Spanish Mission Homes - Part 1


                                    (Image Courtesy of R Dunston; State Library of Victoria, #b26607)

Spanish Mission Homes Inter-War Period

Spanish Mission buildings were inspired by 19th Century Spanish religious buildings in Mexico, New Mexico and California. The Spanish revival style was developed by the early 20th Century in America and became fashionable in Australia through the American influence of movies and culture.

A well known Architect who boasted the largest architectural practice in Brisbane in the early 1900’s was Eric Percival Trewern.  His practice opened in 1920 and flourished until he passed away in 1959.  In the interwar years he was well known for influencing the architectural movement of Georgian Revival Style in commercial buildings and Spanish Mission and Old English/Tudor style residences.  He designed and built a select few of Spanish mission style homes and buildings in Brisbane around the 1920’s – 40’s.  Such as a residence in Clayfield “Cassa Anna” (El Nido) constructed in 1928 which is still standing today.

Incredible Drawings by J.P Trewern, dated (1929) can be found here:


He also designed the Spanish Mission home at 17 Griffith Street, New Farm.  Information on Trewern can be obtained from the Fryer Library and his name is amongst several famous architect’s who really paved the way for design and architecture in Australia such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Sydney Ancher, Walter Grupius and Ludwig Mies, Marcel Breuer, Robin Boyd, John Dalton, Peter Muller and Stuart McIntosh all had a great influence on Australian Architecture.

The most famous of all Spanish Mission Style Houses in Brisbane and Trewern’s most documented house is “Santa Barbara”, 209 Moray Street, New Farm, Brisbane.  The home is now heritage listed and viewings can occur through the Brisbane City Council Heritage Trail.

                                (Image Courtesy of Australian Institute Of Architects)

Trewern’s work famously used the unusual style of asymmetrical construction design with intersecting roof forms which were also being explored by other local architects at the time.  They were investigating and applying European and imported ideas of architecture and adapting these to suit the local Queensland climate.  Trewern was pushing the envelope at the time trying to move away from Queenslander style of housing by creating something unique to Australia, in look, style and colour.  This obviously caught the eye of the wealthy who quickly adopted these houses, with their light and airy Spanish look, sweeping internal corridors and unusual large outdoor patio areas incorporating columns and stucco half walls, the occupant had the feeling of looking out onto Spanish or French Vineyards.  The use of the terracotta tiles underfoot provided a cool alternative in the summer and gave warmth in winter thus providing a sense of rustic composition to these homes. 

Santa Barbara cost at the time was 4000 pounds to construct including the architects fees. The house was sent to Tender by Trewern and the winning contractors were namely Douglas F Roberts and Sons, Toorak Road, Hamilton. 

Santa Barbara was considered to be one of the most expensive homes in Brisbane at that time.  It was featured in many home magazines supported by sketches from the Architect.  Trewern designed many well known land mark buildings in Brisbane’s CBD as well as business premises, flats and office renovations, Turrawan Private Hospital, Clayfield, Hamiltons El Nino and a Surfers Paradise Hotel which has since been demolished.

Trewern had many credits to his name he was very active in Architecture groups in Queensland, he became Vice President of the Queensland Institute of Architecture, Member of the Board of Architects, Fellow of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, President of the Queensland Institute of Architects, Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and Federal Councilor.

He was well known and respected for his work and knowledge.  He received many accolades in magazines describing his work on Santa Barbara as impressive, noting the detail in the Cordova roof tiles, the Mediterranean influence set in a subtropical garden setting.    It was noted in a local paper that it was one of the most admired homes of New Farm, with its settings providing a romantic atmosphere.  His goal in designing notable recognized Spanish Mission houses keeping to their true origin had been achieved and it is for this reason they are today heritage listed and continue to be admired as fine pieces of architecture that paved the way for a new era in housing styles to follow.

Unfortunately, although popular over a short span of time not very many of these homes were built in Queensland in comparison to other more adaptable styles.  This could well have been the cost of materials to build them considering the war bought about a critical shortage in housing demands and building materials. 


Brisbane Spanish Mission “Santa Barbara”

Santa Barbara was designed in c1929 and was finally completed 1 year later in 1930.  It was designed for a well known wealthy publican and business woman Sarah Balls.  Mrs. Balls was married to politician Robert Ramsay Mackenzie and later married Publican John Irwin Balls who later went into partnership namely Smith & Balls Builders and Carpenters working on famous buildings in the Brisbane region. The house is a one storey brick/masonry residence, asymmetrical in design where parts of the structure intersect.  It has handcrafted building techniques such as the following;

  • Terracotta roof tiles
  • very decorative central fireplace
  • curved bell shaped chimney/tower in white stucco
  • graciously arched openings throughout the home
  • timber framed glass doors with decorative tracery
  • handmade floor tiles
  • paneled ceilings and walls


 Features of these homes include:

  • Stucco walls usually white with maybe some blue trims
  • Tiled roofs, “Cordoba” terracotta tiles – (handcrafted)
  • Arched doorways & openings with twisted columns
  • Roof parapets
  • Resemble of Spanish mission churches
  • Bell towers
  • Elaborate arches
  • Deeply shaded porches
  • Dark interiors
  • flat or gently sloped red-tiled roofs
  • eaves that don't overhang
  • decorative timber windows and/or porches
  • stucco walls usually white
  • Asymmetrical external construction, such as an off-center door
  • complicated wrought iron detailing/ balustrades
  • colorful tile work
  • complex main hipped roof
  • small ancillary skillion roofs at various heights
  • colonnaded verandahs with semi-circular arches
  • barley twist columns
  • white roughcast exterior


                                           (Imagae Courtesy of City of Cincinnati, Planning & Building Website)

In the 1920’s architects in America were attempting to combine different styles and unique features from other housing types of the era, such as Arts and Crafts, Prairie and Pueblo.  Trewern was experimenting with such styles through this era.  Spanish Mission was a basis for a structural design idea, but Architects around the world could put their own stamp on the concept such as Trewern’s style of using Asymmetrical compositions and intersecting roof forms, to which he was famous for when crafting these Spanish Mission Style Houses.


Santa Barbara Notable Features:
(Images Courtesy of Auatralian Institute of Architects)


Other Notable Features of Spanish Mission:

 (Image Courtesy of Guide to Affordable House by Judy Gale Rechner)

I Hope you enjoyed the post on these magnificent homes.  When we lived at Bulimba, by the river I recall my favorite thing to do was sit on the front porch of our Queenslander sipping on a glass of wine when studying the magnificent Spanish Mission home on one of Hamilton's hills, sometimes there would be lights on sometimes it would be in total darkness for long periods.  She is a grand beauty of two floors with every inch of the Spanish style decorative features. Oh how I admired this beauty from afar.  These homes are to be loved, respected and admired, they are another key architectual link to our cities past.

Please feel free to post comments below and message me questions via, the blog, email or social media.

I thank you for dropping by and Wednesday we might cover something a little more decorative, in PART 2 - Spanish Mission Homes Interior ! Less chat, more pretty pictures ...


Front Cover photo -  (Image Courtesy of

Lena x

Lena Gatti
T +61 404 649 773

PO Box 101
Coorparoo Qld 4151

Design Studio located at Manly by appointment only