What Is Mediterranean Architecture?

A Mediterranean-style villa with a pool.

Bulgac / iStock / Getty Images

In This Article

Known for their red tile roofs, stucco exteriors, and ornate archways, Mediterranean-style homes are one of the most popular architectural types in the United States.

Although Mediterranean architecture initially drew its inspiration from Italy, Portugal, Spain, and other countries around the Mediterranean Sea, over time, influences from France, Greece, and Morocco, as well as other countries, joined into the mix. Because Mediterranean architecture has had so many cultural influences, it can also be referred to as Spanish Colonial, Morrocan, Mission Revival, and Neo-Mediterranean, among other names.

Despite differences in influences and styles, all Mediterranean-style homes are meant to be a relaxing retreat that connects the homeowner with nature. Featuring large windows and doors that access patios, terraces, or balconies, Mediterranean homes are designed to blend in with their natural surroundings and make homeowners feel at ease.

The History of Mediterranean Architecture

Like many architectural styles, early Mediterranean homes were constructed with the materials available to builders, like adobe (which is made from straw and clay) with a textured, stucco finish and clay for their distinguishing, red roof tiles.

The Mediterranean homes and buildings we know today are referred to as Mediterranean Revival, and were built to capture the warmth, wealth, and relaxation of a Mediterranean villa. Although the style was originally reserved for public places, like hotels and seaside resorts, Mediterranean Revival architecture was popularized by American architects in Florida and California—they believed the leisurely style worked well with the regions' climates and lifestyles. In the 1920s, Mediterranean Revival experienced a massive boom, as Americans became fascinated with wealth and leisure, and wanted their homes to reflect those ideals.

As previously mentioned, Mediterranean and Mediterranean Revival homes drew inspiration from a number of countries and cultures. There are, however, three distinctive styles of Mediterranean architecture:

  • Italian Renaissance: Featuring arches and columns, this type of Mediterranean home draws extensive inspiration from the Italian Renaissance of the 16th century. This is the most ornate and grand type of a Mediterranean home.
  • Spanish Revival: Borrowing from the architectural ideas developed by Spanish settlers in 16th-century America, Spanish Colonial style is a simpler and more rustic variation of Mediterranean style. Spanish Colonial homes are typically one story with simple, clean lines and low-pitched clay roof.
  • Modern Mediterranean: Focused on resort-style living, modern Mediterranean can blend a number of cultural influences. Large, open floor plans, massive kitchens, and indoor-outdoor living are commonly found in modern Mediterranean homes.

Must-Have Elements of Mediterranean Architecture

Although Mediterranean and Mediterranean Revival homes have numerous cultural influences, today's Mediterranean-style homes have retained many of the classic architectural and decorating elements. Some characteristics commonly seen in Mediterranean-style homes include:

Large, Symmetrical Facades

Most Mediterranean homes are one to two stories and have large, symmetrical exteriors. The front door is typically centered on the house and flanked by tall, wrought-iron gated windows. Mediterranean architecture puts an emphasis on bringing the outdoors into the home, so you'll find numerous tall doors and windows accessing the home's outdoor living space.

Red Clay Roof Tiles

Like Spanish and Mexican homes, Mediterranean-style homes typically have red, clay roof tiles that are shaped like half of a tube. This shape not only allows water to drain easily, but also captures cold air in its pocket to cool the house during hot days.

Stucco Walls

Stucco exterior and interior walls are commonly seen in areas with warm, dry climates. During warm days, these thick walls can better retain the interior's cool air. At night, when temperatures decrease, they slowly release the warmth accumulated from the day into the home.

A modern Mediterranean home.
felixmizioznikov/iStock/Getty Images

Ornate Archways

Serving both structural and decorative purposes, ornate archways are often constructed around Mediterranean windows and doors. Occasionally, these archways will be decorated with colorful hand-made tiles or mosaic glass.

Wrought Iron Balconies, Window Grilles, and Decorations

You'll often find wrought iron features on Mediterranean exteriors, and used as a decorative element in Mediterranean gardens, patios, and terraces. Wrought iron adds additional warmth, detail, and decoration.

An Outdoor Living Space

As previously mentioned, Mediterranean homes blend with their natural surroundings. Most homes feature an outdoor living space, like a patio, terrace, balcony, or atrium, and have plenty of access points to the outdoors throughout the house.

Where to Find Mediterranean Homes

You'll find the largest concentrations of Mediterranean-style homes in warmer, drier climates with Spanish histories. Think: California, Florida, Texas, and the southwestern states. Not only do the building materials fare better in warmer climates—adobe, for example, can swell and crack when exposed to cold, damp conditions—but these areas were heavily influenced by Spanish culture over time. Unsurprisingly, many of the regions' architectural styles reflect that Spanish influence.