Every architectural style has its own nuances and special flair, but the striking appearance of hacienda homes puts this style in a league of its own. Their red clay tile roofs, romantic archways, and curved adobe walls blend brilliantly into soft desert landscapes, and hacienda-style homes have perfected the art of transitional indoor to outdoor living.

“You are most likely to find hacienda-style homes in the Southwest, where it is warm and sunny year-round and the weather is most similar to Spain,” notes Samantha Sadowy, an interior designer at Phoenix-based design firm Est Est Interior Design. “It is especially popular in Southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico.”

Let’s dive into the history of hacienda homes and cover some of the key characteristics that make this architecture so special. 

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The History of Hacienda Style Homes

Hacienda-style architecture originated in ancient Spain and came to the southwestern United States and Mexico by way of Spanish immigrants during the colonization period in the 18th century. Since the Southwest has a similar climate (warm, sunny, and dry) and resources compared to Spain, including adobe and red clay, it was easy to adapt to this new terrain. You’ll also see hints of Native American and Mestizo influence in hacienda style homes.

Hacienda vs. Spanish Revival Architecture

It’s easy to conflate hacienda style homes with Spanish revival architecture, but the two aren’t quite the same.

“Hacienda style originated during the colonial period in Mexico and Spain, while Spanish revival emerged in the early 20th century in the United States,” notes Phoenix-based interior designer Lisa Fontaine. “Historically, hacienda style primarily served as a type of rural estate or farmhouse, whereas Spanish Revival was primarily used for larger public buildings such as government buildings, hotels, and universities.”

Some other key differences are the materials used in the structures. Haciendas utilize adobe brick, wood, and clay, while Spanish Revival rely on stucco, terra cotta, and other decorative elements, such as stained glass and wrought iron.

“Overall, both styles were influenced by Spanish architecture, but they developed at different times and for different purposes,” Fontaine says. “Next time you’re on a home tour, see if you can spot these differences.”

Key Characteristics of Hacienda Homes

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While modern adaptations of hacienda style homes are a little different from ancient homes, the defining traits are very much rooted in the original Spanish design. These features are thoughtful, and typically help shield the house and its inhabitants from the elements.

Clay Roof Tiles

Traditionally, hacienda style homes feature roofs made from rows of red clay tiles. “The roofs also often have deep overhangs to protect the interior from the sun and rain,” Fontaine says.

Thick Adobe Walls

To protect from the sun, hacienda-style homes rely on thick walls made from adobe, a combination of water and earth. These walls are soft, rounded, and smooth, creating a very distinctive appearance.

Small Windows

Historically, hacienda homes featured smaller windows. “The small windows are a traditional element that helped protect from the heat and sun by limiting the amount of glass and allowing the thick walls to provide maximum insulation,” Sadowy explains. She adds that thanks to modern technology—like air conditioning and multi-paned glass—modern iterations are being built with larger windows to “alleviate some of the heaviness that this style can bring.”

Earthy Color Palette

Most hacienda home color schemes consist of soft beiges, creamy whites, terracotta, and golden yellow. “These colors are often used because they give a sense of harmony and connection to the environment, such as sandy deserts, dry grasslands, and red rock formations,” Fontaine says. The pale hues also reduce heat absorption from the blazing sun.

Central Courtyards

Interior courtyards, complete with soothing water features, are a defining feature of this style of architecture. “For centuries, courtyards in Hacienda homes have provided a comfortable and functional space that is perfect for enjoying the outdoors while still maintaining the element of privacy,” Fontaine says. She adds that they provide a cool outdoor space perfect for relaxation, dining, and entertainment. Functionally, they also provide additional ventilation for the house itself.

Archways

“Archways are one of the most eye-catching elements of hacienda homes and are used not only on windows and doors but to frame courtyards and exterior walkways,” Sadowy says.

Tiling

Often, hand-painted tiles infuse a colorful touch of character both indoors and outdoors. These are found on walkways, walls, floors, and various other surfaces. “The use of hand-painted tile is a traditional and practical method that is both beautiful and functional,” Fontaine notes. “In addition to being an attractive decorative element, tiles are easy to clean and maintain.”

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