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What is San Miguel Style? and why does it matter?

By Jonathon Hartzler Griffon

Twenty five years ago “San Miguel Style” began to appear as a recognized style in design publications. Certainly since the publication of the Shipway series of books published by Architectural Book Publishing beginning 60 years ago there have been noteworthy published trends in restoration, architecture, and design tied to San Miguel.

What is San Miguel Style?  Although there are many variations and interpretations, we think of it as based in Spanish colonial architecture and furnishings, with eclectic influences of European design, Mexican folk art, and traditional Talavera tile and ceramics. Centuries old local craftsmanship in iron working, tin, stone work, wood carving, and ceramics are all reflected in the materials used.  Notably, the infusion of  elements brought by foreigners and Mexicans alike, such as traditional oriental rugs, European antiques, and original artwork have lent a sophisticated finish to San Miguel´s unique style since the restoration trends have been underway all during recent generations.

Recognizing traditional San Miguel style is important because it reflects our common identity. In a world where every commercial building begins to look alike, and where cultural and historical details are erased in favor of modernism, we are fortunate to have a unique and recognizable identity.

We belong to this identity and it is part of us. Since the 1930´s groups have been active in preservation, and the many talented designers, architects, clients, and craftsmen who were attracted to the historical colonial town have all left their valuable imprint over the years. We have in San Miguel the many monuments and structures from the colonial period, primarily the 17th and 18th centuries into the 19th century.  It´s noteworthy that the logical urban layout of colonial San Miguel and the many buildings still standing after centuries, compares favorably to the new chaotic urban sprawl and new commerical buildings that are programmed to last but 30 years. With all our modern technology, construction methods, and wealth, we don´t seem to have the self confidence or belief in the future to do better.

Perhaps because the pendulum of design trends is swinging towards the historic and traditional currently, this is a good time to consider our relation to our constructed history.  In a world that is so chaotic, with worrisome events of all kinds, we can connect with place, history, and continuity.

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