Blending Europe with Africa in the tropical Caribbean, Bahamian villas range from handsome stone colonial mansions to wooden clapboard beachfront cottages.
Compared to architecture styles in other tropical destinations, Bahamian architecture is sturdy, classic and made to last. You will see some Pacific-inspired thatched roof pavilions or Balinese-style framing popping up in gardens around villas in the Bahamas, but for the most part the modern architecture follows its roots.
In fact, there are some fans of villas in the Bahamas who believe they should be the future of architecture because of its inherent sustainability, the way it reduces the needs for artificial lighting and air conditioning. Also, flexibility and simplistic lines don’t overpower nature and leave a wonderful canvas for individualized décor.
CLAPBOARD COTTAGES IN THE BAHAMAS
The clapboard house is one of the most copied tropical styles around the world and influenced what is today known as the Miami Conch House. They are built from timber planks, which have the ends pegged rather than nailed, and then pinned to stone pilings several feet above ground. Bahamian clapboard houses have survived hurricanes when many rigid stone-built structures have collapsed.
As well as strength and ambience, these cottages can be ecofriendly, often angled to receive the trade winds. This can help reduce the need for air conditioning and also marry your interior world with the local environment. They feature large windows dressed with push-out shutters to shade against direct sunlight, awnings that direct breezes indoors and high ceilings where air can move around.
Bahamian clapboard cottages are usually elevated on stilts, allowing even more air to circulate. Raising the building also keeps the floors above floodwaters. In fact, many clapboard houses have survived storms and floods, which devastated surrounding stone houses.
COLONIAL HOUSES IN THE BAHAMAS
The early British estate owners from England sought to put a barrier between themselves and the natural environment of the Bahamas, so you will see some very stuffy looking British government buildings in places like Nassau. As later colonists made their fortunes and began adapting, the villas became grand with coliseum facades that may remind you of the architect of the deep south of the US in the decadent days of Gone with the Wind.
This original British-inspired mansion style was also tweaked over the years to take on some of the commonsense of the African population who assumedly built them. Windows were strategically placed and shaded whether by shutters or large porches and verandahs. The thick walls and high ceilings were maintained but painted in pale colors, which cooled the mind and reflected the hot sun rather than absorbing the heat.
A stroll around the capital Nassau is a good way to observe how colonial architecture morphed from something grand and unpractical (i.e. Parliament square) to elegant and cool (Nassau Public Library building).
MODERN VILLAS IN THE BAHAMAS
“Architecture based on the Bahamas’ combination of climate, culture and conditions should be the starting point for the beginning of a new tradition because it clearly can be most-loved by the culture in which it is built,” writes eco-architect Steven Mouzon, in his book A Living Tradition: Architecture of the Bahamas.
He believes the starting point for good architecture is responding to climate and regional conditions, as the Bahamians have done for generations.
Remaining a favorite with eco-architects like Mouzon, many modern villas in the Bahamas are still designed in the shapes and styles of either the clapboard houses or colonial mansions, while other examples choose simplistic abstract shapes and materials that blend and harness the surrounding environment.
Except as a garden feature, you will virtually never see flimsy bamboo or thatched roofing. Bahamian architects would prefer to build you a clean stone whitewash pavilion with a tiled roof that will outlast a storm and keep you much cooler and cleaner below its shade.
Typical luxury villas have stone or tiled floors that move from the terrace and infinity pools through the kitchens, not only marrying the indoors and outdoors but also giving a feeling of constant closeness to the sea, while maintaining the inside sense of a clean open space. They also tend to cleverly hide all the modern high-end appliances and equipment behind clean-lined doors, so you can shut out modern day life or switch in back on again.
Many luxury villas have multiple terraces where you can open up French doors to sunrises, close the blind to the midday sun, move to other outdoor areas for sunsets and open up the whole villa to the famous cooling evening breeze.
You’ll rarely need to switch on a light during the day and you can blend low-impact lighting with candles to enhance the warm tropical glow.
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