Mexican decor is a mixed bag. It has elements of vivid handmade textiles; hot tropical colors; sober, dark, carved wood and period European design; painted and fired red-clay tile; elegant colorless Minimalism; ornate wrought iron and heavy rustic cabinetry; and artifacts that reflect Aztec, Catholic and Amerindian beliefs. The fusion of cultures gives you a wide array of choices -- but you shouldn't try to blend too many of them. Go for understated or exuberant, and accent your choice with contrasting fine art, a rich texture or a single splash of bright color.
Rough-textured walls are typical in haciendas and Spanish Colonial buildings, so a stucco wall treatment gives your home an immediate south-of-the-border vibe. Do all the walls in a room or the entire house -- or cover one accent wall in rough plaster and then paint it a vivid turquoise, teal, goldenrod or hot pink. Color-wash, sponging and ragging are faux paint techniques that simulate a rough-textured surface without the actual trouble of stuccoing or replastering the walls. Start with a light color or a white wall, and add successive layers of a deeper hue so that glimpses of the original paint show through. Strip wood trim and baseboards, and stain and varnish, rather than paint the trim.
Clay tile is practical and versatile, and has a number of uses in Mexican decor. The terra-cotta tile floor is almost a cliche, but that doesn't diminish its warm appeal or its mop-down practicality. Reddish-orange terra-cotta is very New World; don't rule out more subtle and variegated Mediterranean-style terra-cotta, though. The softer tile colors blend more easily with sophisticated decor, just as the bright, orangey tile says "rustic" and "country." Use terra-cotta tile as the kitchen backsplash, or splurge on hand-painted Talavera tile, a glazed, colorful style with indigenous and abstract designs. Hand-painted tile makes a great kitchen island counter; sink surround in the bathroom; stove or kitchen backsplash; entry floor; or tile border around the edge of a terra-cotta tiled floor or the wide archway set in a stuccoed wall.
Mexican artisans are justly renowned for their hand-carved rustic furniture. Cabinets and cupboards with paneled doors, carved detailing, ornamental feet and hand-forged wrought iron hardware are both durable and distinctive. Furnish a large room entirely in rustic Mexican furniture, leaving ample room between pieces to let each one shine. Highlight a single prized piece in a small space, using a spotlight or a hand-blown glass vase stuffed with tropical blooms to draw attention to it. In a bedroom, match the heavy rustic bedstead to the exposed wood ceiling beams, and keep colors simple so they don't compete with the wood. Unbleached linen bedding and curtains, and a neutral or monochromatic woven area rug contribute to a room that is both richly appointed and restful.
Iconic Mexican art and artifacts transform even a Minimalist white space into an Aztec-inspired gallery. Mount a collection of Santos Diablos -- carved, painted masks depicting saints, devils and symbolic figures with combined human and animal features. Fill a glass breakfront with Tarahumara handmade wooden dolls in indigenous dress, or add hand-thrown pottery to your bookshelves. Toss a few brightly woven Mexican area rugs on the tile or wide plank floors. Hang a rustic wrought iron chandelier that holds stubby candles over the wood slab dining table. Hook twine-tied bunches of drying chilies on exposed ceiling beams or wall-mounted iron hooks in the kitchen.