Today we’re excited to debut a new series, Celebrating Roots, where we explore the influence that heritage and culture have on our homes.
When we set out to design and decorate our homes, more often than not we turn to sources such as Pinterest, HGTV, and our favorite shelter magazines to draw inspiration. We find ourselves bookmarking pages and pinning our way through color palettes and furniture pieces, feverishly scoping out the latest trends to guide us in creating beautiful interiors. But for some, the story of creating home is much more deeply rooted in culture, heritage, and/or religion. Such is the case for Lena Fuentes and her family in their Sacramento, CA home.
Photography by Shavonda Gardner | Portrait courtesy of Lena Fuentes
Lena is of Brazilian and Chinese descent and grew up with Jewish influence, while her husband, Felipe, is Mexican American and was raised Catholic. Growing up, Lena explains, “the question ‘What are you?’ made me feel like I had to choose — Chinese or Brazilian? As I matured, I came to love my uniqueness and embraced my ethnic roots, viewing them more as entwined versus tangled.” As a result, the couple’s daughter, Iliana, is engulfed in a multicultural atmosphere enriched with history. “My husband and I both have so much culture to share between the two of us which we do through food, language, music, and art. Applying these influences through design in our home is a perfect way to keep our daughter, Iliana, exposed and surrounded by her heritage and ancestry.”
When Lena and Felipe decided to make the move from Los Angeles to Sacramento, they set out to make their home into a modern Mexi-ranch, as Lena calls it. “Our design goal is elegant, timeless, and inviting — a home that looks lived in and filled with items that have a story to tell — like the Chinese art that was gifted to us as a wedding present, or the artisan clay sculpture that we brought back from our visit to Capula, Michoacan/Mexico, or the Asian contemporary chairs that I found at an estate sale.”
When asked how her culture influences her design style and choices, Lena says, “I gravitate to what makes me feel good. I attribute that to my parents who always had items in our home that reflected the cultures they brought with them when they immigrated to the United States in 1968. My father left China in 1949 and eventually lived in Brazil for years while in Architectural School studying under Oscar Niemeyer. Their home in America was filled with mid-century furniture, creations by Brazilian artisans, Chinese artifacts, good Bossa Nova and Samba music, and on rare occasions, Chinese opera.”
“Our home in Sacramento,” she continues, “shares the same influences of those cultures as well as the added Mexican culture that we embrace such as wall art, furniture, accessories, and pops of bright colors that are reflected in our home. You might spy Chinese ginger jars and dolls, Calaveras ( Mexican skeleton art), bird cages, black wrought iron objects and pewter, just to name a few.”
Lena also shares that when it comes to specific decor pieces in her home, she feels an especially close and meaningful connection to them, particularly as it pertains to preserving the past. “I have a lot of picture frames in our home. Every second that goes by becomes our past so I like to have pictures of events, moments, milestones, that remind us of such. Also having pictures of grandparents and great-grandparents are a solid reminder of who came before us. If not for them, there would be no us. Photographs that encourage storytelling are the best connectors to our culture and history.”
The Fuentes family is also heavily involved in politics and social justice issues. They’ve honored that part of their lives by way of art in their home as well. “Many art pieces that we own are by Shepard Fairey. His iconic [piece] OBEY hangs in our dining room. Two that speak to us the loudest are his pieces on Immigration Reform and Love Unites. Both our parents came to this country as immigrants … if we all trace back far enough, all of us have immigrant beginnings. Our parents became citizens, and we absolutely support immigration reform and equality for all.”
“There is a place to express your culture and heritage in any specific category of design. Be creative and be mindful that your home is a direct reflection of you and can be diverse as you are. It is your safe haven where you can exhale and feel good in every room. Trends are hard to resist but you can incorporate your culture and heritage in your home decor to make that trend your own. If it makes you feel good, find a place for it in your home, otherwise you are just living in a house with stuff.”
There is a place to express your culture and heritage in any specific category of design.