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How to Recognize Mexican Country Style

Mexican country style embraces the well-made, hard-wearing furnishings and artifacts that are popular in the Southwestern United States as well as south of the border. Here are some insights about this decorating style.

Tips:
Learn about antique Mexican pieces at top-tier galleries. Look at the bottoms of furnishings to see whether the nails are modern and whether joints are glued, both of which indicate newer origins. Old paint - even peeling, with coats of various colors showing through - should be kept rather than stripped to preserve the furnishing's value.

Mexico, ruled by conquering France and Spain for a time, shows the influences of Europe in its furnishings as a result. Some colonial-type pieces can be ornate and very fine. Others are strictly utilitarian, heavy and a bit awkward, but charming nonetheless.

Warnings:
Some Mexican furnishings contain lead paint. Always err on the side of caution when dealing with these pieces, especially when children are around. You may want to avoid peeling paint altogether or seal it with a wax or hand-rubbed oil finish to keep it (and its lead content) from becoming airborne.

Steps:
1. Look for antique pieces that show the passage of time, such as wooden tables whose edges have been worn smooth from use. New pieces are likely to have a satiny finish from varnish or wax, or they may have been distressed.

2. Check for signs of repairs, such as tin strips to secure a wobbly piece of wood; this won't hurt the value because it adds character.

3. Examine a piece to see whether it has been recycled (doors from an old house become the doors for a television armoire) or altered (the straight legs of a tailor's table cut down so that it works as a dinner table). Again, this probably won't affect the value in a Mexican antique (unless it's a fine piece, such as a carved desk) the way it would an American piece.

4. Find out what the wood is. Mesquite, sabino (Mexican cypress), cedar or heart pine are commonly used by Mexican woodworkers and artisans.

5. Scrutinize the craftsmanship of the joinery. Mortise-and-tenon joints, dovetailed drawers and marquetry inlays may be used.

6. Study the flat surfaces for clues to origin. Chiseled-looking tabletops may represent the chip-carving of Michoacßn and Oaxacan regions. Thick tops are typical of ranch areas such as Jalisco and Durango. Chihuahuan artisans like wood cutouts in their work, and scalloped table skirts are trademarks of central Mexican regions such as Zacatecas.

7. Choose coordinating accessories. Old tools such as sugar molds as well as clay figurines, baskets, pottery and pewter can be used.