Santa Barbara Courthouse at sunset. A historic example of Santa Barbara Style architecture

What is Santa Barbara Style Architecture?

Santa Barbara style is an architectural and interior design style derived from Mediterranean and Spanish-revival architecture, often characterized by deep red tones and polished wood textures that contrast with stark white walls.

Santa Barbara style architecture and interior design are characterized by white stucco walls, exposed beam ceilings, red-tile roofs and floors, arcades, and courtyards.

Furniture and fittings are typically made of wood or iron, or woven from other rustic materials. Other features include ornate yet rugged lantern fixtures, large fireplaces, decorative carpets running down long corridors, abundant balconies, and warm inviting patios.  

Santa Barbara Style History

The history of Santa Barbara-style homes goes back to the early days of Spanish-rule in Mexico, and the explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno who gave the name "Santa Barbara" to the area in 1602.

After a large earthquake struck in 1925, city officials decided to rebuild in a manner that reflected the area's Spanish-colonial past. Many of the city's buildings were restored by architects James Osborne Craig and Mary McLaughlin Craig through the 20s and 30s.

The inspiration for many of the new and restored structures was the Courthouse in Santa Barbara (below, left) and the Old Mission building (below, right). Due to the latter, Santa Barbara style is sometimes also called "mission" architecture. 

Santa Barbara Style Paint Colors

If you want to know the best color to paint your Santa Barbara-style home, you'll need to spend some time thinking about the color white. Usually, for Santa Barbara-style homes, you'll be looking for a white that's mostly-neutral, with just a hint of warmth. Think the barest amount of brown or cream tones.

But which white is right? First, why not take a look at the city of Santa Barbara's color guidelines for historic Spanish-revival buildings. Alternatively, you can (and should) buy a few different shades of white and paint portions of your home as a test.  How does it look at various times of day, or under various lighting conditions?

So, if you're looking to touch up your Santa Barbara-style home or renovate with Mediterannean inspiration, remember that most of the color you're looking for falls within the earthy, red-brown, and just-off-white ranges.

Santa Barbara Style Interior Design

Want to spruce up your interior spaces in a modern-Spanish or Santa Barbara style? Here are a few items to use in your design:

  • Terracotta ornaments
  • Wrought or cast-iron fixtures
  • Old-fashioned iron lanterns
  • Canvas awnings
  • Thick woven rugs and throw blankets
Interior corridor of historic Santa Barbara Courthouse
Interior courtyward of historic Old Mission in Santa Barbara, California

What's the difference between Santa Barbara and Tuscan style?

Tuscan design style derives more from Italian architecture, whereas Santa Barbara style is inspired more by Spanish architecture. In practice, this often means that Tuscan style homes feature more earthy brown and stone textures than Santa Barbara style homes, as well as more blocky shapes.

What's the difference between Santa Barbara and Mediterranean style?

Mediterranean style home in California

"Mediterranean style" refers very generally to design ideas and elements drawn from Mediterranean cultures, including Spain, Italy, and Greece, and North Africa.

These usually include red or brown tile roofs, stucco exteriors, and asymmetric designs incorporating towers, balconies, courtyards, and arches. The layout and design features are intended to invite enjoyment of the outdoors and warm weather.

Santa Barbara style counts as a more specific sub-type within the broader Mediterranean category.

What's the difference between Santa Barbara and Spanish style?

Spanish architecture includes a host of styles, techniques, and motifs spanning a rich and expansive cultural history. From flowing Art Nouveau cathedrals to imposing Romanesque structures.

In North America, the Spanish colonists built structures that displayed many elements borrowed from their native land, but were ultimately defined by their somewhat rugged and simple style, use of tile and exposed wood, and tall masses around spacious courtyards.

Subsequent generations took inspiration from these buildings to create various Spanish-revival styles, mixed from elements that had the feel and associations of more traditional Spanish architecture. Santa Barbara style represents one of these revivals of authentic Spanish Colonial architecture in North America.

What is Monterey Colonial Architecture?

Monterey-style home design is another Spanish-derived architectural style developed in post-colonial California. Monterey style homes and buildings typically have two-stories, wrap-around porches, and hipped roofs. The development of the style is attributed to architect Thomas O. Larkin. In many respects, Monterey Colonial-style homes resemble east-coast wood frame construction built over existing adobe structures. 

How Can I Identify Santa Barbara Style Homes?

Old Mission Church steeple in Santa Barbara California

To identify a Santa Barbara style building, look for these design features:

  • White stucco walls
  • Red-tile roofs
  • Exposed wooden-beam ceilings
  • Use of balconies, arches, and towers in asymmetric designs

Where to Find Santa Barbara Style Homes in California

Looking to view or even purchase your own Santa Barbara style masterpiece?

You can contact Jacqueline Thompson for more information on available Santa Barbara style homes in Orange County, or take a look at some recently sold homes displaying some of the best of this characteristic design.

Santa Barbara Custom Estate Boasts Wide Frontage and Panoramic Canyon and City Lights Views

If you're interested in learning more about the amazing Santa Barbara style homes across Orange County, CA, don't hesitate to contact Jacqueline Thompson online or call 949.326.3392 today!

Posted by Jacqueline Thompson on


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