Spanish Colonial Revival or Muddleterranean?

With gratitude to my witty friend Steven Price for "muddleterranean"

It is my task as a member of the Santa Barbara Historic Landmarks Commission to participate in design review within a “special design district-El Pueblo Viejo”.  This district requires a “compatibility” with  a particular historical interpretation of the Spanish Colonial Revival as it evolved in Santa Barbara.  The question continually arises is this  proposed design compatible? or is this a muddle?


I’ve been known  to opine “this design would be perfectly lovely in _______, but not in Santa Barbara”.

Years ago at the Steadman House, Casa Del Herrero, in Montecito, I had the good fortune of an explanation of the difference between muddle and authentic by Dr. David Gebhardt.


Until that day, I had considered the architecture of  G.W. Smith to be a bit too medieval, a bit too stage set - and wondered what all the fuss was about.  I was being trained to be a docent for a tour of Smith’s work in Santa Barbara, an expected participation as a newly appointed member of the Santa Barbara Historic Landmarks Commission.

Casa Del Herrero detail

Casa Del Herrero detail



Dr. Gebhardt pointed out all of the “character defining features” - all of an exceptional degree of craftsmanship and artistry.  Everything, how the  roof tiles had been laid, the gutters, the gutter bracksts, the rafter ends, the iron, the plaster texture, the stone vents, the....


Inside, in the library was a sketch book recording a trip through Andalusia, with Smith and the owner.  It recorded purchases, sketches of things to be copied - fireplaces, tile, iron, furniture, details..., to be incorporated into the design - and individually and collectively each element reflected a design aesthetic evocative of a place and historical story - that of the “white cities” of Southern Spain.

Steadman’s hobby was iron smithing, and the house would include a smithy to make many of the iron pieces still in the house.

Casa del Herrero Interior.jpg

After a lengthly walkabout, Dr. Gebhardt asked to step back and look at the whole...

Explaining that Smith had first been an artist, and he understood architecture as an artist - composing buildings as mass and void, light and shadow, growing over time more organic than plan, resulting in compositions of great poetry.  And inside, a series of spatial experiences unfolding more by circumstance than grand parti.  Though everything intentional and painterly.

Casa del Herrero Entry.jpg

Dr. Gebhardt noted that all of Smith’s elevation sketches, were mass and shadow, rather than the line work prevalent to most contemporary architectural drawing.  And I wonder if this constraint of line work is responsible for architects not really understanding the ethos of Hispanic Architecture.  Many contemporary designs are collections of elements muddled together - some historically correct, others barely so - applied to boxes lacking the composition of massing evocative of the style.  


Years ago I gave up the pencil sketches, some are still in the portfolio/website, and now I’m fascinated by the possibilities and realism of understanding buildings as a rendered computer model.  I took on the challenge of utilizing software more sympathetic of the modern repetitive, to design and represent traditional buildings - Spanish Colonial among them.


It has been my goal to both preserve and keep alive this artistic tradition and hopefully avoid any muddling.