A conch house is a type of dwelling common throughout Florida and the Bahamas. Dating back to early settlements, these homes were traditionally built using a mortar composed of local materials, including conch shells. Today, conch-style homes are still to be found throughout the area, though are typically made from more modern building materials.
Without an abundance of rock, stone, or brick materials, early settlers in the Florida Keys were forced to get creative in order to build suitable dwellings. The tropical climate of the area was notorious for long heat spells and frequent storms. Houses that could withstand the elements needed to be quite sturdy but also efficient at keeping interior temperatures down. The mortar used to build these dwellings was made up of sand, water, and the lime residue that resulted from burning conch shells, hence the name “conch house.”
As travel to the Caribbean and Florida areas became more convenient, wood became a popular replacement material. The conch house style came to refer to homes built with a blend of Victorian architecture and tropical sensibilities. Energy-efficient, charming, and still sturdy enough to fight off hurricanes, the conch house style of design remains a major influence on architecture in Florida and the Bahamas.
The original conch houses incorporated several design techniques to maximize airflow throughout the home while providing heat and weather protection. Many were built on stilts to allow cool air to collect underneath the house, while shuttered windows allowed breezes in while keeping heat and direct sunlight out. Long or wrap-around porches also became a common feature, to allow inhabitants a covered lounging area when temperatures began to drop. The roof of a conch house was often constructed from metal to reflect the sunlight, and sometimes contained hatches or openings for additional airflow. These combined features created an early form of energy-efficient housing, a quality highly desirable in modern home architecture.
The Victorian-era influence on the conch house is now a major part of its style and design. Gabled roofs, gingerbread trim, and delicately carved balcony railings all became standard parts of a well-made conch house. The style today is often recognized for its blend of Victorian and Caribbean design, creating homes that are refined, delicate, and yet surprisingly strong. There are many excellent examples of conch houses throughout Florida, particularly in Key West. Many restored conch buildings are now historical landmarks, providing accurate depictions of the correct design and style.