Houses That Say Olé

Tempt prospective buyers with warm, inviting styles inspired by Spain.

November 1, 2004

If you've ever lived in or visited the south or southwestern United States, you're probably familiar with Spanish house styles. Features like red tile roofs, stucco siding, and decorative wrought iron are traditional favorites in areas where Spanish colonists first settled.

However, Spanish-inspired details tend to crop up in unexpected places. A Craftsman Bungalow might have ceramic tiles in bright Mexican patterns, while a Contemporary Ranch could have ornamental wrought iron window grates. And although we tend to associate Spanish architecture with warmer climates, features associated with Spain can be found even in snowy northern states.

Many cultural influences helped shape these appealing homes. Spanish, Portuguese, and Moorish details often combine with Native American building techniques. The housing styles we think of as Spanish actually embrace the entire Mediterranean world and beyond, resulting in amazing variety. You'll find Spanish ideas expressed in each of these very different styles.


The first homes built by Spanish colonists were simple one-story structures with low roofs, small windows, and thick masonry walls. By the mid-1800s, Spanish Colonial ideas mingled with English Colonial building techniques to create more complex two story houses with the same thick masonry walls and with long, narrow porches on the upper level. The town of Monterey, Calif., became especially known for these two-story Spanish homes, but today the Monterey style can be found in all parts of the United States. With their porches tucked under the main roof, these homes are very similar to the related French Creole style. Their Spanish flair comes from details like stucco siding and low, tiled roofs.


The word "Mission' is often used to describe a type of furniture built by Stickley and Craftsmen School designers who were on a mission to create beautiful, functional things. In architecture, however, the word Mission means something quite different. Mission is an early 20th century house style modeled after quaint churches built by Spanish missionaries in colonial days. You can recognize a Mission style home by the fanciful rounded parapets rising from the roof. These stucco-sided homes are also noted for their rounded dormers, arched entry porches, and playful round or quatrefoil (four-petal) windows. Some Mission style homes even have mock bell towers suggestive of the old Spanish churches.

See photos and learn more about the Mission style from

Pueblo Revival

The practical adobe structures built by Pueblo Indians inspired a 20th century house style known as Pueblo Revival. These homes have flat roofs supported by vigas, or heavy timbers that extend through thick stucco- or plaster-coated walls. Rounded corners and low rounded parapets give Pueblo Revival homes the soft look of hand-shaped clay. Pueblo Revival homes take on a Spanish flavor when they are ornamented with carved posts, beams, and corbels. However, the relatively simple shape of Pueblo Revival homes makes them very adaptable. Some are jazzed up with Art Deco designs, while others are stripped of ornamental details, creating the streamlined look of Art Moderne. The term Territorial is sometimes used to describe Pueblo Revival homes with wooden trim around the windows and brick detailing in the parapets.


When the Panama Canal opened in 1915, a spectacular exposition in San Diego introduced the United States to a flamboyant Spanish baroque ornamentation known as Churrigueresque (pronounced chi-ree-ga-resk). The name comes from Churriguera, a 17th century family of Spanish architects and sculptors. In Spain and Mexico, Churrigueresque buildings were elaborately ornamented with towers, spires, and open curving shapes. In 20th century America, Churrigueresque architecture became a Disneyesque display with fountains, reflecting pools, pagodas, and enormous stone urns. You are most likely to find this type of unrestrained ornamentation at grand estates and lavish vacation resorts. However, a more modest home can have Churrigueresque flourishes. Look for wooden doors, mantles, or banisters carved with elaborate swirls, or highly intricate fountains and sculptures in the garden.

View examples and lean more about Churrigueresque from the San Diego Historical Society Web site.

Spanish Eclectic

Newer homes usually don't fit neatly into a single category. Instead, designers and builders borrow freely from a range of styles. Your Spanish-inspired listings may include a home with a Monterey style porch and Mission style parapets. Or, you might see a Mission-like house dressed up with Moorish details like pointed arches and coiled columns. Depending on where you live, you may have heard Spanish-inspired homes called Southwestern, California, Hacienda, Santa Fe, Santa Barbara, or – to suggest a broader scope of cultural influences – Mediterranean. Because these homes can't be easily classified, many designers and builders prefer to use the term Spanish Eclectic. Spanish Eclectic homes have any combination of these features:

  • Flat or low roofs
  • Red clay roofing tiles
  • Parapets
  • Stucco siding
  • Arched entryways
  • Heavy carved wooden doors
  • Decorative wrought iron
  • Decorative floor and wall tiles
  • Ceiling beams
  • Walled courtyards


Residential Styles & Structural Elements

French Provincial

Balance and symmetry are the ruling characteristics of this formal style. Homes are often brick with detailing in copper or slate. Windows and...