Plans from American Builder

Am. Builder Plans


Home > Articles > Original Sources > American Builder Magazine

Characteristics of the Spanish Type

by V. L. Sherman, American Builder, May 1927

The discussions to follow on the characteristics of different types of homes relate to somewhat delicate subjects. The study of architecture implies a style of the history of architecture, but it should demand a study of history, or, better still, of tradition. Just now American is fortunate in having a variety of traditions from which to draw in building the more pretentious homes.

1927 Spanish Style Elements

The Spanish type of home has a full quota of ancestors. Going back to the beginning, we contrive to find Spain with every type of climate, from a warm, moist west coast, up the hills to a sharp, vigorous atmosphere and landscape, across a dusty, flat, treeless plain, and down to a nearly tropical Andalusia. Weather of all sorts, topography of all sorts. Then we have the inhabitants. The original natives have lost themselves like the American Indians, the Romans control the country, the northern barbarians succeed the slipping Romans, and they in turn slip so far as to be run out of the picture by the spreading Mohammedans.

Rome always left her mark in roads, walls, bridges and monuments, especially masonry arches. The Goth at that time left nothing that was not useful, and he had little use for anything. But the Mohammedan spreading from his tribal life in Arabia took a long a patient culture of his own, picked up his workmen en route, and by the time he had dusted himself off and settled in Spain, he was ready to enjoy himself. Since he stayed there many centuries we hope he did, for some of his architectural mark are still worth striving for.

Taking it all around Spain is a rough land in some respects. Hence the Spaniard has exceed most of us in methods of providing enduring comfort. His ease is not a matter of laziness, but a consequence of studied decorum. When he is at home he is certainly "at home." He is as much averse to spring house-cleaning as I am. and therein lies the secret of the the Spanish type. It is devoid of dirt catchers. On this practical side we wish to point out that the plain stuccoed walls, tile and little or no paint, simple composition, awnings, or very plain shutters or grills, in fact, "nothing elaborate: marks the real Spanish house. For its chief characteristic we should put down "plain."

Now, "plainness has a closer relation to beauty" than any word I know. Most plain things have been reliev ed of all the non-essentials and are therefore comforting. And most plain things have arrived at that state by a long process which has provided better taste in selection. For example, Fig. 4 shows a house wall that would look blank to many. It is even quite Mexican and stands, no doubt, in a rather hit, bright locality. Suppose there were more windows, a payment, and a show of roof. Would the place be comfortable to the eye and would the cluttered shadows show up so well? Scarcity of these windows and doors indicates that there is an inner court cool enough to persuade the owner that he is little interested in the stranger's viewpoint.

In Fig. 6 we come to a hill land and a more generous setting. You may notice here that the best type doesn't not stickle for form or structure. The roof is cedar shingle. And a balcony roof is also shingled. There is not a white of detraction in that. (If necessary you can put on wheat straw thatch and a five-eights pitch roof and be as Spanish as ever.)

This house has a chimney where every one can see it. When you are tempted to hide the chimney to prove your Spanish style think of what chills Don Quixote suffered for lack of a hearth. Bear in mind, please, that reference is not made to the Mexican desert type of house nor to those localities where the real estate man never heard of a natural frost. This deals with such places as you will find in the western hills, or the plain ranchos, or along the warmer seacoasts.

Fig. 5 shows a porticoed entrance which includes an elliptical masonry arch and a pointed series on typical spindles. Both are true to form, but as separate examples. The inadequate Moorish pillars with the heavy ornamental arches are real beauty, even if the Moors themselves did bolster them with timbers, and they can furnish a fine contrast for the plainer background. But an elaborate background will tend to muss it all. These arches curtaining a walk or terrace will give inspiration to a gardener.

In Fig. 6 you will see a peeling stucco disclosing a rough masonry. The climate was too wet for the plaster, so so it was in Spain, perhaps. However, the wall would look better intact. Here it would be well to pint out that Spanish types do not bar brick or stone masonry. Many of the handsomest are so composed. But what all of the walls do require is color, as Alhambra, the red, or the total of all colors, pure white.

On the inside the building is often plain in the extreme to allow an assortment of personal effects. More than in any other dwelling the furnishings of a Spanish home are personal. Not knickknacks, or a set of period furniture, or "a few good etchings," as Bunker Bean puts it. The rooms are, therefore, on a more intimate standing, there are arches instead of doors, and consequently less trim. Since the owner may require to walk in or out more readily, windows reach to the floor in many places.

The walls are usually build for convenience with niches for shelves and deep set window ledges for seats. The fireplace is part of the wall, but a fireplace nevertheless. The ceilings may be low, beamed, or smooth, or for coolness, as high as you like. The chimney shown in Fig. 7 would look much better under a high ceiling. The floors are smooth and hard and usually dark.

Source: Sherman, V. L. Characteristics of the Spanish Type. American Builder, May 1927, 140–141.

More Reading

© 2008–2015 — Antique Home Style

Books, ETC.