Interviews

Off Duty With Veronica Ortuño of Las Cruxes

Written By James Kicinski-McCoy

Photography by: The Bleu

While I was in Texas a few weeks ago with my family, I drove out to the small town of Elgin, which is about 20 miles east of Austin, to meet 30-something Veronica Ortuño, Founder of Casa Veronica, an interior design firm and Las Cruxes, a creative services and retail business she built that is a culmination of all things art, fashion, music, and culture. When I pulled into the little town, a feeling of calmness and an appreciation for the slow pace of simpler living came over me — it’s quite appealing. The town was quiet, quaint, and cute. Veronica’s home, a beautiful Victorian farm house, was just a couple of blocks from the main street composed of beautiful old buildings and mom and pop shops. It was early morning when I knocked on Veronica’s door. She greeted me with a friendly smile and a hospitable offer of breakfast tacos that her husband had just left to pick up.

The house was charming and Veronica wasted little time before showing me around the thoughtfully furnished interior. We spent the next hour and a half talking about the story behind her historic home, her passions for being a driven small business owner, along with the recent transition to small town living. It was a morning very well spent, and I left with a small token of our time together — a stunning, hand-crafted, Oaxacan candle that you will see sprinkled throughout each room. It’s now sitting on my living room shelf and brings a smile to my face each time I see it. Let’s dive into the interview.

Mari Cruz Cotton dress from Oaxaca. Vintage belt. Maryam Nassir Zadeh Olympia Wedges.
Mari Cruz Cotton dress from Oaxaca. Vintage belt. Maryam Nassir Zadeh Olympia Wedges.

What’s the story behind your lovely home and how long have you lived there?  “It is a Victorian farm house built in 1905. It is our dream home. We bought it by a fluke in November of last year and have lived in Elgin since. It’s good energy, and the space we have keeps me from ever wanting to leave, so I spend a lot of time working on projects from home.”

What are a few favorite things you cherish in your home and why?  “All of our family photos dispersed throughout. I enjoy looking at them as reminders of where we come from. My husband and I are trying to be better at shooting film, so we don’t lose all the memories we’ve made to our phones. I also love these Oaxacan candles made by Grand Master Viviana Alavez Hipolito and her family. She created this elaborate design when she was just ten years old, and has since been making candles in her village of Teotitlan del Valle for three generations. They have a sacred process for producing them, so I cherish each one very much. Finally, an Italian design chair from the 1970s that I found at a yard sale here in Elgin. I met the previous owner, Nancy, at the Round Top Antique Fair where she had a booth selling pieces she’s collected for over 30 years. It was fate when I found out she lived just three minutes from us, though sadly, she’s recently relocated to North Carolina.”

Tell us about the art in your home.  “Most are artworks made by friends or prints we were drawn to. Las Cruxes’ previous home was a retail space and art gallery where I curated around 35 art exhibitions. I was fortunate enough to be gifted an art piece by the artists from some of those shows. The nudes are by artist Emma Kohlmann, a cherub by Lauren O’Connor, hand-dyed and woven textile by Ana Esteve Llorens, paintings by Philip Harrell, and a drawing by me. There’s a few others we need to put up.”

Where do you find / shop for home decor?  “We get most of our pieces from The Tattered Shutter and Martha’s Market here in Elgin. We live two blocks from the main strip, so I do a weekly or bi-weekly walk over to the antique stores to see what other treasures I find.”

How do you typically spend a day off when the work can wait?  “Swim, garden, clean the house, read books, and watch movies and trash TV.”

Do you sleep-in on your days off?  “Absolutely, I love my beauty sleep.”

How many times (if any) do you hit snooze?  “Honestly, about six times every morning. I have to set my alarm an hour earlier than I need to wake up to account for the snoozes.”

What’s the very first thing you do when you wake up?  “Give thanks, brush my teeth, drink water, make coffee or tea, and light an incense to welcome the day. If my mornings aren’t full, I’ll meditate for at least 11 minutes.”

What’s on your bedside table?  “Rosewater spray, Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970–1979 by Tim Lawrence, and My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.”

Can you suggest a few of your favorite, must-read books? All About Love by Bell Hooks, In Praise of Shadows by Juni’chirō Tanizaki, In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan, The Spiritual Journey of Alejandro Jodorowsky by Alejandro Jodorowsky, and The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.”

Favorite Netflix series / movie? Queer Eye! All the hosts seem warm and approachable, like they’d be fun to hang out and gossip with. Each story is touching, and I admire the way the hosts — all being gay men — can bridge the gap between being who they are and the sometimes small town conservative personalities that appear on the show. It’s incredibly humanizing. I’ve ugly-cried a handful of times watching it.”

Any good podcasts you recommend?  “I listen to Democracy Now while I work to stay up-to-date with current events and typically listen to audiobooks while I clean to keep my mind in motion.”

Coffee table books and magazines you love?  “Lately, I’ve been into Map Pointz: A Collective Memory by Guadalupe Rosales, highlighting the ’90s SoCal Latino / a party crews and rave scene, and Serious T’ings A Go Happen: Three Decades of Jamaican Dance Hall Signs by Maxine Walters. Be Here Now by Ram Dass is a staple at my house.”

Favorite candles?  “Twenty-Four-Seven Glam by Tyler Candle Company in Tyler, Texas, which I stumbled across at a shabby chic store here in town — everyone falls in love with this scent when they come over. I also love No.03 and No.04 by Maison Louis Marie.”

What are your hobbies?  “I’m an obsessive researcher whether it’s design, interiors, music, films, books, etc. I do significant research to help inspire specific projects I’m working on. I’ve been doing a radio podcast since 2010 that I host on our site, where I make music mixes or invite friends as guests to share mixes they’ve assembled. Aside of that, I enjoy finding new recipes to cook, my husband and I go out to ride our dirt bikes, or I play pool and lots of Scrabble.”

Night in or night out? How do you spend it?  “Nights in listening to music, making dinner with friends, having drinks and socializing, ending the night with karaoke.”

Song on repeat?  “This Summer, it’s been Bad Bunny feat. Drake by MIA, and Ariana Grande’s Thank U, Next.”

Signature scent?  “I always wear sandalwood oil as a base and alternate between Mondo Mondo Cowboy, Olo Darkwave, and Coqui Coqui Coco Coco Perfume.”

Describe your personal style / style philosophy.  “Timeless staples with a pop of color or prints to give each outfit an element of fun. I love combining unexpected colors and fabrics to keep things fresh. I wear pieces that feel easy, at times unconventional perhaps, but make me feel good and empowered.”

What’s the one thing in your closet you would save in a fire?  “This gorgeous Japanese silk blouse that I bought at my friend Kanako’s store, Dumpster Values in Olympia, Washington. It has such good energy and got me through some heavy weather, while I was living in the Pacific Northwest. I adore the fan pattern and have sewn and re-sewn the sleeves so many times that it’s utterly unwearable. I’ve even displayed it as art in one of my previous bedrooms. I’m not too tied to my garments, but I think I would save this one.”

Favorite vintage find of all time?  “Being the owner of a store, you come across a lot of special pieces over the years, but my most memorable have been Beth and Herbert Levine Kabuki shoes, ultra rare 1950s Saks Fifth Avenue lucite sandals, a reversible Japanese Sukajan jacket, and more recently, I’ve been over the moon for this bedazzled maxi dress I found on Etsy from Latvia. I’m obsessed with the rhinestone details and high slits at each side. I’m looking forward to wearing it if and when I become pregnant.”

What do you wear when you’re spending the day comfortable, at home, and off duty?  “Usually a slip dress and no undergarments.”

Who, what, where inspires your style the most?  “Traveling! I get inspired by different places, cultures, and colors. I observe how people exist naturally in their environment and take notes on how effortlessly stylish they are and how they wear certain things.”

What are three things on your want list?  “A 1964-67 Ford Mustang, a piano, and a horse.”

Your five wardrobe staples, go…  “I always wear my wedding ring and my gold Virgencita de Guadalupe necklace, a scrunchie or French hair clip, easy tee / tank, 501 jeans, or slip dress.”

Favorite designers / brands and why? Super YAYA, Mondo Mondo, Priscavera, MNZ, Come Tees, Eckhaus Latta, FAUX / real, Martine Rose, Sophie Andes Gascon, Telfar, and Jacquemus are all contemporary brands with an individualistic vision and spirit. There’s plenty more I could name!”

Very favorite online shop?  “Oof, so many. Ebay and Etsy have been my longest loves though.”

If you could raid one person’s closet (dead or alive), whose would it be and why?  “Björk. She is the reason I got deeper into fashion in my teens. She’s always supported incredible, eccentric brands such as Comme des Garçons, Issey Miyake, Margiela, Hussein Chalayan, Alexander McQueen, et al. and has championed and exposed me to smaller, lesser known independent brands. She has a style all her own and is such an icon for me on many levels.”

Your favorite vintage clothing stores in ATX?  “Blue Velvet, Room Service, Laced with Romance, Prototype, Mutual Feelings, Charm School Vintage, and Lo-Fi.”

Dresses or jeans?  “Tough because I love both, but since it’s summer, I’ll go with dresses.”

Heels or flats?  “Some friends nicknamed me ‘Miss Heels’, so there you go.”

Vintage or new?  “Vintage.”

Breakfast / brunch of choice?  “Matcha avocado smoothie, huevos rancheros, or breakfast tacos.”

Coffee or tea? How do you take it?  “Both! Add vanilla oat milk or honey.”

Favorite ATX cup?  “The Percolator or green energy shot from Juiceland.”

Fave cookbooks?  “A recipe zine created by artist Susan Cianciolo titled This Cookbook is Made for Jesus.”

Priscavera slip dress. Issey Miyake top. Maryam Nassir Zadeh shoes.
Priscavera slip dress. Issey Miyake top. Maryam Nassir Zadeh shoes.

Your go-to dinner recipe when at home?  “We’ve been on a heavy plant-based diet, so I’ve been following recipes from this site. When not on a strict diet, my go-to dish is creamy cilantro pasta with shrimp: marinate and cook shrimp with lemon juice, avocado oil, oregano and Italian spices, red pepper flakes, garlic, onions, and salt and pepper. Then, cook pasta of your choice (I usually go with wheat penne), drain, and fold into shrimp and spices, adding more as desired. Top off with creamy Cotija cilantro sauce and feta cheese.”

Favorite ATX restaurant and your go-to order? Justine’s Brasserie. Start with the escargot, salmon cru, and endive salad; bolognese for dinner. End with an espresso martini or creme brûlée.”

Regular Postmates or takeout order?  “Take out. I don’t think we have delivery services in Elgin, Texas yet.”

Any supplements you take / magic elixirs you make or swear by?  “Sunflower essence, Vitamin D, Omega-3, B-12, and Adrenal Cortex. I eat a clove of raw garlic and take a shot of apple cider vinegar when I feel a cold coming on.”

Any most-loved kitchen gadgets?  “I love our handmade mortar and pestle that we got in Oaxaca, and we were recently gifted an Oster food processor that has changed our life.”

How do you stay active? Do you work out?  “I try to swim as much as possible and do yoga or water aerobics weekly. Since we live close to everything in town, I’m on foot a lot and walk to and from work, three minutes away.”

What does self-care look like for you when you’re off duty?  “I meditate in the mornings when I can and go to therapy bi-weekly. Martini or mezcal and a movie on the couch. I love applying a face mask and getting in a bubble bath with detoxing clay and bath salts before bed.”

You decide to treat yourself, how do you indulge?  “Full body massage, acupuncture, Chinese cupping, and reflexology; facial and mani-pedi.”

Tell us a bit about what you do.  “I own and manage Casa Veronica, an interior design firm and Las Cruxes, a retail / creative services business. I am also the Studio Manager for a studio / events space in Elgin called The Open Room. I’m never bored and thoroughly enjoy all the work I do.”

How has your career path transitioned over the years?  “I’ve always been driven and a hustler when it came to building a career for myself. I have worked since I was 13, getting experience in different fields over the years from administrative work, nannying, retail, service industry, design, management, event production and so on, striving to one day be my own boss. At age 25, I became the owner of my first business, while maintaining multiple jobs to help finance it. I’ve been freelance a little over a year now, so that makes me feel really good. I hope to continue expanding and evolving my vision and see what other doors present themselves.”

Who / what has been your biggest inspiration?  “My family. As a first generation Mexican-American, I think about all the sacrifices my grandparents and family have made to create a life for us. That alone keeps me going.”

What does a typical work day look like?  “Depending on what job I am focused on that day — make daily checklists, emails, go on buying trips, pack orders, go to the post office, schedule appointments, create floor plans and mood boards, send out newsletters, design graphics, shoot photos and edit, maintain and update website, etc. Never a dull moment in the office.”

Typical work lunch?  “Salad bowl or smoothie.”

Keys to productivity?  “Making daily checklists is my life. There’s few things more satisfying than checking off or scratching out a task. I don’t allow myself to socialize without my checklist being completed. Creating playlists and listening to music, that keeps me focused and motivated. When I need a break, I go outside and water the flower beds and plants to reset.”

Can you tell us how you remedy being in a creative funk? What puts you back on track?  “Having at least one full day of unplugging from all social media and the Internet, rest, and self-care.”

Any advice to other women looking to start a career in your field?  “Try not to doubt yourself and don’t be afraid to take risks. Work hard and allow room for mistakes. Don’t be too prideful, ask for help when you need it. Go easy on yourself and remember that it’s okay to evolve and start over. Nothing and no one is perfect. Try not to compare yourself to those around you. No complaining if you can help it; stay centered and humble.”

Any exciting news or projects on the horizon?  “We’ll relaunch the new Las Cruxes site in August and shift our trajectory a bit. We’re producing a music event with composers Sarah Davachi and Sean McCann in September, and in the midst of helping co-produce an exciting music event in Dallas slated for October. Casa Veronica will be going back to Detroit and Los Angeles at the end of the year to continue working on interior design projects. If all goes well, I’ll go to Tokyo to support one of my clients’ projects, so I’m putting that out into the universe now to see if I can manifest it.”

Written by: James Kicinski-McCoy

James Kicinski-McCoy is the 40-something Founder and Editor-In-Chief of The Bleu. She likes tequila, picks fights with her husband so she can have the bed to herself, and is trying to figure out that work / life balance.

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