When looked at individually, the nearly two dozen countries in Europe, Africa, and Asia that surround the Mediterranean Sea have wildly different design histories and aesthetics. However, as Mediterranean style began to gain popularity in North America from 1918 to 1940, designers and architects pulled inspiration from elements that were the product of the region’s temperate climate, including durable materials like stucco and clay tiles that were able to withstand rain, sunlight, and hot temperatures and large windows that allowed air, sunlight, and scenes of nature into the interior of the home. Although Mediterranean style has evolved over the years, it still maintains many of the elements that made it a popular choice of architectural design in the early 20th century.
History and Inspiration
Although the Mediterranean region is made up of a wide range of countries in three continents, Mediterranean style is really rooted in Spanish and Italian influences. Over time, it began to include elements from additional locales, such as France, Greece, and Morocco, but the earliest examples of Mediterranean style in North America actually took their styling of Spanish Baroque from examples seen in Mexico and Peru. Xenophobia lead to an aversion of admitting homes were being styled after Mexican designs—especially within the more formal upper-class that was more capable of building similar houses—and the style was originally given the name of Spanish Revival. Mediterranean style is also referred to as Spanish Colonial, Moroccan, Mission Revival, and Neo-Mediterranean.
The main hubs of Mediterranean style in North America were California and Florida. Both states have Spanish histories and enjoy climates that are similar to the Mediterranean region, making them perfect for integrating Spanish aesthetics with architectural elements that blend both indoor and outdoor spaces. While Mediterranean style was originally used almost exclusively for public places like hotels and seaside resorts, architects in California and Florida wanted to incorporate the leisurely aesthetic into homes for more affluent clients who enjoyed more laid-back lifestyles. Throughout the 1920s, Mediterranean style exploded in popularity for those looking for a way to showcase their wealth and leisure.
Key Elements of Mediterranean Style
The main objectives of Mediterranean style are to showcase leisure, wealth, and nature through the use of materials, decorative arches, and the blending of indoor and outdoor spaces.
Arches: The use of arches comes from Italy where they were common in Roman architecture. More ornate archways will utilize colorful tiles or glass mosaics.
Hard Floors: Stone or flagged floors are often found in temperate regions such as the Mediterranean because they keep interiors cool on hot days and can radiate stored heat when the temperature drops at night. Often, Mediterranean houses will have floors that are a decorative feature because they use colorful and intricately patterned tiles.
Indoor-Outdoor Spaces: Because the Mediterranean enjoys weather that stays fairly consistent and warm throughout the year, most homes in this style will blend indoor space with outdoor space with a patio, terrace, balcony and/or atrium.
Red Tiled Roofs: Mimicking the clay roofs of Spanish and Mexican missions that expand up along the coast of California, Mediterranean style utilizes red, semi-circle roofing tiles. The arch shape allows water to run off the roof easily while the inner hollow space captures pockets of cool air to help keep the home more temperate on hot days.
Stucco: A type of cement that looks a lot like plaster in its texture, the use of stucco in the Mediterranean is two-fold. Firstly, it protects surfaces from rain, sunlight, and hot temperatures and secondly it is able to retain cool interior air on warm days and then radiate the stored warmth throughout the night as temperatures drop.