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If you've ever traveled to the Southwestern United States, you've probably seen an adobe-style house, a type of home with deep roots in the region's Indigenous history. While many southwestern-style homes share a similar rustic, earthy aesthetic, adobe-style homes share some unique features that make them a practical choice for dry, hot, and extreme climates.
What Is an Adobe-Style House?
Also known as Pueblo-style homes, adobe-style houses are homes constructed of natural, durable materials and featuring thick walls and flat, rounded roofs — making them ideal for dry and harsh climates like the Southwestern United States.
According to New York-based architect Carmen Larach, adobe-style houses are a type of vernacular architecture (a design style belonging to a particular region or country) that's generally constructed using natural, sustainable materials like dried mud, clay, and straw bricks. "Also known as Pueblo-style homes, they're perfect for dry and harsh climates, which is why they're so popular in southern California and the Southwest," she says.
Read on to learn more about the history and key features of adobe-style houses.
Meet the Expert
Carmen Larach is principal designer at Charles Diehl Architect LLC, a boutique full-service architect in New York.
What Makes a House Adobe Style?
Given their unique history and functionality, most adobe-style homes have the same key characteristics. For example, according to Larach, adobe-style houses usually have flat roofs with rounded edges and an extension of the roof that serves as a barrier to collect rain water, a precious resource in hot and dry climates. The walls of an adobe house, Larach says, are generally thick with blunt angles to absorb heat and keep the home's interior cool during the day.
On the inside, adobe homes are just as functional, with concrete or tile floors to maintain a cool temperature in the hot climate. Many adobe homes look rustic on the inside, with wooden beams supporting the roof and a fireplace nestled on the main level.
Here are some other features you can expect from an adobe-style house:
- Natural and earthy colors
- Often constructed with mud, clay, or straw bricks
- Strong, waterproof foundation
- Flat roofs with rounded edges
- Thick walls with blunt angles
- Commonly, outdoor lounge space or rooftop gardens
- One- or two-story floor plan oriented around a central courtyard
- Deep-set windows
- A beehive-like fireplace typically set in the corner
- Low lighting in the bedrooms, but high lighting in the kitchen
- Exposed vigas, or wooden beams, to support the roof
- Benches built into the walls
- Upper floors set back behind main floor
History of Adobe-Style Houses
According to Larach, the history of these houses dates back to the Indigenous Pueblo and Hopi tribes, who are two of the many Indigenous nations from the Southwestern United States. Many of these homes incorporate Spanish design with Indigenous building materials due to Spanish colonization. "Mexico also has a rich history of Adobe-style houses dating back to ancient civilizations like the Mayans and Aztecs," she adds. (It is important to note that the Mayans and Aztecs still exist today.)
Adobe-style homes have a unique, rustic look, but their features are rooted in functionality. For example, the thick, natural walls provide protection from the elements, while the flat roof with a parapet (extension of the wall) collects rain water so it doesn't go to waste. Small windows also helps keep the interior space cool on hot, sunny days.
Today, adobe-style homes are most commonly found the Southwestern United States. Cities such as Santa Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico require specific design guidelines in their historic areas, making these types of homes even more common. Florida and Southern California also house many adobe-style homes due to their hot, extreme weather.
The Different Types of Adobe-Style Houses
Adobe-style and Pueblo-style homes are generally synonymous, so they share key characteristics. But Larach says there's another type of home that, while similar aesthetically, has some fundamental design differences.
Pueblo Revival Homes
While adobe-style homes tend to use adobe brick materials, Pueblo Revival homes often use masonry and stucco instead of the quintessential sunbaked mud bricks, creating a heavier look. Often, their roofs aren't flat, but sloped with clay tiles. "But most true, adobe-style homes are all constructed with the key elements of the design," Larach says.