A house is not a home. Home is the familiar smell that hits you walking through the front door, your dog, your family photos, and your art. It’s your bed, your grandmother’s dining table, and the trinkets and crystals on your altar. It’s a sanctuary filled with all of the pieces of you. Home is the place where you know exactly who you are.
“I love coming back home and being surrounded with things that have some connection or meaning to me,” Aimee LaCalle tells me. An avid traveler and founder of her eponymous Santa Fe–based textile design company, LaCalle makes soft home goods, like bedding, table linens, and fabric, which she envisions as emblems of self-expression.
As LaCalle traveled to Iceland, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Galápagos Islands, and more, she gathered treasures and brought them back to her own home. Looking at her congeries, the designer realized she could help her clientele bring the best parts of the world into their homes by making destination-inspired collections. If the print on a bedspread transports you to a warm beach, or napkins recollect your favorite forest, they’re transcending the usual human-to-inanimate-object relationship.
Founded in 2015, Aimee LaCalle has produced three collections, including Dordogne, honoring the lush region in the French countryside, and San Miguel, inspired by the paradisiacal Mexican town San Miguel de Allende. The creative team spends weeks on location, absorbing the details of each place before beginning the design process. They study textures, colors, and patterns, from the color of a woman’s dress to the specific shade of green on an alley wall or the fractals in a tiled bartop.
I love coming back home and being surrounded with things that have some connection or meaning to me
Paying homage to her homebase, LaCalle created the Santa Fe collection. The design team took steps beyond simply drawing inspiration from the Santa Fe milieu and instead collaborated with two local artists: fashion designer and textile artist Patricia Michaels and photographer Ja Soon Kim. The collection is composed of twelve designs with names like “Paseo,” “Pueblo,” “Antler,” and “Forest,” with three each created by Kim and Michaels and the other six made in house. Bold shapes on large swaths of negative space are fresh and contemporary, while a neutral and earthy palette keeps them grounded in their namesake destination.
I met with Michaels, Kim, LaCalle, and LaCalle’s vice president of creative services, Courtney Marse, on one of the first warm afternoons early this spring. With pink buds hanging from the branches outside the window, we sat at a dining table set with Kim’s “Seed” motif tablecloth and napkins and talked about the design process. While the two artists followed diverging creative processes, they were united in drawing their primary inspiration from the natural world.
Michaels was raised in Santa Fe and traveled often to Taos Pueblo, where her family is from. She drew from her Native American heritage to create the mythology behind her pieces for LaCalle’s collection. “Our culture is about nature. Without it, we’re denying everybody’s roots,” Michaels says.
The fashion designer estimates that she created about fifty new works for the collection, some as small as a quarter and others on large textiles that she draped over her bed, bathtub, and dining table. “I wanted to have the feeling of walking through this creative process,” she says of the depth of her approach.
“If it’s a duvet with eagle feathers on top, you’re going to feel cozy and protected. So that when you’re dreaming you’re going to have a beautiful flight of dreams.”
Titled “Antler,” “Dragonfly,” and “Eagle,” Michaels’s designs in the Santa Fe collection are wrought with symbolism rooted in her Native American culture. It’s important to Michaels that she takes tradition and reimagines it to make it her own. “Coming from a traditional family where my grandfather was the leader of the village, we were raised that this belongs to the village and not you… So, right from the get-go, we were taught that ceremony stays in ceremony.” Michaels says reinventing traditional symbolism allows her to both share its beauty and keep it sacred.
The feather motif featured in the “Eagle” bedroom set is painted with sharp lines set into forward motion, a motif Michaels imagines to visually represent strength. She considered the people who would sleep beneath the feathers as she painted them and the energy the feathers impart. “Dreams are important,” she says. “If it’s a duvet with eagle feathers on top, you’re going to feel cozy and protected. So that when you’re dreaming you’re going to have a beautiful flight of dreams.”
While Michaels draws natural elements into her expressive paintings, Kim creates her photographs using the natural elements she borrows from Mother Earth. She photographs meticulously arranged rocks, shells, flowers, leaves, bits of cacti, and branches that she forages on hikes in places like the Santa Fe National Forest and the beaches on Oahu. Spending hours setting each item in its place before photographing the composition, she creates constellations of exquisite treasures.
Kim’s images revel in the simplicity of minutiae, such as pine cones, heart-shaped rocks, and seed pods. Kim sees magic in all of the gems she culls from the ground. She tells me she sometimes hunts for material with her young grandchildren, whose fascination with these simple objects is genuine and untarnished.
As Kim—who is also a yoga teacher—speaks about her process, she is full of reverence. “There are a lot of pictures in my [Instagram] feed from this forest I go to often. I go there—not in the winter but the summer—almost every week. And I always find something I haven’t seen, and that just really excites me. It’s my meditation,” she says. “It calms me. I think when you’re in a place like that, you know exactly who you are.”
The titles of Kim’s designs—“Feather,” “Forest,” and “Seed”—honor her findings. The images Aimee LaCalle chose to adapt into textiles were ones Kim took before meeting LaCalle or knowing about the textiles project. LaCalle wanted to stay close to Kim’s consistent style of composition, so it made sense to choose existing images.
Kim has a mantra about her photography: everything you need, you have in front of you. “There’s really no plan, I’m just doing what I’ve been doing all my life,” she says. “I don’t really go to a special place to take a picture. I am very against that. A lot of young Instagrammers, millennials, they will do that. Don’t go far. Don’t drive over there and waste gas. Take an environmentally conscious photo.”
She shot solely on an iPhone for years and has no formal training, but photography is in her blood. Her father was an avid photographer who took his kids along on weekend trips to meet friends and take pictures of the beautiful outdoors. That experience, combined with her natural inclination to pick up beautiful things, makes her art come easily. “I am always out foraging. When I lived in Hawaii, I collected shells, and I’ve had gardens in everywhere I lived,” she says. “I think I’m just a nature child.”
As I sat with these artists in Aimee Lacalle’s downtown showroom, Kim and Michaels saw each other’s work for the Santa Fe collection for the first time. There was a buzz of excitement as they asked each other questions about processes and tools. Eventually, our conversation wandered to Plaza Blanca and the love we each have for the White Place. As these women, who are part of the present creative flow in Santa Fe, gushed about a place Georgia O’Keeffe herself visited frequently, I was struck by the timelessness of the creative cycle: people pass, but inspiration does not. There’s something magic in this earth. Georgia knew it and so do these collaborators.
This textile collection captures some of that Santa Fe magic and lets you bring it home. Home is the place you feel most yourself, especially when it’s a curio of things that spark your memory and your heart—or recollect the natural peace you felt hovering amongst the adobe.