Spanish Colonial Architecture

Also known as Mediterranean revival, this style shows strong Latin influences and fosters a connection to nature.
By: Douglas Trattner

A Spanish Colonial home is characteristically one with its environment, says Lisa Stacholy, of LKS Architects in Atlanta, Ga. The casual dwellings boast thick stuccoed walls, red tile roofs and enclosed courtyards that extend one’s living space.

"This style dates back to the tail end of the Spanish Conquistadores," explains Stacholy. "It is what they knew how to build, and the style fit the environment."

As the style migrated throughout the then-Spanish territories, these homes began to veer away from the Spanish and Mexican originals. Today the term Spanish Colonial Revival is used to describe homes built in the early 20th century that incorporate various elements of Mediterranean architecture. But as with all true styles, these homes are linked by a set of common physical characteristics.

Key Features

  • Built from indigenous components. Spanish Colonial homes might be made of adobe in the Southwest and coquina rock in Florida.
  • Thick, stucco-clad walls. Thick walls are ideally situated for a hot environment. "Thick walls absorb the day’s heat and gently radiate it back into the building during the cool evenings," Stacholy says.
  • Small, open windows. Smaller windows, originally sealed by wrought iron grates rather than glass panes, are sited on the building to best capture breezes while avoiding the direct rays of the sun. Wooden shutters, when present, are traditionally mounted on the inside of the home.
  • One story. The Spanish Colonial is the ancestor of our ranch-style house.
  • Limited ornamentation. Ornamentation on these informal homes was often limited to arches on entranceways, principal windows and interior passageways. More elaborate homes might feature intricate stone or tile work, detailed chimney tops and square towers.
  • Wooden support beams. Wooden roof supports project out over the exterior walls in classic Spanish Colonials.
  • Inner courtyard. Historically, the courtyard let families move the cooking -- and its accompanying heat and steam -- outside. Today, these patios, porches and courtyards act as informal gathering spots for family, extended family and friends.

Practically Speaking: Hassles and Headaches

In hot, arid climates, stucco-clad adobe walls are remarkably long-lasting. However, when located in colder, wetter climates, adobe bricks can shrink and swell, causing the protective stucco to crack or pull away from the interior wall. These homes might require minor patches or complete resurfacing to prevent serious moisture problems. Cracked stucco can also be indicative of foundation issues.

Many Spanish Colonials were built with flat roofs, which, when not drained properly, can leak. Clay-tile roof shingles are durable lifetime materials that require only periodic maintenance. Check regularly for cracked, missing or out-of-place tiles.

Wooden timbers, both interior and exterior, should be inspected for moisture and insect damage.

Lifestyle

"To me, Spanish Colonial homes are the type where you can’t help but feel comfortable -- the kind where you kick off your shoes at the door and pad around in bare feet," notes Stacholy. With plenty of alfresco gathering spaces, these rambling homes express a sense of relaxation and foster a connection to nature and the surrounding environment.

House Hunting

The style is prevalent in the toasty climates of Florida, California and the Southwest, but Stacholy recommends the Spanish Colonial homes in the sunshine state.

"St. Augustine, Fla., is probably the best living laboratory for Spanish Colonial homes you could ever hope to find," says Stacholy, pointing specifically to that city’s Colonial Spanish Quarter. When it comes to Spanish Colonial Revival style, the stately Casa del Herrero in Montecito remains essentially unchanged from when it was completed in 1925.

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