In This Article
If you grew up in certain parts of the country, it can be easy to forget the influence that Spanish colonialism had on America. With so many elementary and high school textbooks tracing the United States from the pilgrims to the Revolutionary War, over 400 years of Spanish rule in what is the modern-day U.S.A. gets tossed by the wayside.
In areas that were once part of Spain, however, you can still see evidence of that centuries-long rule, particularly in place names and architecture. Today, one of the most visible reminders is Spanish-style homes that draw design elements from Spanish colonial building styles.
What Is a Spanish-Style House?
Spanish-style homes are inspired by colonial architecture under Spanish rule and incorporate many key design elements like stucco and terracotta roof tiles. In the United States, they are most common in areas that were ruled by Spain, like Florida, California, and the Southwest.
While you can find Spanish-style homes all over the country, they are most common in areas that were under Spanish rule. The states with the most properties described as Spanish-style are California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Florida. While they are more common in those states, they are still relatively unique: about 1% of listings in those areas are Spanish-style, compared with only .11% nationally.
Many of these Spanish-style homes are also relatively new: periods of revival, especially in the 20th and 21st centuries, have lead architects and designers to draw inspiration from an area’s past without being totally bound to it. Modern and revival Spanish-style homes offer reinterpretations of the aesthetic, often mixing elements and including nods to more contemporary sensibilities.
What Makes a House Spanish-Style?
Spanish-style houses vary widely but have a few common features that set them apart from other American home styles, particularly the English-inspired revivals. Spanish colonial houses draw strongly from Meddieterian building styles. Many of the utilitarian elements meant to make homes cooler in a hot climate, like stucco walls and terracotta roofs, are now beloved details of this design style.
Revival houses, which were built starting in the late 19th century, also include features like exposed beams, wrought iron banisters, and colorful tiles. Inside, many of these homes feature tile as well as exposed stucco walls, though more modern constructions may look otherwise traditional.
- Terracotta Roofs
- Stucco Walls
- Small Windows
- Wooden Support Beams
- Local Materials
- Wooden Support Beams
- Visible Wooden Beams
- Domed Ceilings
- Decorative Tiles
- Wrought Iron
The History of Spanish-Style Homes
While you can still find many Spanish colonial-era buildings and churches throughout America, most homes you see are part of the revival movement. Starting in the 19th century, and inspired by events like the world’s fair, architects began to build houses that harkened back to Spanish rule. Many cities also chose to design public buildings and spaces around a unified, Spanish-inspired style.
Spanish Revival homes, like any revival movement, aren’t exact replicas. Modern elements were included, like glass windows and second floors. Other features combine design elements from different areas and eras, like the Spanish Baroque and Moorish Revival. Mexican architecture movements have had an influence on the development of Spanish-style homes in the U.S. as well.
The Different Types of Spanish-Style Houses
While most Spanish-style homes were built in the last 150 years and would fall broadly under the Spanish Revival movement, there are different styles of the revival that can be found throughout the U.S.
The Mission Revival movement saw homes as well as public buildings built in a style reminiscent of the Spanish missions. These relatively simple structures were primarily in California. Facades often resembled the missions themselves, with arched entrances, low roofs, and even bell towers. Walls are typically stucco with tiled roofs.
Popularized in the 1920s and 30s, Pueblo Revival took elements from indigenous design as well as Spanish. Pueblo revival homes typically have flat roofs, thick stucco walls, and visible, rounded roof beams, or “vigas,” that can be seen inside and extending out from the home. Many have walled courtyards or patios. More traditional Pueblo Revival houses are a red earthen color, though they can also be painted white or even bright colors.
The Spanish-style homes found in Monterey are fairly unique, and can often be traced back to one man. Thomas O. Larkin’s homes were first built in 1835, predating the Spanish Revival period by half a century. His homes, however, typify much of what we expect from a revival design: borrowing references across time and culture to make something that feels truly unique. Inspired by English and French homes as well as Spanish, Larkin’s homes had adobe walls and a flat roof. Unlike many other Spanish-style homes, however, they also feature upper and lower balconies, typical of French homes. The exteriors are also symmetrical, which is more common in English Colonial style-homes.
Wherever Spanish colonizers built homes, they used local building materials, giving Spanish colonial buildings in Florida a different look and feel from similar structures in California. Similarly, different leaders of the Spanish Revival movement in different parts of the country-influenced local building trends. In Florida, you will often see fewer of the simple, stucco structures of the Southwest. Instead, Florida Renaissance homes (and those that came after it) borrow more heavily from Baroque and Moorish influences. Decorative columns, geometric window shapes, and ornate facades typify this type of house.
Modern constructions pull from all previous periods of Spanish Revival and are often grouped together under the umbrella term “Spanish Eclectic.” These homes can have the split-level shape of a ranch house, but with terracotta roof tiles and stucco walls. Other elements that have historically been rare in Spanish-style architecture, like bay windows or brich, can be found. Often, these homes pull inspiration from Renaissance, Baroque, Puebla, Moorish, and even previous Revival styles all at once, making them truly unique.