What Is an Adobe Style House?

Adobe style house

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Adobe-style homes are famous for their unique building materials, iconic looks, and innovative use of the resources found in the southwestern United States. These homes were built by the native Pueblo people. The building blocks are made of dirt, dried grasses, and water, mixed together and then dried into bricks in the sun. The resulting building materials were then used to create these striking homes. 

What exactly do adobe houses look like? What sets them apart from other houses? Learn more about the style and features of these homes.

Fundamentals of Adobe Style

As mentioned, adobe houses are built using the resources available in dry, arid climates, like the southwestern United States. Trees are limited, and therefore it would be very challenging to use large amounts of wood for construction. The native people used earth, grass, and water to create their homes. This created the iconic smooth-walled, adobe-style homes famous in the southwest.

Besides their earthen construction, these houses feature exposed wooden beams, called vigas, on the interior that often protrude to the outside of the home. Aside from serving as a distinct architectural feature, they help to stabilize the earthen building materials. 

The walls of an adobe house are thick and windows are set deeply into the exterior walls, helping shade the home and keep it cool. The innovative design of these homes helps to regulate the indoor temperature, as the earthen materials absorb heat during the day, keeping the home cool. Then, as the nights cool and temperatures drop, the thick walls release the stored heat back into the home, keeping the interior warm. 

Aside from their smooth, stucco-like walls (found both on the interior and exterior) and wooden vigas, adobe-style houses use other natural materials such as tile and concrete for areas like the floors. These materials not only add to the style of the home but reinforce the natural ability of the home to regulate temperature.

Fun Fact

When adobe homes began being built with multiple rooms, it was very common for each room to be constructed with a different type of earth or mud, depending on the use of the room.

Key Features of the Adobe Style

The earthen building materials may be the most significant feature of adobe-style houses, but there are other characteristics common to this southwestern style. One key feature is a flat roof with rounded edges. These often have canals to help collect and drain rainwater. Many times, these flat roofs feature parapets and rooftop gardens. If there are multiple levels to the home, the second level will be set behind the main floor, creating a tiered look reminiscent of the surrounding rocky environment. 

In addition to the deep, recessed windows, benches are often built directly into walls, adding to the smooth lines and connected, layered surfaces of these houses. Rounded edges are common on walls, doorways, benches, roofs, and even fireplaces. Many of these homes feature beehive-like fireplaces set in the corner of a room. 

Adobe-style houses are known for inviting the outside in. Large covered porches and indoor courtyards are common, creating shade and a comfortable place to enjoy the outdoors while escaping the intense sun and heat. This harmony with nature is also seen in the use of colors and decorations. Warm, earthy tones like orange, red, yellow, brown, and pink are often used in adobe-style houses.  

Fun Fact

Adobe houses are very common in Santa Fe and Taos Pueblo, New Mexico. These areas are famous for protecting historical buildings and many original adobe houses can be seen in these areas.

Architectural Variations

Originally, adobe homes were circular and often built half underground. As the style developed, they took on a rectangular shape that is commonly seen today. As colonizers began blending different architectural styles into adobe-style houses, Pueblo houses were created. These were often reinforced with other materials, such as cement or asphalt. 

As the Pueblo style morphed and changed, it gave way to the Pueblo Revival house, which features the use of a more modern timber frame. Other architectural elements, such as slanted roofs, are also seen in Pueblo Revival houses. However, earthen materials are used on the outside to keep the look cohesive with more traditional adobe-style homes.