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Canyon Road Arts:

The Complete Visitors Guide to Arts, Dining and Santa Fe Lifestyle

Volume 1, 2005-2006

Pages 78-83


The Origins of Santa Fe Style

Maynard Dixon (1875-1946) c. 1907

Maynard Dixon (1875-1946) c. 1907

“All the buildings are brown…but it's so beautiful!" a first-time visitor to Santa Fe recently exclaimed.  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.

brownell Howell

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, rounded shapes.

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.

camino del norte

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.

brownell howell

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 since then.

camino del norte

It would be easy just to say, "You know Santa Fe Style when you see it."  But here at Canyon Road Arts, 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, too.

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.

Listed below are a variety of businesses whose goods and services reveal a true understanding of Santa Fe Style and can help you create your own version of this Santa Fe tradition.


Real Estate

Las Campanas, 132 Clubhouse Drive, 505-992-6420
Santa Fe Properties, 1000 Paseo de Peralta, 505-982-4466
French & French Fine Properties, 231 Washington Avenue, 505-988-8088
Town and Ranch Realty, 505 Don Gaspar, Santa Fe NM, 505-988-3700,


Architects and Builders

Archaeo Architects, 1519 Upper Canyon Road, 505-820-7200
Deborah Auten Architect, 125 East Palace Avenue, #72, 505-982-8956
Dressel Construction Co., Inc., 1462 St. Francis Drive, 505-995-8006,
John Midyette III Architect, 1125 Canyon Rd, 505-983-2639
Lloyd Associates Architects, 501 Halona Street, 505-988-9789
Marsh Homes, Inc., 101 Paseo Vista, 505-989-7075
Michael Kern & Associates, Inc., 93 Apache Ridge Road, 505-670-2251
Roger Hunter Builder/ Designer/Architects, 300 Paseo de Peralta, Ste. 100, 505-986-8060
Saye Builders, Inc., 138 Wildhorse, 505-984-0226
Solarsmith, 988-7227
Tierra Concepts, Inc., 1512 Pacheco Street, Ste. D206, 505-989-8484
Tony Ivey & Associates, 9021 Galisteo Street, 505-986-9195
Waszak Enterprises, Inc., 505-897-8279,
Woods Architects Builders, Inc., 302 Canton Street, 505-988-2413,


Medicine Man Gallery, A wide selection of Native American and Spanish Colonial antiques, historic New Mexico painting, and contemporary Southwestern painting and sculpture, 602A Canyon Road, 505-820-7451,
American Country Collection, Traditional American and European style furnishings, 53 Old Santa Fe Trail, 505-984-0955
Andrew Smith Gallery, Original photographs, 203 W. San Francisco, 505-984-1234
Asian Adobe, Antique Chinese furniture, 530 South Guadalupe, 505-992-6846
Bosshard, Antique to contemporary ethnic and tribal furnishings and decoration, 340 Read Street, 505-989-9150
Casa Nova, Contemporary handmade furnishings, decoration, and ethnic arts, 530 South Guadalupe, 505-983-8558
Casa Natura, Natural fiber bedding and clothing and reclaimed teak furniture, 70 West Marcy Street, 505-820-7634
The Clay Angel, Handpainted majolica tableware and fine table linens, 125 Lincoln Avenue, 505-988-4800
Marc Navarro Gallery, Antique Mexican silver, furnishings and jewelry, 822 Canyon Road, 505-986-8191
Montez Gallery, Antique and contemporary Hispanic arts, 125 East Palace Avenue, 505-982-1828
Patina Gallery, Fine contemporary craft and jewelry, 131 West Palace Avenue, 505-986-3432
Robert Nichols Gallery,
Contemporary Native American and Hispanic ceramics, 418 Canyon Road, 505-982-2145
Rocheford & Messick, Ethnic and tribal arts, 602-A Canyon Road, 505-983-9533
Tai Gallery/Textile Arts, Japanese bamboo baskets and antique textiles from around the world, 616 ½ Canyon Road, 505-984-1387
Sequoia Fine Art, Unusual handmade furnishings and decorative items emphasizing natural materials, 201 Galisteo Street, 505-982-7000
Simply Santa Fe, An eclectic selection of informal furnishings, decorative items and clothing, 72 East San Francisco Street, 505-988-3100
Southwest Spanish Craftsmen, A contemporary take on traditional Spanish Colonial furniture and doors, 328 South Guadalupe, 505-982-1767
Stone Forest, Handcarved stone sinks, fountains and garden ornaments, 213 St. Francis Drive, 505-986-8883
Taos Furniture of Santa Fe, Handmade adaptations of early New Mexico styles, 219 Galisteo Street, 505-988-1229
Tarman Galleries, Ltd., European and American antiques and New Mexico art, 343 West Manhattan, 505-983-2336

santa fe properties

Photos used in this section are courtesy of Santa Fe Properties, Santa Fe’s largest locally owned real estate brokerage and the exclusive affiliate in Santa Fe for Christie’s Great Estates.

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