Deep Dive: Spanish Mediterranean and Colonial Style
I’ll admit it. For a good part of my life, the appeal of the Mission, Spanish Craftsman, and Santa Fe vernacular was lost on me, probably because my firsthand familiarity with them was far from authentic.
Maybe geography can be blamed for at least some of my ignorance. Growing up in the northeast in the 60’s and 70’s, my exposure to Spanish architecture and interiors was mostly limited to movies shot in Southern California and broad stereotypes. Yet for all of those years, I grew up with furniture that had a distinctly Spanish feel — it was “Mediterranean” style and was having a very hot moment on the cusp of those two decades.
Which is probably why I developed a blind spot—if not distaste—for that particular “Old World” look . After all, isn’t generational rejection the fuel that keeps the furniture and fashion industries humming? My parents’ furniture was well-made enough to last a hundred years, but we kids had no appreciation for it, because it was just too… familiar.
So no matter how many beautiful examples of Spanish revival and mission styles I’ve been exposed to since (Hollywood celebrity estates, anyone?) it took a long while before I actually saw what I was missing.
The Other “American” Colonies
So what are we talking about? Spanish styles that were brought over between the 16th and 18th centuries to settlements and colonies throughout Latin America, Mexico, and what is now Texas, California, Florida, and parts of the American Southwest. (If “American Colonial” only conjures up the Windsor chairs and Chippendale highboys and the 13 English colonies, blame our Anglo-centric lens for letting us forget that Spanish-American Colonies existed at the same time in a much bigger swaths of the American continent than the puny Eastern seaboard.
Spanish Empire influences include: Arab (aka Moorish), Gothic (with some Baroque thrown in), and Italian. While its ornamentation can be extraordinarily intricate, the overall vibe is sturdy. Chairs and tables have stretchers and trestles; furniture legs might be heavily carved but they’re rarely tapered or curved.
Some Terms To Know
Mudéjar - something of a catchall term to describe any furniture that combines Moorish and medieval Spanish aesthetics from about 1200-1700 CE. Mudéjar furniture can be recognized by the intricate geometric ornamentations, use of inlay or veneer, and brighter colors of wood or other materials.
Churrigueresque - A baroque style of elaborate architectural ornamentation that emerged in Spain in the late 17th century with strong Italian influences.
Plateresque - literally, "in the manner of a silversmith", usually referring to ornate and baroque metalwork in architecture and facades.
Vargueno (or Bargueño) a wooden cabinet of medieval origins that became a common article of furniture in the Spanish colonial empire from the late 16th century onward. Its major component is a chest with a drop front. Sort of the counterpoint to an English or French secretary.)
What to Look For
Of course, most Spanish colonial furniture was, by necessity, less ornate and more concerned with function than its counterparts in Europe and northern Africa. But certain characteristics have survived and flourished in the new world for the last three centuries:
Browse for Inspiration:
Rancho Allegre In Santa Fe : This now-available-for-rental estate was used as primary location for the 2018 movie Ideal Home, which, if not exactly a box-office hit, is worth seeing just for the drool-worthy set decoration, which has more of a warm, authentic Santa Fe vibe than the current décor.
Reese Witherspoon’s Former Brentwood Home: This is an old post, but everything here still holds up as a beautiful example of how to blend Spanish and Midcentury. (We can always count on Hooked On Houses for its amazing archives!)
La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe: Browse this historic hotel’s rooms gallery for the style at its purest.