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Find Inspiration In Local Architecture And Design of the Caribbean

Learn why ironwood may be the perfect building material, why Caribbean architecture holds the secret to keeping cool in summer months, and how to personalize your home’s exterior with a family coat of arms.


On my recent Carnival cruise, I found a ton of inspiration in the local architecture and design of the Eastern Caribbean. No surprise there! Who wouldn’t?  In our pursuit of designing a timeless, yet modern home, it only makes sense to study architectural elements that have withstood the test of time.  Join me in an indulgent, visual tour of Puerto Rico, the island of St. Kitts, and Grand Turk Island as we take a closer look at the functionality, beauty, and meaning behind Caribbean architecture and design. You may be inspired to steal a few ideas from some true pioneers!

Defense and Decoration

Home security has always been important whether it’s protection against attacks by cannibalistic tribes or safeguarding the last snickerdoodle from the Cookie Monster.

Oh, is that just at my house…

Anyhow, In Puerto Rico, where residents of Old San Juan built might forts such as Castillo de San Cristóbal, they made heavy wooden doors and shutters from a native species of wood called ausubo or ironwood. Ironwood seems as if it petrifies over time and is virtually indestructible. It darkens when exposed to air and if polished, buffs to a beautiful shine.


Ironwood shutters at Castillo de San Cristóbal

Here are a couple of examples where decoration disguises defense when paired with vibrant colors on the building’s exterior.


Welcoming entry to an office in San Juan


Ironwood door with metal brads on front entry at a private residence

Keeping Cool

As a native to The South, I’ve experienced my share of sweltering summers. Ceiling fans, air-conditioning, and good old-fashioned ice water are a Southerner’s comfort cures. However, I’m convinced that the Caribbeans hold the secrets to keeping cool. Shade and ventilation are key!


While in St. Kitts I took the Island History and Rum Tasting Tour. The tour took us to the newly restored Fairview Great House and Botanical Gardens. Here’s an example a of beautiful vaulted ceilings constructed for ventilation. It was not easy to build such high ceilings in earlier times, but certainly a room like this provided more comfort that flat ceilings. After all, warm air rises leaving cooler air below. In the image above, carvings within the ceiling’s beams provide further airflow between two rooms.


Vaulted ceilings and mosquito nets provide comfort while you sleep in the master bedroom at the Fairview Great House


Vaulted ceilings continue into a historic bathroom in St. Kitts’ historic Fairview Great House


A sidewalk cafe in Grand Turk boasts simple, dual functioning windows. They provide shade for customers when open and protection for the shopkeeper when closed.

Making Your Mark

I have always believed that a home’s decor should leave clues about the people who live there. What’s even more fascinating is when clues exist on the exterior. On our Old San Juan Walk, Mojito, and Mofongo Experience, I spotted the Coat of Arms for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico at the entry gates on the Paseo de la Princesa.




Closer look at the Great Seal of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

Why not display your family’s coat of arms on a gate or at the front door.

Don’t have one? Gather the family and make one. It’s fun! When designing family coat of arms make a list of core values and beliefs shared by the members of your family. Research to find the symbols and colors associated with your key values. This exercise is fun for the entire family and also encourages a sense of unity and time honored tradition.

This post was created for Away We Go with Carnival, the destination for getting in the getaway state of mind.