Spanish Colonial Style…A Path to the Past

By: Lisa Coleman

Living in Arizona, we see plenty of hacienda-style and adobe homes. Their design has been a mainstay and “Mexican” interiors commonplace. But, the truth is there is no strict or monolithic description as to what is and is not “Spanish Colonial.” Because of the incredible variation of pieces that unite Spanish and Mexican style, the definition runs the gamut from heavy hand-carved rustic armoires, rugged tables and ancient doors, to fantastic marquetry (inlaid wood work), intricately detailed sacristy chests, bargueños (Spanish traveling desks), religious artifacts, and true antiques. This kind of variety embraces the eclectic and provides a design perspective filled with passion and antiquity.

For over 2,000 years, Mexico has been the pulse of life in Latin America. The indigenous Olmec, Maya, Zapotec, Mixtec, Toltec, and Aztec people left an indelible imprint on the society creating a mystic history and culture that is still perpetuated through architecture, craftsmanship, customs and traditions. When the Spanish arrived in 1519, the native people began a fascinating evolution of art and heritage paving the way for today’s loose interpretation of “Mexican-Spanish Colonial” style.

While the Spanish conquistadors were traveling the world in search of new acquisitions for the crown, they encountered various peoples and cultures along the way. They collected everything from art and handicrafts to furniture and textiles and presented them as trophies to mother Spain. As a result, the royalty and social elite filled their homes and castles with treasures from around the globe. These bits and pieces of international cultural diversity became woven into the European fabric of life.

However, when Mexico was discovered, its lands were so precious and its offerings so prolific, that rather than bring the vast riches to Europe, Hernan Cortés colonized it as New Spain. In the process of colonizing and “converting” the native people in Mexico, the Spanish gathered the country’s finest artisans and taught them to recreate, design and produce religious objects and home furnishings that were distinctly and purely Spanish. The natives were accurate in their reproductions, but their dedication and allegiance to their own heritage touched each and every piece. With those imitations in mind, the native craftsmen began to fashion furniture and art using both the Spanish ideas and their own unique style. This unusual blend of indigenous craftsmanship and pure Spanish influence has melded together over time to create what we know in the Southwest as the hybrid style of “Mexican-Spanish Colonial.”

But the trend goes deeper still. The purest form of Spanish Colonial craftsmanship is most certainly found in museum quality pieces, the real antique. These are the furnishings and accessories that belonged to the viceroys. The Spanish crown moved from Spain to Mexico to Central America and then to South America and all of the possessions accumulated along way are absolutely considered Spanish Colonial. Mexico then colonized in the Philippines and items from there fall under the same umbrella. So if you’re looking for strictly Mexican, you’ll have to look solely at the indigenous creations.

Mexican-Spanish Colonial works encompass so many styles and are influenced by so many places they can’t help but be versatile and eclectic. Looking at the current fashion of interiors, it would seem this unique style has an undeniably universal appeal. It seems the only constant is diversity.

(It’s easier than ever to buy furniture and accessories in Mexico and have them shipped to the U.S. – If you do a little research, you can find plenty of extremely well priced wholesalers in Tlaquepaque and Guadalajara that sell directly to the public. It’s worth a trip down to take a look.)


Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the México Today Program. All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared here are completely my own. Mexico Today is a joint public and private sector initiative designed to help promote Mexico as a global business partner and an unrivaled tourist destination