One of the pleasures of Key West is strolling along the streets of Old Town looking at the lovely residential cottages and homes. Many of these date to the 19th century and are done in a style known as “conch” architecture. Native Key West folk call themselves “conchs.” The name is derived from people in the Bahamas, who, resisting British food taxes in the 1700s, declared they’d rather eat the meat from the ubiquitous conchs — the familiar spiral-shelled gastropod with a lustrous pink interior — which they duly did. Numerous Bahamians settled in Key West in the 1800s, and the name traveled with them. Many were boatbuilders, and they constructed sturdy houses from the dense Dade County pine.
Comprising an amalgam of styles from New England, the Caribbean and the Gulf Coast, their homes shared several common characteristics: They were built on posts to allow air to circulate; sloping roofs allowed for better rain runoff and collection; louvered shutters admitted indirect light to reduce the heat; dormers provided added space on top floors; and porches and verandas cut down on direct sun. Many of these clapboard homes have been restored and renovated in recent years. They are now painted in bright colors inspired by the natural environment and sport decorative embellishments such as gingerbread trim.