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11 Things We Love About Mediterranean Architecture

Mediterranean architecture enjoys enduring popularity for so many reasons. It’s easy to find Mediterranean influences in many regional styles of architecture. From the Spanish Colonial Revival of the 1920’s, to the popular Mission Revival style, and modern Mediterranean style homes with Italian Renaissance details, people are passionate about their homes and the Mediterranean lifestyle they embrace. To celebrate this inspiring design style, we’ve made a list of the top things love about Mediterranean homes.

Spanish Colonial History

Mediterranean architecture in the United States has deep roots in Spanish Colonial history. Early Spanish settlers built in their traditional style, which was well-suited to the hot Southern climate. Spanish architectural features like clay roofs, enclosed patios, decorative tile work and water fountains are still popular in modern Mediterranean home designs. For places like California and Florida, Spanish revival homes provide a reminder of local history and an architectural link to public buildings that were designed in this timeless style.

Courthouse in Colonial Revival style Santa Barbara CA

Courthouse in Colonial Revival style, Santa Barbara, CA

Italian Renaissance Influences

Italian design influence is abundant in Mediterranean architecture. Arched colonnades and ornate carvings date back to Roman times. Elegant details inspired by the Italian Renaissance, like decorative ironwork and carved and painted ceilings, have reappeared in Mediterranean revival homes since the 1920’s. 

Red Clay Roofs

Commonly known as Spanish style roofs, red roofs are actually common all around the Mediterranean. Roofs made from local fired clay have been used for thousands of years. Fired clay is a durable roofing material that lasts for decades; the iconic clay color immediately brings to mind the Mediterranean architectural style and Old World charm.

Stucco Walls

Stucco is a durable exterior coating that’s popular on Mediterranean home designs. It’s actually inspired by an ancient coating called lime wash, which was used to protect stucco and stone homes for thousands of years. Made from dissolved limestone, lime wash hardens into a durable white stucco. The white color also helped to keep homes cool by reflecting the strong Mediterranean sun. Modern Mediterranean houses often feature painted stucco in a range of earthy colors. These homeowners chose an apricot-tan color for the exterior to create a warm, inviting facade:

Modern Mediterranean with stucco exterior in Mountain View, CA; Saikley Architects

Modern Mediterranean with stucco exterior in Mountain View, CA; Saikley Architects

Stone And Terracotta Floors

Both stone and terracotta floors are traditional features of Mediterranean homes. Not only are they long-lasting, they help to keep interiors cool. Spanish Colonial Revival homes often have red clay Saltillo tile flooring both indoors and out, accented by painted and glazed decorative tilework called Talavera (after the town where they are made).

Saltillo and talavera tile floor, c. Kerry Ann dame

Saltillo and talavera tile floor, c. Kerry Ann Dame

Patterned concrete flooring has become popular in the last decade in Mediterranean style interiors. This ancient material offers the look of an inlaid stone floor, but is far less expensive than marble. This modern kitchen shows its Mediterranean design influence in colorful patterned floors:

Modern Mediterranean kitchen with patterned tile floor, Mountain View, CA; Saikley Architects

Modern Mediterranean kitchen with patterned tile floor, Mountain View, CA; Saikley Architects

Wood Beam Ceilings

Wood ceilings are a hallmark of a Mediterranean home. Whether they are humble Mission Revival beams or heavily carved and painted ceilings, wood ceiling details add a sense of history and rustic charm even in newly-constructed homes. Much of today’s Mission Revival architecture features simple stucco ceilings punctuated by wood beams. However, the original Spanish Colonial Revival buildings from the 1920’s often have ornately carved and painted wood ceilings.

Carved and painted wood ceiling, Spain; image courtesy of Kerry Ann Dame

Carved and painted wood ceiling, Spain; image courtesy of Kerry Ann Dame

Arches And Colonnades

Arched doors and windows, and covered porches supported by rows of columns (called a colonnade) are Mediterranean design elements that date back to the days of the Roman villa. Porches serve an important purpose by creating shade in a hot climate. Their arches also help create the elegant geometry that is a hallmark of Mediterranean buildings. In revival buildings we see both half-round and elongated arches that are based on historic Spanish and Italian Renaissance designs.

Patio with arches and columns, Casa Joaquin Hotel, Cordoba

Patio with arches and columns, Casa Joaquin Hotel, Cordoba

Ornate Decoration

Mediterranean revival homes built in California and Florida in the 1920’s are known for their patterned tile in vibrant colors. Handmade borders and accents from Talavera and Catalina are used to add color and pattern in bathrooms, kitchens, and patio areas.

Authentic mauve and green bathroom

Authentic mauve and green bathroom; image courtesy of Sarah Schoeffel @sarah_in_southpark


Talavera tile fountain, Casatile

Talavera tile fountain, Casatile

Ornate decorative tiles are traditionally used on stairways both indoors and out. This Tucson home, designed in 1929 by architect Trent Thomas, features colorful Talavera risers on the outdoor stairs:

Talavera steps, image courtesy of Davidson Perry-Miller

Talavera steps, image courtesy of Davidson Perry-Miller

Spanish Style Enclosed Patios

The Mediterranean patio is an outdoor area that’s usually enclosed. In Spain, the patio is in the center of the home, but in other areas of the Mediterranean the outdoor area may be a walled terrace. These shady areas are cooled by fountains and potted plants and offer the perfect place to escape the heat of the day.

Traditional Spanish patio, Cordoba

Traditional Spanish patio, Cordoba

Fountains And Pools

Water features play an important role in Mediterranean architecture. Fountains, pools and rills have been used for thousands of years to circulate cooling water through homes and patios.

Indoor-Outdoor Lifestyle

One of the biggest influences of Mediterranean architecture on the American way of life is the seamless flow between indoors and out. Brimming with original 1920’s details, this covered porch is the perfect place to relax year round.

1920’s Spanish Revival home with stone porch floor and outdoor fireplace; image courtesy of Davidson Perry-Miller

1920’s Spanish Revival home with stone porch floor and outdoor fireplace; image courtesy of Davidson Perry-Miller

When you have a shaded patio cooled by a fountain, it’s appealing to spend time outdoors even on a hot day. In this modern version of Mediterranean style, doors from the living room and bedroom open directly onto a shady stone patio with a fountain.

Stone patio with fountain, Mountain View, CA

Stone patio with fountain, Mountain View, CA; Saikley Architects

Take a moment to think about all of the useful and beautiful design features we’ve inherited from Mediterranean architecture. It’s hard to imagine life without a relaxing patio, vibrant color, or the rhythm of symmetrical arches. It’s no wonder people who live in a Mediterranean revival home are so passionate about restoration, and so determined to stay put.

Images courtesy of Saikley Architects, Kerry Ann Dame, Instagram @sarah_in_southpark and Davidson Perry-Miller