6 tips for authentic Western home decor

“No trespassing” signs, broken-down machinery and old stacked tires are a must-have.


Rob Pudim is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News. He lives in the Boulder area of Colorado.

For many Westerners, the influx of the newest newcomers has created housing developments in the neighborhood that sport the worst kind of blandness — think wagon wheels propped willy-nilly around the place. These newbies are in luck, though, as I’ve been rural long enough to have a deep knowledge of down-home decorating. Best of all, I’m willing to share my tips — at no charge.

Pointer #1: Signs on fences should always feature the words “No Trespassing,” “No Hunting” and “Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted.” A favorite addition is “This Property Protected by Smith & Wesson” — with bullet holes on the sign as proof. Other gun manufacturers have followed the trend, and you can see their free signs here and there, but I don’t believe that Glocks and Uzis come off as particularly Western. At the same time, don’t forget to include the piquant touch of a homey “Welcome, stranger!” mat near the front door. Out here, that won’t be seen as a contradiction.

Pointer #2: Abandoned machinery is an important addition to any Western property, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s an old pickup, farm tractor or a harrow, so long as it is rusty and unusable. Avoid getting too chi-chi, though, like one place I saw in Arizona that had flowers planted around an ancient pickup and a tree in the truck bed. I recommend careful arrangements of combines, broken-down Fordsons and even boilers from abandoned mines, with weedy, overgrown vegetation around them.

A properly decorated ranch in Delta County, Colorado.
Paige Blankenbeuhler

Pointer #3: Piling old tires on top of your roof is an inexpensive way to make your property look venerable. This is a common decoration in New Mexico, although I have seen these distinctive roofs in many other places. Worn-out tires on the roof are much like the hex signs on Pennsylvania Amish barns: They ward off evil spirits — and high winds — and serve as a kind of garlic to the tornado monsters. Tires are also a cheap way to quickly give your land an old-time Western look. Buy new ones and wear them out yourself for a personal touch.

Pointer #4: Put worn-out cowboy boots on your fence posts where everyone can see them. This is something like hurling old sneakers so that they land on a telephone line and dangle there forever. You can buy old boots from Western Collectible stores in the tonier parts of Santa Fe and Scottsdale, though these will cost you. By rights, you should own a beat-up pair ripe for retirement. Again, it’s the personal touch that counts.

Pointer #5: Reflectors on a fence leading to the house are more of a practical accessory than a decoration, and you should sport at least one. After a six-pack or a long 12-pack drive home, a Westerner needs to be able to find his own driveway. A distinctive combination of reflectors will help to identify the property, though the newcomer should make sure he does not inadvertently duplicate a neighbor’s arrangement and end up with unwelcome visitors. More than four reflectors are considered tacky.

Pointer #6: Antiquing paint is definitely a no-no. It is an important decorating theme for Westerners to have weathered paint on your house and out-buildings, but because antiquing kits cannot quite duplicate peeling paint and weathered, rotten wood, the professional “antique look” screams lack of authenticity. It is better to get cheap paint and suffer through its newness until the paint breaks down than to use the kits available at Home Depot or Lowe’s.

And another no-no: Although a few decorators still attach large butterflies to the sides of houses, this is the last remnant of a dying fad. Some think it is an import from the East Coast, but I have long suspected it to be the sign of a cult. Those unfortunate property owners who mistakenly put large monarch butterflies on their houses are always embarrassed to realize that this identifies their house as the possible dwelling of a cult leader. When asked, of course, the inhabitants will deny everything. Occasionally, unusually large birds can be seen harrying the butterflies.

Unfortunately, I cannot cover all the elements of smart, outdoor Western decorating. Confining myself to only what can be seen from a car window, I have not touched upon antler chandeliers — though antlers over a garage always look right — bent-willow chairs or gigantic furniture made from aspen logs. Still, I hope these tips will help the rural newcomer quickly convert his or her ranchette into a broken-down ranchero. And never forget: It doesn’t hurt to look rustic when the tax assessor comes around.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

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