Rescue Me Please! I'm Spanish Mission Revival...

spanish revival feature harpers bazaar model on horseback
spanish mission revival architecture 622 toorak rd toorak

Shall we go on a rescue mission today? Of the renovation variety? Are you up for it?

It'll be a bit of hard work, a bit of money and a bit of imagination in real life, but today we only need the imagination quota. And the reward would be a gloriously glamorous home of elaborate character.

The star of our rescue mission is a gracious home built in 1926, in the then very-fashionable Spanish Mission style, in leafy Toorak, Melbourne, which is up for sale.

But it is in danger of being demolished, so let's see if we can rescue her instead, in our imaginations, at least, returning her to elegant and exciting glory...

spanish mission revival architecture characteristics
spanish mission revival architecture characteristics

First up, what is this style called Spanish Mission?

Well, it originated in California in the early 20th century, around 1915, where it became known as Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, a romantic interpretation of the earlier buildings erected by the Spanish missionaries throughout Mexico, California, Texas and Arizona in the 19th century.

Both versions shared distinctive stylised elements: notably white stucco walls, terracotta roof tiles, elaborate forged iron balustrades & grilles, low pitched roofs, lots of arches, exposed timber framing.

The 20th century version also often incorporated the distinctive "barley twist" column. Oh how I love them! Utterly indulgent, really.

typical spanish mission house ripponlea melbourne

So what happened in 1915, to create this new interest in an old style of architecture?

Ah, well the Panama Canal had opened with much fanfare, and a huge Exposition was held to celebrate. And it just so happened that the lead architect of the exhibition was one Bertram Goodhue, who had a soft spot for the those 19th century Spanish Missionary buildings, and incorporated this look + the adobe building materials of the Pueblo people living nearby into his new designs...

Guide_Book_of_the_Panama_California 1915_Exposition

This was an incredibly ornamental style of architecture, especially when you think that at the same time, in Europe, the origins of Bauhaus were beginning.

Bit of a contrast!

Anyway, the new style of Spanish Revival became extremely popular in California throughout the next couple of decades, and probably nowhere more so than in Hollywood... It became the style du jour for the new mansions built for the young aspiring actresses and actors by their publicity-conscious studios, like this little number, the home of Rudolph Valentino...

home of rudolph valentino hollywood spanish revival
home of rudolph valentino hollywood spanish revival

So what's all this got to do with our rescue mission in Melbourne???

Well, with all the glamour of the Silent Movies of the 1920s being seen in the glamorous new Picture Palaces, everybody wanted some of the action.

So this new style of architecture became very fashionable with the smart young things around the world.

And in Australia, the smart young things started building in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, which for some inexplicable reason, became known as Spanish Mission. (Probably because of the aussie knack of shortening long words & phrases...)

Whatever it was called, though, it was the latest in glamour.... and glamour was what 1926 was all about... which is the year our Rescue Mission House was built...

(Just to get you in the right mood for the times, these stills are from the 1926 film, The Fashion Show.)

Fashion Show Fig Leaves film 1926
Fashion Show Fig Leaves 1926 via silver screen modiste

Oh yes, that's glamour...1926 style....

So, now to get into our steel-capped boots, hard hats and overalls, because we have some work to do.

Here's how our house is looking at the moment, from the real estate listing...

arched windows spanish mission style
living room 622 toorak rd
living room 622 toorak rd
parquet flooring
parquet flooring

So far, we have some nice parquetry flooring, in herringbone, arched windows and sunshine-filled rooms.

dining room

This room has fabulous potential, with a trio of windows and rather wonderful cornices and plaster mouldings.

bedroom in 1930s house toorak

An enormous bedroom.... with a fireplace and two walls with windows, including rather charming arched ones at the back.

bathroom with pink travertine

I think the 1980s got invited to the bathroom...

1980s kitchen

And they stayed to do the kitchen...

Right, that's what we've got... now let's see what we can do with it.... starting with the kitchen....


Oh, yes, much's coming to life.


How about the living areas now?


Painting the windows in dark tones, either black or dark charcoals, with walls in a mottled, lime washed white (preferably with a fresco type of paint, rather than a flat acrylic) will create the right backdrop. Then adding curtains of unbleached linen, to sway in the breeze from the many windows.

Some Spanish Revival touches are needed, but not too many or this will look like a museum. Instead, bringing in some mid century and 1970s glam with brass pieces will add the bold look, without it looking too themed.

steel frame doors and windows by studio william hefner eat in kitchen

Because a strong part of the appeal of a Spanish Mission home is the link between outdoors & indoors, the adjoining alfresco area is a very important part of the plan. This can either be in courtyard form, or as a loggia running along the side of the house. Either way, it needs to be furnished as thoughtfully as the interior, so that it is an appealing place to be, to draw visitors out to enjoy its cosy, protected enclave.


Just as the exterior treatment is all about courtyards and contained, walled spaces, it works well if there is at least one room in the home which celebrates cosiness. Sure, an open plan kitchen/dining/ living area is part of the Spanish Mission floor plan, but there was often also a den too, as there is in our Rescue Mission even comes with a bar... we'll be keeping that, I reckon... (perfect for Sangria) but we may need to change the finishes a little...


So our house is taking shape... looking much more elegant and a lot more glamorous.

Which just leaves the front entry to think about. After all, it's the first glimpse into the personality of the house, and it's a chance to tantalise with a little of that Spanish Mission drama.

fabulous front entrance spanish mission style via thinking outside the boxwood

A couple of terracotta pots arranged asymmetrically, and filled with trailing cascades of plants should do the trick.

It gives a clue as to the style of the house: informal yet stylish, bold yet unpretentious, chic yet a little wistful: a 21st century interpretation of the 1926 Spanish Mission style, with all that Hollywood glamour of the era.

622 toorak rd toorak architect Cedric H Ballantyne 1926 for J Smith spanish mission

So here's hoping somebody purchases this house with a heart for a Rescue Mission, because it would be a tragic loss to architectural history for it to be bulldozed.

Those barley twist columns alone are worthy!

Do you think it's worth saving the rest, to be re-imagined into a glamorous home for today?

property details :: 622 toorak rd toorak melbourne :: agents details here  inspection details hereimages:: glamour on horseback // all portraits in hats // panama expo // rudolph valentino house // the fashion show 1926 // kitchen looking onto alfresco // entrance with pots compilation artwork blue fruit :: image sources // spanish mission characteristics 1/2 :: kitchen & dining 1/2/3/4/ :: :: living rooms 1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8 :: alfresco 1 lost source/2/3/4/5/6/ :: cosy den 1/2/3/4