Design Inspired by Heritage, Travel and Unity
Veronica Ortuño’s creative brand, Las Cruxes, is about “bridging of different ideas and people”
By Hannah J. Phillips
Photographs by Claire Schaper
As a first-generation Mexican American, Veronica Ortuño’s earliest memories are of her mother’s ability to create a comfortable space for the family and guests. Her care and tasteful touches gave Ortuño a deep appreciation for design and décor. As an adult, she found outlets for creativity through her own brand, Las Cruxes, which evolved from a clothing resale site into a creative services company.
She maintained an interest in interior design but didn’t make it her primary focus until a mutual friend asked her to redesign his Detroit office. Pouring herself into the project, Ortuño didn’t realize she was embarking on a journey that would lead to a full-time career pursuing her lifelong passion. We sat down with Ortuño in her Elgin home to hear how she made the jump and what still inspires her today.
To supplement her college tuition while living in Portland, Oregon, Ortuño started selling reworked vintage and hand-painted garments online through her website, lascruxes.com. The name is a nod to her Mexican heritage, deriving from the word “cruces,” which translates to “crossings.” Ortuño’s mission for the brand is to represent the intersection of her various sources of inspiration: art, music, fashion, culture and more.
“Over the years, Las Cruxes has had many iterations,” says Ortuño, “but it’s always been about unity and the bridging of different ideas and people.”
Moving to Austin in 2003, Ortuño established Las Cruxes as a brick-and-mortar and experimental space to support other creatives. Originally located behind Spider House coffee, the store became a hub for local artists, serving as a boutique, gallery and community space, later moving to East Austin due to rising rent. Expressing her love of interiors, Ortuño shared photos of the store’s design through the hashtag #lascruxesinteriors. When an acquaintance emailed saying he had seen the photos and appreciated her taste, he asked whether she might be interested in decorating his office and events lounge in Detroit.
“I had about a week to think it over,” Ortuño recalls, “and I decided to take the opportunity. I visited the sites, sketched out the spaces, met with contractors and somehow became the construction manager. Demo started two weeks later, and it was truly a baptism by fire!”
At the time, Ortuño was also taking an online computer-aided design course to gain industry-specific skills. Combined with her natural eye for design and her childhood passion, Ortuño’s love of learning seems to be the secret to her success. After her Detroit project, she continued taking courses and conducting her own research, joining several discussion groups to find support from other designers.
“I’m constantly amazed at how many resources we have at our fingertips,” she says. For inspiration, she loves scanning books that span different decades and styles. “I’m drawn to the late-’70s, ’80s and ’90s and have dozens of old Architectural Digest issues I often revisit.”
Ortuño also draws inspiration from her Mexican background and travel. While in Detroit, she visited the Detroit Institute of Arts, moved by the glass and clay vessels dating from before the first century.
“The thought of each one surviving such an expanse in history hit me to my core: I could feel the energy carried throughout time,” she says. “It was intense and beautiful!”
Always learning and creating, Ortuño decided to launch her own ceramics collection this year after signing up for a class at the Art School of Laguna Gloria. Offered through The Contemporary Austin, the class allowed Ortuño to explore handcrafted lamps and vessels, which she hopes will live many lives and experience different homes. Her latest collection is a two-handled design inspired by her favorite Greek sculptures and homewares.
From her own heritage, Ortuño draws inspiration from folklore, incorporating elements like milagros (silver and tin votives) and barro negro (black clay) angel candleholders throughout her home. After 15 years of living in Austin, Ortuño moved to Elgin with her husband, Benson Ellis, after falling in love with its historic charm, walkability and welcoming community. The pair found a home from 1905, recently renovated but with original features like arched French glass doors leading into the dining room. Ortuño’s favorite corner is a cozy reading nook beneath another arched window, where she does morning meditations and congregates with friends to listen to records.
In Elgin, she loves sourcing pieces for her home and her clients at local antiques shops like Martha’s Market and the Tattered Shutter. She calls Elgin a diamond in the rough, guarding great treasures for those willing to hunt. The town is close enough to Austin to give access to arts and cultural activities, while still providing an escape from city life.
“I appreciate being able to retreat into the country, away from the hustle and bustle to recenter and decompress,” she says. “Our home is truly our sanctuary.”
Following her mother’s example, Ortuño is constantly making changes around the house. A recent road trip through New Mexico inspired her to design a pueblo-style fireplace for their dining room, and she and her husband are in the beginning stages of adding an en suite bathroom. Where her business is concerned, she hopes to continue building a clientele in Texas, traveling in between projects for more inspiration. “Ultimately, I want to be able to adapt to my clients’ needs and taste, creating spaces that are personal and unique and hopefully not pigeonholed to one specific style.”