When you step into a home that's raised six children — the telltale signs are fairly easy to spot.
There's makeshift furniture lovingly crafted by small hands. Scuffed edges, limited wall space, artwork that documents a different age and stage and, perhaps above all else, there's a whole lot of love.
For Denise Cortes — a painter, writer, and stay-at-home mom of six — her bold and beautifully expressive Los Angeles home boasts all of the above — and a little bit extra.
"My partner and I would drive around the neighborhood and look at houses. We'd dream of a humble, safe place to raise our family," explains Cortes, when asked how her technicolor home first came to be. "We stumbled across this house right before the Southern California real-estate market really skyrocketed. As soon as I walked through the door, I could see the potential."
As a painter, Cortes' home serves as an extension of her canvas. Vibrant colors coat the once-white walls and pattern play reigns supreme. Tacked paintings and small studies create a gallery wall that serves as a shrine to her children, her Mexican-American heritage, the female form, and her admiration for all things Frida Kahlo. Nothing in Cortes' home is too precious to handle or off limits from sticky fingers. The artist finds most of her favorite pieces sifting through vintage stores, local yard sales, or sitting on the curbside — something Cortes admits she's quite proud of.
When her children were really small, Cortes would source and bank her favorite pieces, in the hopes that they would one day be on display. Cortes is an artist with a practical outlook on creating a home — she's also a mother, above all else.
"We have lived here for 18 years, so you can imagine how many changes this space has gone through," Cortes pragmatically explains. "I live at home with my six kids, aged 13 to 21, and our dog, Doeboy."
With an eye for color and the confidence to use it, Cortes fills her home with pieces that ring true to who she is. Quirky signage, painterly work that she's dreamed up herself, photographs, and vintage ceramics all have a home here. Cortes has carved out a space that resonates with her family, here and now, while harking back to her roots.
"I’m heavily influenced by Southern California, I think because I’m a born and bred California girl," she explains. "My Latinx culture, the sun, native plants, graffiti, indigenous Mexican and Native American motifs of this land, color, and patterns — it all inspires me."
Step over the threshold and into Cortes' home, and you're immediately struck by her passion for where she comes from. A verified melting pot of L.A. culture collides on four walls — sinuous nudes, thumbnail-sized portraits of Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, and a rainbow bright canvas decorate the primary living space.
Like many artists, Cortes' home informs her creative practice. "It's been my space since day one," she admits. "As a stay-at-home mom, I quickly learned to weave my home life with my creative work life. In the beginning, I carved out a small space for myself on the kitchen table and as time went on, I began writing and creating a solid body of art, I rearranged our living spaces to make a small studio for myself — that was a game-changer for me."
Move through to the family's kitchen, and Cortes' passion for bold, bright colors is hard to miss. Floor-to-ceiling tiles via Floor & Decor decorate the hub of the home, while the cabinetry is awash in Sherwin-Williams' Indigo blue paint. A tiny sign — and fitting reminder — sits above the stovetop reading: "Through the drama, I can always depend on my Mama."
"I like to think of my home as one giant mood board," explains Cortes. "The art I display, the fabrics I hang, the colors I paint, the plants and their trailing leaves, the furniture I have repurposed. My children inspire me by just existing," she says, of her role as mother.
"They are my first works of art. I want them to see me as a person who fiercely loves them and raised them at home, but also never lost sight of who she was as a person — and as an artist."
Vintage blue glass vases decorate the window sill, perched alongside assorted houseplants sourced everywhere from Piep to Home Depot. The neighboring dining space, with its blue walls and worn dining table and bench seat, personify Cortes' own outlook. It's welcoming and there's room for everyone.
"I learned really quickly that nothing could be too precious or too expensive with young children," she explains. "With little-to-no budget for decorating, I relied on second-hand furniture that I had painted, vintage pieces passed down to me, art I made, or created by my children’s father, or my artist friends, and a lot of plants. I collected and stored items of furniture that I knew I would be able to display, one day, when I didn’t have little ones running around."
"Rasquachismo or rasquache is a Chicano expression and aesthetic of using whatever you have on hand, and making it beautiful," explains Cortes. "In Spanish, the term rasquache means “leftover” or “of no value." I think this perfectly describes the uniqueness of my home. I’m not shy about filling it with unconventional or repurposed items. It all points back to my Latinx culture, art of all styles. Sentimental items like my Nana’s crochet tablecloths, that I reimagined as window coverings."
Cortes' art studio, a sacred space that once served as an extension of the family's open-plan living room, is where her work-from-home days begin and typically finish. A wall-spanning vintage painter's table, Woven Wanderland macrame wall hanging, and artwork by her nearest and dearest dress the ballpoint blue walls, while Cortes' easel — found at Richeson & Co. Art — holds pride of place. Assorted IKEA furniture keeps the room aglow, as Cortes' puts brush to canvas.
"Chicano art and its narrative has been a huge influence in both my life and my work since I was a teenager in college. Frida Kahlo will also be an eternal creative reference. For me, living boldly is about living as authentically as possible, honoring your ancestors and whatever is most sacred in your life," Cortes explains.
"While I paint, I meditate on my life and focus my intentions for my business and my family. I weave in between all three mediums throughout the day. I love the freedom I have to work from home, take a break and meet a friend for an iced coffee or take my kids to the local skatepark — then I come back and keep working."
Throughout Cortes' home, you wont find anything with a hefty price tag. Each colorful canvas on display is a custom creation, or a gift from someone special. Cortes is a firm believer that when it comes to decorating your home, you must first ditch the rulebook, then get creative — and keep it real.
"My home is a sacred place, so I fill it with things I love — my family, friends, and objects that resonate with my soul. Fill your space with things that mean something to you. Your home should reflect who you are and what you are about — it should create a vibe that makes you happy!" she smiles. "And above all else — do you."