make is that they have no clear plan about how to go about furnishing their home. According to both Dulce and Gabriela this missing element leads to all the other mistakes that follow. Read on . . .
#2 - Know Thyself
In this day and age there is no end of ideas on the Internet. Many of us have fallen into the dark vortex of Pinterest and failed to surface for hours at a time. The problem is that all that input can actually lead to more confusion than clarity. Refining and distilling all those potentially good options into a look that will work in your space, without looking like your consultant was a cross between Martha Stewart and Lady Gaga, is neither quick nor easy. And knowing what you like is just as important as knowing what you don’t like. This will take time and a lot of mental percolation as you formulate what you truly want.
#3 - Fools Rush In
So you’ve got no plan and an empty home staring at you, begging to be filled. You’re tired of sitting in your Costco camping chairs and eating off the kitchen counter. So just as the “how do you eat an elephant” quote goes, you start out by taking a bite out of the daunting task. The problem is that without a plan, you really have no cohesive approach. What inevitably happens is that people just starting buying with very little agenda. That’s how you end up with a sofa that overpowers the room like a sumo wrestler, a table that competes for attention with the busy floor tiles and a fridge with doors that can’t be fully opened because it’s too close to the island! In the end you may save money but have a home full of misfit pieces.
#4 - Consider your environment
When I say environment I am actually referring to your location. Most likely the climate here in Mexico is quite different than what you are used to and that is an important factor. When I asked Gabriela and Dulce about differences between expats and Mexicans regarding furnishing a home, this is what I learned. Apart from leaning towards traditional Mexican touches, many of us love leather seating and often haul our leather recliners and couches down here. But just as leather is cold in northern climates it’s also sweaty in a hot climate. Sure it’s easy to maintain but if I have to peel myself off the seat it ain’t workin’ for me! Another throwback to the cold north are carpets. You likely paid good money for that Persian area rug 30 years ago but really . . . this is the southern Baja where we don’t take off our shoes at the door. Not only are carpets out of place, they’re not practical.
Something else you might not consider is that fabrics and colors that look right in another country may look very odd in a tropical or desert climate. Now I’m not advocating for Tommy Bahama style prints on rattan furniture. I’m saying that fabrics with too much texture can be just as uncomfortable as leather. And deep, dark tones may appear too heavy. Crisper fabric in hues that complement nature’s palette can actually make a space feel cooler.
#5 - Too big, too small or just right
Like the fable of Goldilocks, it can be hard to find just the right fit. Without a plan people often look at a big room and just want to fill it. So they buy big couches, large tables, huge wall art, and just cram the room full of “stuff” to make it feel furnished. But this cannot only be a waste of money, it can be entirely unnecessary to achieve a balanced look. Using proper lighting, accessories and proportional furniture you can still have a large space that feels comfortably decorated without overcrowding. The same can be said for small areas. We see a small space and automatically think “tiny” is the right way to go. Bringing equilibrium to rooms is an art form that takes a practiced eye.
So, if you’re one of those people staring at blank walls and feeling too paralyzed to make a decision, I hope that these points will bring some clarity to the process and give you courage to move forward with some sort of plan. Should you choose to seek professional advice, remember that you don’t have to buy into a turnkey contract. You can hire a designer to come up with a concept based on your input and you can take it from there or they can walk you through every step of the process to completion. Being clear about your budget will set parameters for both parties and leave little room for surprises or disappointments.