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Originally published in STIR®

By Holly O’Dell


Regional and indigenous influences help designers and architects create spaces that connect people to their communities and culture.

For many years now, people have been growing increasingly conscious of where their food comes from. Local food systems are springing up everywhere. Schools, restaurants, supermarkets and consumers are seeking direct access to locally sourced ingredients, supporting area farmers and growers in the process.

This movement has made its way into both commercial and residential design, where regional and indigenous influences help create unique spaces anchored to their surroundings.


“People want to feel connected to their immediate environment and its design legacy,” says Jase Frederick, ASID-Illinois director of communications and owner of Jase Frederick Design: Sustainable Interiors & Consulting. “Creating an interior design that’s local, livable and has a sense of place is what differentiates your space from a one-size-fits-all design that you could find anywhere in any city or community.”

Frederick reports that members in the ASID-Illinois chapter source and incorporate locally produced art into many of their designs. “Our designers are looking to enhance and transform their spaces with art that references the community and our local landscape,” Frederick says.

One such popular artist is Chicago-based fine art photographer Ted Glasoe. Glasoe, whose work can be found in both residential and commercial spaces, uses his photography to highlight what he considers to be the unique character of the Chicago-area landscape and the ever-changing moods of nearby Lake Michigan.

Growth potential

Owners and operators of commercial buildings have begun to see the value of locally inspired design, too. “Rather than rubber-stamped spaces, we’re seeing more and more brands embrace local culture, architecture and design,” says architect David Shove-Brown, AIA, NCARB and co-founder of STUDIO3877 in Washington, D.C. “Companies are celebrating their locales and birthplaces through elements ranging from artwork to physical construction.”

The hospitality industry, in particular, has noticed that its guests want more than just a place to lay their heads at night. “Hotels are starting to better understand their community and provide guests with connections to it and reasons to visit and interact with it,” says architect David Tracz, AIA, LEED AP and fellow co-founder of STUDIO3877.

When commercial businesses embrace their community, it provides them with even more opportunities for growth. “Intentionally or not, they’re building allegiances with other local businesses and residents, who are grateful for the use and promotion of their goods and services. They’re also attracting customers from other places who are looking to fully engage in the local culture and environment,” Shove-Brown says.
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PUMA goes Soho

In his work throughout the U.S., San Diego architect Nathan Lee Colkitt of Colkitt&Co has found that incorporating local influences into the design and architecture of a space adds extra layers for users to interact with. “It’s important to consider how the people in a certain area might use a space,” Colkitt says. “That knowledge can then be incorporated into the overall design, making it more relatable to locals and visitors alike.”

Colkitt put this practice to work at the PUMA Soho New York retail location, where he served as architect alongside the concept and store designer Plajer & Franz Studio. Colkitt and his team researched and immersed themselves in the Big Apple as part of the design process. “Each design element incorporates local influences and regional culture, as well as global features that come from the heart of the brand itself,” Colkitt says.

“The complementary use of local handmade iron, tile and neon contextual elements makes the store more relevant to the customer,” Colkitt says. “In the dressing rooms, we used subway station mosaics and graphic tile that
 mimics manhole covers to give customers the impression they’re stepping 
into popular subway stops while trying on merchandise. Ultimately, this localization translated to increased sales and a happy client.”

A return to heritage

The Intrinsic theme from the Sherwin-Williams 2014 colormix™ reflects another movement influencing local design: native peoples rediscovering their heritage crafts. “Many handicrafts — embroidery, needlepoint, crochet and batik, to name just a few — that were once part of everyday life have disappeared. Luckily, we’re seeing a rebirth. There’s a growing interest in relearning and preserving these crafts and even using them as a source of revenue,” says Jackie Jordan, director of color marketing for Sherwin-Williams.

Jordan also sees time-honored techniques playing out in nontraditional ways. “While the young and very contemporary artists want to hang onto these traditions, they also want them to remain relevant. That’s why they’re using their creativity to see where they can take these art forms.” For instance, a Native American artisan may weave a basket in the traditional method but integrate nontraditional colors or introduce a more modern pattern.