What Is Hacienda Architecture?

A hacienda-style home.

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Best-known for their white stucco walls, red clay roof tiles, and use of heavy, rustic wood accents, hacienda-style homes have been extremely popular across the southwestern United States—as well as California and Florida—or decades. Sharing many characteristics with Spanish Colonial architecture, Spanish architecture, and Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, hacienda architecture has long history in countries like Spain and Mexico, but made its way to the United States between the 1600s and the mid-1800s.

Although hacienda-style homes have been popular in the United States for nearly four hundred years, today's hacienda architecture has retained many of the original elements. Read on to learn more about hacienda architecture, including its history and must-have architectural elements.

The History of Hacienda Architecture

Hacienda architecture is original to Spain and Mexico, where it's considered a traditional architectural style with traditional building techniques. Dating back nearly four hundred years, hacienda-style homes have a long history in the United States, too. Between the 1600s and mid-1800s, Spanish settlers built their hacienda homesteads in states like California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Florida because they shared warmer, drier climates similar to their homelands.

Because Spanish settlers chose areas with climates similar to Spain and Mexico, they were able to execute their traditional styles of homebuilding—with many resources that were available in Spain, Mexico, and warmer climates in the United States. Some common resources included adobe, made from straw and clay (finished with white stucco), and red clay for the iconic hacienda roof tiles.

The Spanish Colonial period ended in the mid-1800s, but hacienda-style homes remained a popular architectural style among homebuilders. During the 1900s, when hacienda homes were further popularized by the Colonial Revival movement, many homebuilders chose to build their houses with traditional materials, like adobe and clay, rather than utilizing them out of necessity. During this time, regional styles emerged in hacienda homes, but they still share many key elements.

Must-Have Elements

As previously mentioned, you may find some geographic differences in hacienda-style homes across the country, but many have retained the original elements. Some characteristics of hacienda architecture include:

Red clay roof tiles

One of the most recognizable characteristics of a hacienda-style home is the low-pitched roof with handmade, red clay roof tiles. The tiles are shaped like half of a tube, so they can capture cool air and release into the home. Because clay roofs are susceptible to leaking, they're best suited for the warm, dry environments where you'll find hacienda architecture.

White stucco walls

Traditional hacienda homes always had thick, adobe walls finished with white stucco. In addition to adobe being a readily available building material, thick, white walls are ideal for hot, sunny climates. During sunny days, the walls can retain cool air. At night, they slowly release warmth absorbed from the sun into the house.

Rustic wood accents

Heavy wooden doors and exposed wooden beams are commonly used elements in hacienda-style homes. Because stucco walls aren't often finished with wooden trim, exposed beams are used as wall and ceiling supports. What's more, they add warmth and texture to simple hacienda interior and exterior walls.

Small windows with spindles

Most hacienda-style homes have very few and very small windows. Why? Having only a few small windows allows a cool breeze to enter the home, but prevents direct sunlight from warming the space too much. Although traditional hacienda homes didn't have glass panes in their windows, it's unlikely you'll find many modern-day haciendas without them. Spindles, a stylistic bar, are often used to decorate hacienda windows.

Courtyards

Whether it's interior or exterior, a courtyard is a key element to hacienda architecture. Traditional hacienda homes have the courtyard in the center of the home—so owners can cook indoors or outdoors, while releasing some of the heat produced by cooking—but today's courtyards are typically on the side or in the rear of the home.

Archways

Although hacienda-style homes usually have very simple exteriors with little to no decoration, archways add a stylish architectural element. They're commonly used in haciendas' outdoor hallways or courtyards.

Archways in a hacienda-style building.
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Where to Find Hacienda-Style Homes

Because adobe walls and clay roof tiles are best suited for warm, sunny environments, you'll often find hacienda-style homes across the American southwest—especially in Arizona and New Mexico—as well as California and Florida. Because adobe fares best in warmer, drier climates—and can be damaged in cold, damp weather—it was often used in these locations.