South America is a vast continent stretching from tropical and lush Colombia to cold and arid Southern Patagonia. Each country has its own cultural identity forged from its topography, natural elements, native inhabitants, European colonizers and immigrants. Interior design trends and decorative fabric tastes are unique in each country because they are a blend of these local accents and world trends in fashion and design.
Southern hemisphere countries such as Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil and Peru have always been very traditional, reflecting design characteristics from European migrations out of England, Italy, Germany and Spain. When I began to travel these markets in the early 1990s, sophisticated designer shops were filled with leather accents, large silk damasks, muted colored tapestries, European garden florals with stripes, and earthy tones in natural textures like silk, wool and cotton. Northern hemisphere countries such as Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador have always been more influenced by North America in their color palette and design looks. Traditional design has been the norm with a few contemporary, tropical or pastel trends from time to time. Still the dominant colors were burgundy, forest green, blue and gold with trimmings to match on windows, pillows and furniture.
Over the last five years trends have changed dramatically in all South American countries. It started with a shift to “feng shui” design thinking and the use natural colors - whites, creams, earth tones, chocolates and black. Textures replaced pattern leaving only room for strong color on accent pieces. Natural woods, raffia, leathers braids, sisal rugs, and minimalist furniture in solid earth tones came into fashion. Suede made up a large portion of solid fabrics as China began mass producing at popular price points. Since then fashion has evolved to include embossed and gem stone colored vinyl, brilliant and lurex sheers. Metallics became an important fashion trend and they are now found in drapery, upholstery and wall coverings.
Full-on contemporary design is now popular all over the continent. Large, bold, strong and in your face contemporary fabrics in purple, cobalt, brown, silver and black are in. While most high-end shops still have a small traditional section with lots of silk and linen colors and a leather/vinyl area, the vast majority of the floor space is dedicated to contemporary design in earth tones and metallics on sheers and upholstery fabrics.
In many ways, trends in South America have evolved in much the same way as trends in North America. However, the rich heritage and diverse culture of these countries gives the design industry in that part of the world a unique flavor and style all its own.