With the start of summer also comes the start of Hurricane Season. And like a carrot dangling in front of a rabbit, so is Key West. Builders far and wide come to Key West (and some should) to study its resilient architecture to learn how these homes have withstood hurricanes, termites, neglect and even the Great Depression. I too am learning about its style & architecture... Here's some of what I've found, along with some photos I captured from our recent anniversary trip to Key West...

Love the painted underside of the portico...

On Simonton gingerbread details and painted shutters

More details on Duval
Grand architecture of a conch house

One of the most recognizable architecture styles of Key West homes are simple shotgun homes (aka cigar makers house) and which can also be found in New Orleans architecture. Simple shotgun style Key West architecture traces its origin to West Africa and the French Caribbean. These balloon-frame homes for cigar makers were small and simple, one story and one room wide — with three rooms end to end so a shot fired from the front door could exit the back door without resistance.

Oh so coastal...

One of the more famous cigar houses of Key West was actually converted into a historic cottage inn called Simonton Court, and is located on Hurricane Alley. Cigar houses were established by Englishman William Hall in 1831 and the Cubans. The cigar industry was one of the three main thriving economies at the start of Key West's history (wrecking industry*, sponge industry (from the Bahamians) and cigar industry (from the Cubans). I would have thought that with Key West having been so heavily populated with Cubans, the roof tops would have been finished with Cuban barrel tile (shaped on the leg of a woman), but because of fires, many roof tops were constructed of tin to deflect flying embers.

 Although many of the houses were constructed of wood, over time and devastation from havoc of not only hurricanes but fires, buildings were also constructed of concrete or brick.  A portion of this brick can still be found at an old cigar house turned inn called Simonton Court.  If you've picked up a Summer Catalog from Pottery Barn this year, you've already been introduced to Simonton Court, and if not, you can learn more about Pottery Barn's photo shoot in the Florida Keys here.

"Simonton Court is a group of very unique rooms,
created from an old cigar makers' factory -  

No two are alike, but each are charming."

"A brick walkway, once a lane,
runs past sparkling pools and historic cottages
built in 1880 as the homes of cigar factory workers."

Pineapples - the symbol of "Welcome"
are a prominent decor detail throughout Key West

Simonton Court resides on Simonton Street, which is said to be also named Hurricane Alley. Simonton Street was named after the purchaser of the island, John W. Simonton. Although he purchased the island in January 1822, he was deemed the legal owner of the island (Key West aka Cayo Hueso) until May 1828. His story is actually a part Florida's first land scam. Learn more about the history of Key West here.

Eyebrow House

Another distinctive architecture style of Key West is Eyebrow House - the signature style of home to Key West. Eyebrow style is a Classic Revival derivative, with gables and porches and a series of 'eyebrow' windows tucked up under the second floor roof eaves. Its steep sloping roof line extends over the front porch and second floor windows. This design provides needed shade to reduce heat gain as well as direct rain runoff to water storage cisterns. Very green design for its time...

Shotgun house

Classic Revival Temple

A more conglomerate style of Key West houses is the Conch House - a design reflective of its first settlers - New Englanders, Cubans, and Bahamian fisherman, back in the 1820's. It combines Victorian, Bahamian and New England styles together. At the time of their construction, no building stones or bricks were available, but an abundance of conch shells were. The settlers often utilized the shell itself in constructing their houses. Thus the term "conch" house was born. Learn more about Key West Conch Houses here.

Queen Ann details and Victorian inspired...

And although a new movement today is known as the New Urbanism to the US, it's actually been a part of Key West construction for 150 years. "The basic building block of a community is the neighborhood." So much like DeWitt Clinton did for the City planning of New York (the 'grid'), so to is Key West. Walk, bike, or now even scooter to where you need to be. (In New York - Robert Mosses wanted to destroy neighborhoods in favor of the automobile, but thanks to people like Jane Jacobs, they do still exist.) Learn more about New Urbanism here and about Jane Jacobs here.




I can remember living in Key West (even if only for 4 months back in 1989) but it was a wonderful experience of walking to work, biking to shoot pool, and just even exploring the island itself... all without the need for a car (except for once a week trips to the laundry-mat and groceries). Ironically, the studio I rented was behind this house that is now for sale... and happened to be missing its deadbolt... so I peaked inside...

But after reading the difference between
a "One and a Half" and a "Shotgun",
I may have lived in a one and a half,
(half being the studio)
because this is a shotgun...
(and one story)

peak through fence to the back

If you're planning to visit Key West this summer, check out this site The Old Restoration Foundation Old House Museum & Garden. They have listed a self guided home tour of 50 historic homes & buildings of Key West. While you're there, take a walk down Duval, east to Whitehead to not only see America's Southern Most Guesthouse & Mansion, but also go to America's Southern Most Point.

America's Southern Most Guest House

(referred to by authors as a Conch Captain)

America's Southern Most Mansion

A stroll on over to America's Southern Most Point, will bring you to its lookout spot and famous Conch Republic buoy style monument, 90 miles to Cuba (although, I did read technically, this is 94 miles to Cuba - 90 is from Truman's Annex) My father is from Cuba... and coming to this point was one of the things we did when we first moved to Florida (WAY back in '78)...

Southern Most Point, Key West 1978

Me at 10.

I'm a little bigger now... and
my dad is no longer with us...
But I still think
"It's just 90 miles, maybe I could see it"

Me at 41.

Even-though I couldn't see it, and the point has changed
(new fence and no conch selling on the street)
visiting America's Southern Most Point was
 still a wonderful place to check out while in Key West...

Key West 2010
"Home of the Sunset"

Have you ever been to
America's Southern Most Point?

All photos by Lynda Quintero-Davids
*More to come about the wrecking industry*



  1. I love all the pastel colors on the houses and trim. We have little of that here - too many rules about Yankee historical accuracy! These are so pretty!

  2. Wow Lynda, those are some awesome photos! I especially liked the 'peeks' through the deadbolt & the fence. Key West truly is rich in architecture and history. Sadly most visitors don't stop to notice or learn about it. Your article though, may well open some fresh eyes. I'm very happy to have been introduced to your blog and look forward to the rest of this series!

  3. Great post Lynda. I recently completed an Architectural and History of ID class and can relate your pics to what I recently studied. Funny, if it wasn't for that class, I wouldn't look at architecture the way I do now.

  4. Thanks peeps!! Glad you're likin' the pics!

    Linda - I'll trade ya (I miss up north!!)

    Chris - Glad you're enjoying the series, and yes - hopefully it helps bring people down your way!

    Marilyn - I couldn't agree with you more. I felt the same way after those classes and learning more about the history of NYC!

    Have a WONDERFUL day!
    :D Lynda

  5. Cool houses........we don't see 'em like that in the midwest! Love the windows that open "up" like that.

    Love the pics of you guys......look how little you were. What a nice memory of your Dad, standing in the same spot how cool!

  6. I don't live too far from Key West and find myself there often. Surviving original Key West houses were constructed from Dade County Pine which is a subspecies of the northern Heart Pine, only Dade County Pine is even more dense. It's native to Florida, which explains why it is resistant to Florida's weather and pests, but it is no longer in existence. All of the trees were chopped down, I believe to build Flagler's railroad. Anyway, great pics, especially the ones from your childhood.

  7. Thanks for the info Victoria! I think I recall reading about the Florida Pine. My old apartment I use to live in on Bay Harbour Island (Miami Beach) had Florida Pine wood floors. Very durable!!

    Key West houses are sure full of charm and character...

    :D Lynda

  8. Vacationed in Key West in August 2010. We took the Conch Train tour (as hokey as it sounds) we heard many many stories of the rich history and got much insight on the architecture. My husband took many many photos, many just like yours. Thanks for sharing

  9. I loved reading this post about Key West! I found you through Centsational Girl's link up because I also linked up a Key West post!! Don't you just love that town? I lived there for about a year (2008) and have traveled back for a visit. It was wonderful to read about it through your eyes! You took beautiful pictures, too! I'm excited to find your blog - I can't wait to read more. (PS! I saw David Bromstad once when he was visiting Key West! What a thrill!)

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