Welcome back to Period Dramas, a weekly column that alternates between roundups of historic homes on the market and answering questions we’ve always had about older structures.
This week, we're leaving the northeast, with its brick and clapboard houses largely influenced by English architecture, and heading west—southwest to look at a few homes influenced by the early Spanish colonies established in the southern—and later, western—areas of the as-yet-unsettled United States.
Instead of the wood, stone, or brick construction usually found along the eastern seaboard, Spanish colonial houses of the 17th and 18th centuries were constructed out of adobe, a mixture of mud and chopped straw, which was then applied as a sort of plaster usually on top of bricks fashioned out of the same material. When the architectural style was revived in the 1920s and 30s, builders sometimes swapped out the adobe for stucco or some other form of plaster, but the look remained similar.
Hallmark interior details of these homes included ceilings made from long, narrow timbers (known as latillas) supported by large, hand-hewn wood beams (known as vigas), that were usually circular in shape. Fireplaces were also common, but unlike those found in the northeast, this style—known as kiva fireplaces—were shaped like a bell, with a rounded flu and arched opening to the firebox.
Located in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, these houses represent Spanish colonial architecture—both true to the late-18th century and during its revival in the 1920s and ‘30s.
Santa Fe, NM (6 bedrooms, 7 bathrooms, $3,600,000)
We might as well start off with the most impressive home in today’s roundup. Not only does this 10,000-square-foot home have an impressive footprint, it also has an impressive history. Originally built in the late-1700s as a fortress, the adobe structure was purchased in the mid-1800s by Sergeant Francisco de la Peña, an officer in the Mexican army.
The house has all the telltale signs of the Spanish colonial style: Many of the rooms feature vigas, and some of the rooms showcase latillas, or the smaller wooden slats and logs that the larger cross-beams support. And the kiva fireplaces! There are more than we can count. We especially love the ones decorated with tile and paint.
The real draw of this urban estate, though, might be its more recent pedigree. The house was purchased in the 1920s by noted artist Frank Applegate, who, after traveling around Europe and befriending artists like Cezanne and Picasso, landed in Santa Fe, where he set up his studio with a few other artists at this house, which became an epicenter for the Folk Art movement in Santa Fe. He lived here until his death in 1931.
Taos, NM (3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, $750,000)
On the subject of New Mexico and artists, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention Taos, which became famous for the artist colony that developed there in the early 1900s. This three-bedroom house predates all of that—by at least a hundred years.
Built in the late 18th century, it’s hard not to be bowled over by the charm of this house from the moment you see the electric blue front door, which is reminiscent of Taos Pueblo architecture. The house has massive adobe walls, but the most special period detail may may be the incredible exposed vigas across the ceilings. We’re especially fans of the mini barrel vaults in the living room, and the latillas in the kitchen.
And oh, the fireplaces! The house has seven kiva fireplaces, including one in the dining room that’s designed for cooking over an open flame. There’s even a bread baking oven in the back yard—you know, if outdoor cooking is more your speed.
Tucson, AZ (2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, $859,000)
During a revival of Spanish colonial architecture, this adobe house was built in 1938 in the Fort Lowell Historic District of Tucson. Before setting foot in the house, there’s no denying the property has serious curb appeal. The landscaping is unreal.
A cobblestone-lined courtyard, gravel pathways dotted with a multitude of cacti and other desert-appropriate plants, and a backyard patio with blue-and-white tile decorations mean that we’d probably be looking to spend more time outside than in—not that the interiors are lacking.
Besides the traditional adobe plaster walls, we love the wood-clad ceilings, especially in the dining room, where the wood is arranged in a chevron pattern. And yes, for all you fireplace lovers, there are a few kivas to keep you happy.
Terrell Hills, TX (3 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, $1.595 million)
Some Spanish Revival houses looked to Spanish missions for inspiration rather than colonial architecture. Case in point: this 4,739-square-foot home in Terrell Hills, Texas, built by prominent regional architect Atlee B. Ayers in 1929.
Unlike the other houses we have seen, this one features a red-clay-tile roof and decorative perforations above the doorway, which is surrounded with both glazed tile and bookended by two large pilasters.
There is continued use of tile inside, too. Terra cotta tiles line the floor of the kitchen, which features a kiva-inspired fireplace, and the sunroom—predictably bright, thanks to a series of oversized arched doors—has a delightful green-tile pattern on its floor. The foyer also features matching tile work along the staircase and around the front door.
But as much as we love the interiors, which owes its airiness to the generous use of archways, we also can’t deny how fabulous the pool is in the backyard. The terra cotta tile continues from the kitchen—which opens up to the back patio—throughout the backyard, creating the entire pool surround. There’s even a little pool pavilion that matches the house. We know this probably isn’t the most faithful representation of a Spanish mission, but we’ll look the other way, just this once.