Everything You Need to Know About Mediterranean-Style Homes

mediterranean style home

Design: Calimia Home; Photo: Jeanne Canto.

With a stucco facade, tiled roof, and wrought iron details threaded throughout the space, let's face it— Mediterranean homes are all the rage. But, unless you live in one yourself, much of this architectural style remains a mystery. Where did it come from? Are all Mediterranean homes the same? And, after all these years, why is this style still so popular? That's exactly why we turned to Michael Burch and Diane Wilk.

Meet the Expert

Michael Burch, FAIA, and Diane Wilk, AIA, are the principals of Michael Burch Architects. Burch is regarded as "the greatest living practitioner of the Spanish Colonial Revival Style," and the firm's projects have been featured in Architectural Digest, Town & Country, and Veranda, among others.

As principals of their California-based firm, Michael Burch Architects, the duo specializes in Spanish Colonial Revival and Mediterranean styles. To enhance your architectural education, Burch and Wilk are breaking down everything you need to know about Mediterranean-style homes.

mediterranean style homes

Design: Michael Burch Architects; Photo: Tim Street Porter.

What Makes a Home Mediterranean-Style?

Before we dive deep into the world of Mediterranean-style homes, it's important to know exactly what this type of architecture entails.

"Much of the characteristics of Mediterranean style homes are based on adobe architecture and the 'pueblos blancos' (a.k.a. white cities) of Spain," Burch explains. "Large expanses of plain stucco walls, tile roofs, and tile floors are common along with strategically placed jewels of decoration such as wrought-iron work, fancy door surrounds, and decorative tile work." 

Another thing to look out for is an emphasis on indoor and outdoor living. Burch says that Mediterranean-style homes are all about giving Mother Nature some extra love, so it's common to find spaces with ramadas around courtyards.

mediterranean style homes

Michael Burch Architects

The History of Mediterranean-Style Homes

Mediterranean-style homes might be having a moment right now, but the hype was decades in the making. According to Wilk, Mediterranean-style homes first broke onto the architecture scene in the 19th century—and eventually become the dominant home style in California during the 1920s.

"To address the excesses and stylistic chaos of the Victorian period, architects strove to simplify architecture and look towards a connection to history," she explains. "Architects thought that by referencing at the architecture that was appropriate to climate, environment, and culture, they would find an appropriately modern way of building."

Mediterranean-style homes began to fall out of fashion in the 1940s as modernism became the trend du jour. However, Wilk says the modernist movement allowed architects to view Mediterranean-style homes through a new lens.

"Post-Modernism allowed architects to start looking to the past (again) to find historical forms they could incorporate back into their designs," she says. "Around the 1990s, developers were starting to build more 'authentic' versions of Mediterranean and Spanish Colonial Revival structures. The success of these developments has supplemented a new interest in the style."

mediterranean style homes

Design: Michael Burch Architects; Photo: Melba Levick.

Why Are Mediterranean-Style Homes So Popular?

Trends might come and go, but there's a reason why Mediterranean-style homes continue to be one of the most in-demand architecture styles—especially in warmer climate areas like California. For starters, this style exudes an easy, breezy, and decidedly West coast aesthetic. "The style is romantic and appeals to the senses," Burch explains.

Of course, there's more to this architecture style than good looks. Burch says that Mediterranean homes are designed with California's climate—especially Southern California's weather—in mind.

"Designed properly, the style is naturally sustainable and was developed over centuries in climatic conditions similar to those found in California," he explains. "The stucco walls and tile roofs with minimal overhangs are inherently more fire-resistive than other styles of architecture and helps cut down fire risk in wildland fire zones, especially when paired with Mediterranean and desert landscape designs."

Practical and aesthetically pleasing in equal measure? It's not hard to see why this style has transcended time and trends.

mediterranean style home

Design: Michael Burch Architects; Photo: Hester+Hardaway.

The Different Types of Mediterranean-Style Homes

Though Mediterranean-style homes might seem like a cut and dry architectural trend, they offer plenty of variety. Within this one broader design style are smaller categories, each with its own set of nuances. Want to become a Mediterranean-style home pro? Burch is sharing the most common sub-styles:

Mission Revival

The Mission Revival was the earliest popular version of Mediterranean-style architecture. Closely affiliated with the Arts & Crafts movement at the time, it was a revivalist style that gave way to the more flexible and historically accurate Spanish Colonial Revival of the 1920s.

Spanish Colonial Revival

These homes, the best versions of which were built in the 1920s and 30s, are very picturesque and often asymmetrical designs. If they have two floors, the second story usually has less square footage than the first. Some architects today are building in this more “authentic” style with carefully designed proportions and details.

Italian Renaissance

More formal than the rambling haciendas of the Spanish Colonial Revival, the Italian Renaissance style of Mediterranean homes are typically symmetrical with two-story front facades.

Modern Mediterranean

This group makes up the majority of Mediterranean-style homes being built today. They feature modernist floor plans and tacked-on elements that make the homes “Mediterranean” such as tile roofs and floors, white walls, wrought iron lighting, and details and tile.

These “Modern Mediterraneans” typically lack the charm and romance of the earlier versions of the style, in part due to their scale, proportions, and detailing, and lack of training of the architect. They are sometimes referred to as “Ersatz Mediterraneans."

Modern Ranch House

This style is derived from early California haciendas.

mediterranean style homes

Michael Burch Architects

The Pros and Cons of Mediterranean-Style Homes

For Burch and Wilk, Mediterranean-style homes have a lot to offer. Not only are they sustainable, conducive to California weather, and easy on the eyes, but they're also pretty versatile.

"These homes are appropriate for both large, elaborate structures as well as small and simple homes," Wilk explains. "They can also be as ornate or as simple as one prefers."

Since they are masters of Mediterranean-style homes, Burch and Wilk don't have many drawbacks to the architecture fad. However, they recognize that this type of home isn't for everyone— especially if you live outside of the Golden State. After all, a Mediterranean-style home might look out of place in a forest or mountain region.

"Some people feel more comfortable in modernist structures, or perhaps they grew up on the East coast and their ideal home is a colonial-style house," she adds. "It really has to do with what one’s personal preferences are."

Another thing you'll want to consider before moving into a Mediterranean home is that it could be limiting, design-wise. Since the charming, romantic features are what make these structures shine, you won't want to replace them. In other words, it's a decorating sin to cover those gorgeous stucco walls with wallpaper.

mediterranean style home

Michael Burch Architects

How to Decorate Mediterranean-Style Homes

As the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. However, when it comes to Mediterranean-style homes, it's important to decorate them with their standout architecture features in mind. For that reason, Burch and Wilk recommend keeping the décor simple. For best results, opt for dark wooden accents and source vintage finds from retailers that specialize in Mediterranean style. But, above all else? Savor your space.

"Have fun and enjoy the romance of this uniquely California style," Wilk says.

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