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Defining essence of Latin style

The Baltimore Sun

Juan Carlos Arcila-Duque chokes up slightly when he recalls "The Sanctuary House" featured in his new book, Latin Style (Thomas Nelson, $24.95).

Although the Miami Beach, Fla.-based decorator visited a home a day for 34 days in his styling and photo trip throughout Latin America, it was this finca, or farm-Style, Pueblo house in Pereira, Colombia, that touched his heart.

The house, with a beautiful view of the mountains and colorful rocking chairs on the veranda, was almost empty except for a pair of iron beds. The owner had 45 years of belongings in storage.

"I told her that I wanted to see what she had," Arcila-Duque said in a telephone interview from New York. "I started to open all the boxes and configure the house."

When the woman came into the room and looked at his display of amulets, crosses and a picture of Jesus he arranged over a candle-laden altar table, she looked distraught. And at first Arcila-Duque was afraid she hated it.

"She came up to me and called me a saint," he said. "This was my most perfect day."

Arcila-Duque has written a book with a sophisticated eye for the details and traditions of Latin culture. The color photographs by Brian Park and Paul Wright are intended to illustrate how textures, such as wood, bamboo, leather and pottery, can be used together to achieve the cultural look.

"For me, Latin style is a passion that includes how we put color and texture in our homes," he said. "It's the passion we have for entertaining at home and to bring the colors of nature inside."

Table decoration also reflects the respect of family and is an important part of the culture.

"I think table decoration in Latin America is not about formality, it's about memories and things from past generations," he said. "It could be an old tablecloth from Grandmother, some old china. It is not important if everything matches perfectly."

His book divides Latin design into four styles -- Cabana, Hacienda, Paradiso and Pueblo -- and has an accompanying CD with 12 Latin lounge instrumentals; three songs represent each style.

So how does this translate to how we live?

"Miami and everything Caribbean is Cabana-style," he said. "California is Pueblo-style. Dallas is Hacienda-style because it's more ranch."

One depiction of Latinos that bothers Arcila-Duque is how the Ugly Betty title character dresses and how her family decorates their home in Queens. He abhors the belief that Latinos all live in homes with bright colors. In fact, many of the colors in the book are muted.

"The use of bright colors is a bit of a myth," he said. "Everybody believes that Latin style is all red and bright yellow and blue. All haciendas in America are muted, quiet-down colors. This is like the misconception that all Latins wear a Panama hat."

Arcila-Duque, who was born in Colombia, grew up in the countryside in a house that he said looked very much like a tropical hacienda. His mother decorated in a classic style. His father was an interior designer and furniture maker. But he maintains it's the United States, not Latin America, that honed his design style.

His decorating style in his Miami Beach home is mid-century modern, and his New York apartment is contemporary.

"I am a modernist," he said. "But my soul is Latin."

Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub writes for the (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel.


Here is Juan Carlos Arcila-Duque's take on Latin style:


The vibe --Urban life, folklore, magic, devout Christianity and love of life.

The look --Simple wooden furniture, flowers, glazed pottery, embroidered textiles, bold color.


The vibe --Ultimate escape: home and rain forest merge.

The look --A civilized safari. Green minimalism, wicker, natural fibers, simple but bold colors, bamboo, coconut shells as votives and logs as side tables.


The vibe --Pastels, seashells, hammocks and bare feet.

The look --European colonialism from the Netherlands with an African accent. Expansive porches, colorful hammocks, washed-out hues, sheer linen drapes, sand dollars and coral.


The vibe --Rustic, refined.

The look --Blue-blood splendor meets cowboy chic. Buttery leather, soft alpaca, cashmere, crystal chandeliers and terra-cotta vessels.


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