Designing a home today can be a balancing act of many spinning parts. Deciding on materials, paint colours and the creation of meaningful spaces and aesthetics can boggle the mind. From the 17th through early 20th centuries, the Islands’ traditional architecture consisted of four main style categories: the wattle-and-daub house, the timber house, the bungalow and the two-storey manor house. A key factor in design was that of practicality and budget. One would build a house with the money they had in hand and then extend as more funds became available.
The first homes were built using what was available locally. They would have mahogany frames supported by ironwood posts; walls made of wattle, which is woven strips usually cut from cabbage trees, and daub, a lime-based plaster made by burning coral rocks with wood in an outdoor kiln; and thatch roofs. The doors and windows were simply openings with wooden shutters that could be propped open. In designing and building today’s modern-day homes, “open-concept” interiors with minimalistic furnishings are popular. However, this was not a matter of choice in the olden days; it was a necessity. The houses were mainly for sleeping — usually on plantain trash mattresses made of dried leaves of the plantain tree — whilst most of the day’s work/chores would take place outside.
The average new home from the mid-19th century would be the single-storey timber house or bungalow. The timber house would be a rectangular shape of about 600 square feet, with a fretwork porch that ran along the front and occasionally wrapped the sides. The bungalow would be around 1,200 square feet and have a wider gabled front porch supported by large columns. The kitchen and bathing facilities were typically in adjacent buildings, but later designs enclosed them under the same roof of the house.
Examples of these homes can still be found dotted around all three Islands. We encourage you to keep your eyes open for these architectural treasures as you journey through Cayman’s neighbourhoods.
Courtesy of Cayman Islands National Archive