Celebrity Architect Diane Wilk on Spanish Style, with a Twist

From on March 11, 2008 in General Remodel

Michael Burch ArchitectsHollywood influence. Variations in style from California to Wisconsin to Arizona to Morocco. Malleable kitchens. Romance and serenity. These are just some of the aspects of Spanish Revival style that Diane Wilk and Michael Burch highlight.

Diane is an architect for the noted firm, Michael Burch Architects. Michael Burch is a 4th generation Californian whose grandfather built many of the noted Spanish Style buildings of the 1920s. The firm’s client list is packed with celebrities, including Rod Stewart, Bruce Springsteen, James Belushi, John Getty, Victoria Principal, and George Wendt. In addition to working on and writing about Spanish Revival homes, Diane and Michael have owned and renovated their own homes in the Spanish style. Here are some of the gems they shared in a recent interview.

Be open to greater design possibilities.

The 1920s to early 1930s saw near architectural unanimity in Southern California with the upsurge of the Spanish Colonial home. According to Diane, this period did not signify the attempt to recreate an historical past, but the emergence of a “modern” and “forward looking” movement that allowed for various influences.

“Spanish Colonial Revival Style of the 1920s in Southern California is far more inventive, imaginative and playful, than any of the original precedents it is based on,” Diane says. “It is certainly far more “theatrical” and “romantic” and it has been suggested by some that this was influenced by the new technology of movies and by Hollywood.”

While some homeowners fear straying too far from the original design schemes of their homes, Diane encourages modern expression with Spanish Revivals, to a certain extent.

“It is an extremely malleable style and if an architect is true to the original spirit and intent of the Spanish Colonial Revival as it was understood in the 1920s, it is fully compatible with modern trends and sensibilities. We would venture to say that the design possibilities are actually greater now that we have modern techniques and advancements available to us that were not available in the first part of the century.”

Spanish Arches Garden

Keep a pulse on your geographic region.

From state to state and even within California alone, Diane notes that stylistic influences operate regionally and locally. Some of these influences include climate, culture, and landscape. She says,

“For one thing, the gardens certainly will have a different feel because the plants that grow so readily in Southern California simply won’t survive in the more northern climate and the whole notion of year-round, indoor-outdoor rooms doesn’t really make sense. The same is true where the weather is the opposite – severely hot, as in Arizona, the indoor-outdoor rooms will take on a very different meaning than they would in the Mediterranean climate of Southern California.”

Diane gives the following examples of regional varieties in style:

  • The Monterrey Revival, a mixture of Anglo and Hispanic architecture
  • The Santa Fe Style of New Mexico, heavily influenced by the Pueblo architecture of the region
  • Spanish Revival Architecture in places such as Wisconsin, where, consideration has to be made for snow loads and severe winters


Ultimately, Diane says it is difficult to make generalizations about the way specific elements change from state to state, because the style is so broad and encompasses many variations. “They change from house to house – from simple adobes to elaborate Moroccan palaces.”

Let exterior elements highlight the Spanish Revival’s romance and serenity.

Exterior elements stand out dramatically in the Spanish Revival: the red shingled roofs, the grand archways, the big windows, elongated shape, porches, and courtyards. Above, Diane discussed landscape in relationship to the geographic region. But she also talked about how a home’s exterior landscape flows to the interior of the home itself.

“One of the unique features of the style is the relationship of the inside to the outside,” she says.

spanish revival accents

“Many Hispanic houses are built around the idea of a courtyard or outdoor rooms. For us, the entire property should be considered as living space and ideally space should flow between the two easily. The outside features should be viewed from the inside and visa versa. Perhaps our favorite aspect of a Spanish Revival home is the romance and serenity one gets being in a well-designed space. The play of light and plasticity of forms is important in creating this romance.”

Tomorrow, we’ll feature part 2 of my interview with Diane, when she’ll discuss major remodeling categories, including kitchens, roofing, and windows. Stay tuned!

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