Design Like a Pro

How to give your home Spanish flair

Richard Killeen, a local interior designer, shares his secrets on achieving this passionate and earthy look

Special to The TribuneMay 21, 2013 

  • Design tips from Richard Killeen

    TAKE A FIELD TRIP If you are researching Spanish design, there are many wonderful examples of Spanish architecture and interiors on the Central Coast. Killeen’s favorite Spanish estates are Casa del Herrero in Montecito and Hearst Castle.

    NAIL IT Clavos are decorative nailheads that are available in a multitude of styles, shapes and finishes. They are easy and quick to install and add Spanish style to doors as well as wood and upholstered furniture. A dark bronze is the most authentic finish for a Spanish interior.

    FABRIC FIND Pindler & Pindler, a fabric manufacturer, has created a line of fabrics inspired by patterns and textiles at Hearst Castle. Many are Spanish in character, and all proceeds benefit Hearst Castle restoration.

This monthly feature focuses on local interior designers and their ideas for choosing color schemes, furniture, art and an overall design style or scheme. Today we focus on Richard Killeen who, after working for design firms in Los Angeles, established his own company, Killeen Associates, in 1983. Originally, he designed primarily for entertainment companies and motion picture studios. He has since moved on to residential projects ranging from condominiums to large estates. Killeen recently relocated to San Luis Obispo. He may be reached at 310-968-0765.

Richard Killeen discovered an affinity for Spanish design as a child, touring the halls and chapels of California’s missions. Today, as an interior designer, he has found more reasons to admire this earthy and elegant style. “It blends well with the California terrain. And even though a lot of pieces have some formality, it’s very livable,” he said. “Styles go in and out of favorability, but Spanish is something I never tire of.”

Spanish is not an off-the-shelf look; you may not find authentic pieces at your standard home boutique. Killeen offers ways to achieve this time-tested style without hopping on a flight to Barcelona.

Be authentic

According to Killeen, Spanish design doesn’t lend itself to eclecticism.

“You don’t want to mix and match too much,” he said. “If you want to bring in a few focal pieces like a Spanish chair and a couple pieces of art, that’s fine.”

Mixing styles just leads to a hodgepodge within which true Spanish flavor is lost, he said. Killeen likes to stay fairly authentic, but realizes it is not always easy to do. To fill in the gaps, he is comfortable using convincing substitutes. Also, a piece of Indonesian or Mediterranean furniture won’t spoil your design scheme.

“If you put Spanish elements around it, it will look Spanish,” he said.

Start at the front door

The front of your home offers a glimpse into your personal style. If your front door has a light stain or paint, paint it a dark brown. Clavos, which are handmade nailheads, add an authentic detail. Set a dark wood bench and fountain on the front porch. If you don’t have the space or budget for a tiered fountain, opt for a large birdbath. You can even plant the birdbath with succulents.

To go a step further, you can add on a front courtyard with white stucco walls and an iron gate.

“The wall could be as low as 30 inches, so you don’t need a permit,” Killeen advised.

Floor to ceiling

The backdrop for the interior décor is just as important as furniture and accessories, according to Killeen. For floors, he prefers Saltillo tiles that he touts as inexpensive, kid-friendly and dog-friendly. Remember that, even when sealed, Saltillos will darken and stain a little — but that’s not necessarily a problem.

“In Mexico, a little staining on Saltillos is considered a good thing because the floor takes on more character,” he said.

If you prefer wood flooring, go with a dark wood in a distressed or aged finish.

For walls, he primarily uses three colors: bright white, gold or blue. The gold should be a “true gold” — not metallic, not bright, but somewhere between yellow and brown. Dunn Edwards’ “Madera” is an example of a Spanish gold. The blue should be a muted cornflower, not too bright and definitely not pastel. Stenciling adds Old World Spanish character. Try a stenciled wainscoting at chair rail height that runs around a room or up a staircase. You can section the wall into two colors for more interest.

“You don’t want perfect lines where the two colors meet,” he noted. “Just add the stencil on top of that line.”

Fireplaces should be stucco, but if a remodel isn’t in your budget, try adding an iron fireplace screen. Killeen then likes to add a sun-motif mirror above the mantel.

Ceilings are important in Spanish design. For a strong dose of Spanish character, add heavy, rough-hewn beams. Or, you can simply paint the ceiling an interesting color, or embellish with stencils.


It isn’t easy to find Spanish furniture, said Killeen. Consignment and thrift shops have become his top resources. One of his favorite pieces, a Spanish daybed that sits in his bedroom, came from SLO Consignment Furniture. At the San Luis Obispo Hospice thrift store, he purchased two Spanish antique reproduction chairs for $35 each.

His best advice is to acquire a few authentic items and remake the rest to look as authentic as possible. A dark wood piece can easily be embellished with dark bronze clavos nailheads. A wood frame chair looks distinctly Spanish when you add fringe or tassels around the base of the seat. Killeen revamped his simple dark wood dining table by adding clavos to the apron and encircling it with Spanish chairs.

When using non-Spanish wood furniture, look for a dark finish and heavy carving. If it is simple in form, it should have a chunky profile. Rustic is good, as is Mediterranean. English works if it is Jacobean furniture, which is massive and richly carved.

As for textiles, Killeen offers two options. First is tapestry fabric. Pomegranates, primitive birds, heraldic crosses or Moroccan patterns have the most Spanish flavor. The second option is even simpler: gold velvet, which he calls “the staple fabric of Spanish design.”

Use velvet or tapestry to upholster furniture. Have pillows made to bring Spanish style to a simple traditional sofa or club chair. Hang drapes made of velvet or tapestry fabric on a twisted wrought iron-style rod with rings. According to Killeen, many major furniture lines offer traditional upholstered pieces in gold velvet, such as rolled-arm sofas or chairs.

Art and accents

Wrought iron is a key element in Spanish design. Killeen’s house has an abundance of custom-crafted wrought iron in his house, including his banisters, lighting and accents.

Candles and candlesticks add ambience. These can include antique altar candles, iron candelabras, and inexpensive ceramic candleholders in gold and blue. Set them in clusters or rows. Most Spanish art is of a religious nature.

This includes wood santos, which are carvings of saints. Authentic antique Spanish santos may be pricey, however.

“They can be substituted with less expensive plaster or concrete which you could paint yourself,” he said, adding that there are a myriad ways to find Spanish décor that is both affordable and completely one-of-a-kind.

Reach Rebecca Juretic at

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