Travel Series: Key West, The Houses.
While graceful Victorian and Queen Anne homes dot the island, Key West is most famous for its Conch houses. Originally built for the cigar workers, these are simple structures less than 1000 square feet, all the same, lined up in a row.
There is some variety in Conch houses, but most are defined by their simple construction and repetitive placement. They are highly coveted because they are relatively easy to maintain (ignoring the elements for a moment). Most are located in Old Town and are adorned in bright pastel colors, with pastel shutters. Since this is Key West, they lack insulation and, in its place, have Dade County pine walls. This pine, now extinct, was popular in Key West because termites did not particularly care for it, although worms did. The Dade County pine walls boast a deep and beautiful finish punctuated with worm holes to give it a 3-dimensional appearance.
There are two types of houses that are typically referred to as Conch houses, “Eyebrow” and “Shotgun.” “Eyebrow” houses are 2 stories and are called eyebrow, because the porch ceiling and columns extend to roof line, making 2nd story windows only partially visible.
“Shotgun” homes are small with floor plans designed so that one room goes to the next, called “Shotgun” because one could shoot a gun through the front door and it would go right out the back door without hitting a wall. They lack hallways and insulation but do feature the beautiful Dade County pine walls. Rarely more than 2 bedrooms, many were built to house workers in the cigar factories that produced Cuban cigars before they were moved to Tampa and Ybor on the mainland.
All homes support bright tin or aluminum roofs that reflect the sun and allow the water to run off into cisterns. Until the Navy brought water to Key West in the 1940s, residents had to rely on cisterns for their water supply; now they serve as a supplemental water source.
Key Westers use paint, shutters and landscaping to make their homes distinctive. Expect to see pink, aqua, tan, cream, lavender mint or any pastel color as well as white with colorful shutters. Lavender used to be the color of defiance, letting the world know that a gay or lesbian lived here…but with the large gay and lesbian population, lavender homes are just one of the many color palettes of Key West.
While the tourists are enjoying the curb appeal of the homes, we actually live in the back. Outside living spaces are the reason that we chose Key West. We use the outside as our dining area, but you can also expect to see many homes with their washer and dryer outside as well. Living outdoors allows us to be a part of all that we love about Key West, the breezes, the sun, the colors of the sky, the warm, enveloping humidity.
Learn more about Key West in these posts from Angela:
The Houses (this one)
Key West Quirkiness
Key West's Spirituality