As an interior decorator and design consultant, I became fascinated with the history of Florida and Old Florida style homes, including the Old Florida Cracker style home. So I began my research into the back roads of old Florida. I found that Florida is not only rich in heritage, but also rich in culture and architectural design.
Florida is a kaleidoscope of many nationalities like Spanish, British, French, Italian and Cuban and with them came many influences on architectural design styles. Settlers also came from other states like South Carolina, New York and Louisiana. This diversity of cultures influenced the architecture and decorating style of many buildings, historical hotels and Florida homes.
Florida’s first settlers were actually Native American Indians. Ponce De Leon, a Spanish explorer, was the first to discover Florida in 1513, landing in St. Augustine, the nations oldest city. St. Augustine is also the home to the Casa Monica hotel, a Moorish Revival and Spanish Baroque style hotel.
Fernandina Beach on the Florida East coast touts a Floridian seaport village with cobblestone streets adorned with Victorian style homes and beachside cottages.
The Breakers Hotel in West Palm Beach is a grand Old Florida Italian Renaissance hotel, built by real estate and railroad tycoon Henry Flagler in 1894. 75 artisans were brought in from Italy to complete the magnificent paintings of the main lobby ceiling.
Another popular Florida home-style design was the Renaissance and Mediterranean style homes found in both old Winter Park and Coral Gables neighborhoods. Also, mid-century architecture, based on Frank Lloyd Wright’s ideas, was popular in Sarasota and Fort Lauderdale.
The Miami national historic district reflects 1950-60 architectural styles such as Mediterranean Revival, Art Deco and Miami Modern (MIMO) style.
Do not forget Florida old style homes in Key West, like Ernest Hemmingway’s home, a magnificent home in its day, decorated with French and Spanish furnishings. Key West also boasts the famous home of President Harry Truman; known as the Little White House. This is a Victorian style home in which many of our presidents visited. Key West is well known for the conch house style, introduced by the immigrants from the Bahamas. The conch house is an architectural home style using native conch shells, timber framing, low gabled roofs and large porches.
In Sarasota, John Ringling, of the Ringling Brothers Circus, built an Italian Renaissance style mansion modeled after a palace in Venice, Italy.
The Tampa Bay Hotel, located in Tampa, was built by Henry Plant, the railroad mogul. This hotel also uses Spanish Moorish revival architecture.
Old Florida also included mid-19th century Florida classic-revival plantation home styles like the Gamble Plantation house in Ellenton, the only surviving antebellum mansion near St. Petersburg.
Florida old style homes not only had some of the most magnificent, elegant old world hotels; it also had some laid-back, simple homes. One of the most familiar is the Florida Cracker vernacular style home that reflects green design by using local natural resources and is designed to withstand the Florida environment.
These homes were comfortable in the Florida heat since they were built off the ground so cooling air could circulate around them. They also had high peaked tin roofs to reflect the heat, shady wrap around porches with extended roof lines and lots of windows for cross ventilation. The Cracker house, now dubbed “Cracker Chic”, is making a comeback in the south with modern developments.
The next time you travel in Florida, why not take a side trip to some of these historical treasures? Better yet, take the scenic Old Florida Heritage Highway, rich in natural beauty where you can observe pastoral countryside and explore historical Florida old style homes like the Cracker home of the famous writer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings in Cross Creek, an environment that attracts writers, poets and artists. A place that will restore you spirit and refresh your soul. Happy travels!
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