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Santa Fe Style
Just as the Mission style was the "California
counterpart" to the Northeast's popular colonial revival
style, the Santa Fe style was a reaction to the Mission style
of southern California. Basically, the "taste-makers"
of Santa Fe and the state of New Mexico wished to distinguish
themselves from the spreading image of southern California. Also,
with New Mexico gaining status as a new state in 1912, the development
of the new style was thought of as a primary method to attract
tourists and promote the new state's own identity. The style
itself was basically inspired by a mixture of Spanish Colonial
and Indian Pueblo architectural forms. It originated in Santa
Fe, New Mexico, and quickly became the regional style of Anglo-American
northern New Mexico after 1912. Thus, it is often referred to
as Santa Fe Style. The first structure to gain the new style
in Santa Fe was the Palace of the Governors. Features include
flat roof with parapeted wall, irregular/rounded edges to walls,
stucco surface, often vigas (round roof beams) extending through
walls to the exterior. More recently, the style has become popular
outside of New Mexico, in places such as Arizona and southern
California. Still, its core area consists of northern New Mexico
and the style still creates a distinct Anglo-American identity
for the "Land of Enchantment".
The "Santa Fe Style" has come
and gone and will come back again to be guaranteed in clothing
fashion as well as home fashion But the Santa Fe Style Homes
have been around for centuries and will not leave anytime soon.
They began with true adobe homes as the practical construction
for the original peoples of the Southwest- the Anasazi. They
built their condominium-style communities of stone and mud adobe
bricks, three and four stories high.
Traditional New Mexican homes today
are built of adobe -- sun dried clay bricks mixed with grasses
for strength, mortared with simple mud, and then covered with
additional protective layers of mud.
The Spanish and Mexican residents who came to Santa Fe later
in history continued this adobe style for it's practicability
in that it kept the home cool in the summer, and warm in the
winter. Few true adobe homes remain in modern Santa Fe. The majority
are imitation adobe made of stuccoed concrete.
In the days when adobe homes were prevalent, it was a cheaper
form to build with, but now the craftsmanship and tradition are
harder to find and as a result more costly. In the Anasazi communities
the houses were focused around central plazas, villages incorporated
circular spiritual chambers called kivas.
Today's Santa Fe Style Homes must have
a fireplace or more than one. The style of the curved corner
fireplace is called a Kiva fireplace. Later on in the Spanish
era in Santa Fe, homes incorporated the plaza of the Anasazi
community into a courtyard in individual homes. The courtyard
can be found in the front of a house as a space you walk thru
before entering the home, or in the backyard as a place to relax
or both. It is usually a sensual experience of flowering plants
and fountains. The floor originally was made of mud and can still
be seen on occasion in areas of the modern day homes. Tremendous
packing is done and some sort of finish is done to maintain the
hard packed earth with little dust.
Most floors in the Santa Fe style homes
however are of tile, brick or some hard surface. Carpets can
be found, but that is not the true Santa Fe style.The roofs are
supported by a network of vigas, long beams whose ends protrude
through the outer facades, and latillas, small stripped branches
layered between the vigas. Adobe homes are distinguished by their
flat roofs and soft, rounded contours. These
qualities have not changed since its origination. Another feature
is the Portal (pronounced Poortaal). These in essence are patios
that allow the home owners to extend their home out into the
yard facing a beautiful vista of some sort. May thru October
is portal weather. Dining and relaxing occur out of doors during
this time of year. These portals are usually framed by large
local wood corbels (decorated part of columns) and the same heavy
wood beams inside the house (vigas) The details of Santa Fe Style
homes include nichos which are small carved out spaces in hallways
and on walls to display pieces of art or others things of value.
Bancos are the curved shelf like area around the fireplace in
an adobe homes to display once again something of value or importance.
Arched and curved entryways, doorways and walls are very prevalent
in Santa Fe style homes. They are part of the total curviness
of this style home.
Doors, gates and cupboards in the Santa
Fe style home are either actual old wooden doors or painted or
carved to look like the old doors. In the old days of New Mexico
the doors and gateways were the true protection from the outside
world. They were used to block intruders. So a strong formidable
door had to be used. The Santa Fe Style homes of today would
have many of these qualities but may be replaced or intermixed
with other styles such as Country, Ranch, or Mediterranean. It
really doesn't matter what other styles are incorporated because
if the home is in Santa Fe it has the "Santa Fe Essence"
just by its location, history, and culture. It is a style like
no other- The Santa Fe Style Home.
Santa Fe Style is a term we all have
heard of but in Santa Fe New Mexico it's a way of life.
The Origins of Santa Fe Style
"All the buildings are brownbut it's so beautiful!"
a first-time visitor to Santa Fe recently exclaimed. Although
this response is typical for today's first- timers, early visitors
seldom had such a favorable first impression. More often they
found the little village of simple, mud structures and muddy
streets to be a crude and unkempt backwater.
Attitudes began to change in the late nineteenth century when
anthropologists, artists and a few tourists began exploring the
Southwest. Rather, this new breed of visitors was fascinated
by the cultures of the local Native American and Hispanic communities
and their indigenous styles of architecture, crafts, and art.
By 1910, the Santa Fe city fathers realized that the centuries-old
tradition of Pueblo and Spanish architecture was no longer a
liability, but an asset that would help attract tourism. They
made a concerted effort to encourage new construction based on
local building traditions rather than the Victorian styles that
had become prevalent after New Mexico became a U.S. territory.
This reborn indigenous architecture and design became collectively
known as Spanish/Pueblo Revival. Santa Fe Style was born.
Artists and architects immediately took up the cause, developing
and enriching the style through the 1910s, 20s, and 30s. From
the Spanish tradition, designers borrowed beautifully carved
and painted woodwork-especially the decorated vigas or
ceiling beams-as well as the long portales or verandas
that provided essential shade during Southwestern summers.
From the Pueblo tradition they borrowed the characteristic stepped
building shapes that resulted from rooms being added as necessary
over the centuries. From both traditions, they employed adobe
(mud and straw) bricks covered in mud or stucco plaster which
resulted in thick walls, small windows, and beautifully soft,
The first fully-realized example of the Spanish/Pueblo Revival
style is the Museum of Fine Arts, built on the Plaza in 1917
by the firm of Rapp & Rapp. Carlos Vierra, the first professional
artist to take up permanent residence in Santa Fe, made careful
study of early structures and built the first Revival style residence
in 1918. William P. Henderson, a nationally known painter, also
designed furniture and buildings in the style as did his artist
neighbor, Frank Applegate, who championed the restoration of
historic Spanish churches. From the 1920s on, nearly all artists,
writers, architects, and other style leaders built their Santa
Fe homes in the Spanish/Pueblo Revival style.
True to their interest in indigenous arts, most Revival style
homeowners furnished their dwellings with Native pottery, weaving,
and other crafts, and with Hispanic furniture, tinwork and religious
painting. Some builders, such as Frank Applegate, went so far
as to incorporate antique woodwork from historic Spanish buildings
that were too dilapidated to restore. Of course, nearly everyone
adorned their homes with paintings done by their friends and
neighbors who made up the thriving Santa Fe art colony.
Even as the Santa Fe Style took shape, it began to expand and
change. In the 1930s, architect John Gaw Meem-one of the early
champions of the Spanish/Pueblo Revival and its most gifted practitioner-developed
the Territorial Revival Style. Meem based it on adobe structures
built in northern New Mexico in the mid- to late-1900s, when
Americans were bringing Neo-classical and Victorian design ideas
to bear on local building traditions. The symmetrical forms,
larger windows, and classical woodwork of Territorial homes made
an appropriate setting for high-style Anglo furnishings as well
as Native American and Spanish craft items.
Other designers continued to reshape and adapt the Santa Fe Style
to accommodate new design influences. Artist and architect, William
Lumpkins, brought the study of pre-historic Puebloan structures
into his work. He also became a leader in the passive-solar movement;
a concept perfectly adapted to New Mexico's sunny skies, and
to the excellent thermal properties of adobe which stays cool
in summer and warm in winter. The idea was taken a step further
in the notorious "Earthships" or partially subterranean
adobe houses commonly associated with the Taos communes of the
1960s and 70s. In the post-war era, Meem went on to develop frankly
modernist homes of adobe, steel and glass. Even Frank Lloyd Wright
applied his unique imagination to an adobe style home.
Given the various paths taken by designers of Santa Fe Style,
we no longer can say that the Spanish/Pueblo Revival defines
the style. Indeed, many designers and homeowners now find strict
adherence to the vigas-pots-and-blankets look to be a self-parody.
That was the original inspiration, but we've come a long way
It would be easy just to say, "You know Santa Fe Style when
you see it." But here at canyonroadarts.com, we're willing
to take the plunge and attempt to define what makes Santa Fe
Style today. Rather than point to specific materials or construction
techniques or decorative details, we think the Style is really
a set of values about design that are inspired by the unique
qualities of this place. It can encompass enormous variety and
yet it has a defining spirit which is unmistakably Santa Fe.
We believe that the celebration of local cultures remains
the core of Santa Fe Style. This was its origin, and it certainly
has been a constant throughout its history. That's not to say
every detail of a home must be a Native artifact or Hispanic
folk object. A little can go a long way. Also remember that Anglo
ranchers and traders have been part of the local landscape for
more than 150 years, a fact implicitly acknowledged by Meem's
Territorial Style architecture. Santa Fe can be a bit cowboy,
Because Santa Fe is a unique amalgam of three distinct cultures,
eclecticism has always been part of the Style. What's
more, the artful mixing of design traditions need not be strictly
limited to Native American, Hispanic and Anglo influence. Local
designers long have mixed American and European antiques, Mission
furniture, and Southeast Asian woodwork into Santa Fe Style homes
with great success. Furniture and artifacts from other parts
of the world that build with adobe, always seem to have an affinity
with Santa Fe. In the past few decades, eclecticism has become
by byword in design nationwide, but Santa Fe was there at least
half a century before everyone else.
Two things drew artists to Santa Fe in the early twentieth century.
One was their interest in indigenous cultures. The other was
the natural beauty of the landscape and quality of light in the
high desert. Orientation to the natural environment is
fundamental to Santa Fe Style. This not only means orienting
windows to the view. It also can mean enlivening a room by manipulating
the way sunlight moves through the space. It can mean integrating
a building into its surroundings with careful use of form, color
and materials. It can mean passive-solar design, or harvesting
rainwater, or planting xeric landscaping to preserve scarce resources.
Santa Fe Style respects and incorporates the natural surroundings
that made you want to have a house there in the first place.
One of the surest ways to make a building at home in the landscape
is the use of natural materials. Nothing blends better
with the earth than adobe-earth itself. Natural wood, flagstone,
brick, ceramic tile and river rock also help give an earthy but
sophisticated feel to Santa Fe Style homes. Natural materials
lend themselves to use in any type of décor from rustic
to minimalist, and they make a sympathetic backdrop for pottery,
rugs and other indigenous handcrafts.
Early visitors criticized Santa Fe's simple adobe buildings as
crude and lacking in style, adornment and, therefore, civility.
What was once a fault, however, has become a virtue: the lack
of style has become a style of its own. In other words, simplicity
is essential to the Santa Fe look. Nowhere is this more clearly
revealed than in the famous photographs of Georgia O'Keeffe's
home in Abiquiu. Thoughtful design, ample natural light and the
use of natural materials can make the simplest home warm and
inviting without being cluttered by unnecessary decoration. Design
extravagance is the antithesis of Santa Fe Style.
For the artists and architects who first developed the Santa
Fe Style, life here was a retreat from the staid social and artistic
environment of the East. This embrace of informality continues
to pervade Santa Fe design. In fact, all of its attributes promote
a casualness that politely ignores the conventions of urban design.
Simple, natural, and local add up to freedom from pretense; freedom
to create your own style of living.
Considering its origins among the Santa Fe art colony, Santa
Fe Style encourages-perhaps requires-the knowledgeable appreciation
of art and artists. Whether indigenous craft, ethnic/tribal
art, or contemporary fine art, original artworks are indispensable
in a Santa Fe Style home. As a small city with a very large number
of artists and galleries, Santa Fe provides abundant opportunity
to learn past and present trends in the art world and, importantly,
to meet the artists. Original art for every taste and budget
surrounds us. Participating in Santa Fe's artistic traditions
draws us more closely into the life of this place, and enriches
our homes and lives every day.