Frequently the architectural terms Spanish Colonial, Mediterranean, & even Mission are used interchangeably. In reality the differences can be subtle. The chronology of these styles overlapped each other and they borrowed from one another. To confuse things even more, different regions of the country have applied them differently. In Arizona we frequently look to California because there is an abundance of this style of architecture.
The Mediterranean style is heavily influenced by the architecture of Spain, Italy, Morocco, Greece & Majorca. In the 1920’s the wealthy traveled extensively, fell in love with the architecture of those countries and were eager to replicate it here in the United States especially California & Florida. It was common for the Mediterranean style homes to be built with fixtures & architectural elements imported from Seville & Tunisia, ceramic tiles came from Europe not Mexico. Another major influence was the similarity of the climates of California & the Mediterranean; many Mediterranean plant varieties were imported; cypress, olive, citrus, rosemary, lavender & thyme to name a few. This also introduced pergolas, loggias, patios & terraces and started the desire for dining & entertaining outside.
Common features of Mediterranean style architecture include:
Two story buildings with low pitched hipped roofs with red tile. These homes are generally symmetrical & simple. Decorative brackets under eaves are often seen. Stucco exterior walls. Ornate low leaf carvings highlight arches, columns, window surrounds, cornices & parapets. Many of these homes have decorative vents on the exterior of them. Niches are common. Chimney tops may be elaborate. Loggias and arcades are present. There is often extensive use of tile inside and out.
Windows are an important design statement for every architectural style; they are very important in Mediterranean homes as well. First story windows are often tall or full-height; may be arched or straight. Many have fancy wrought iron grilles. Palladian style windows are typical elaborations on the first floor. Upper story windows are generally smaller & less elaborate than first story windows; the reason for this being lower ceiling heights on second floors. Small second story balconies featuring wrought iron grille work are also common. Front doors may have side lights or an arched transom light.
Pasadena Mediterranean: A Mediterranean home in Pasadena; note the decorative eave brackets at the roof line & the iron grille work at the 2nd story window. The front door is not original.