The joy of decorating a Key West Conch cottage

A challenge and joy of moving to Key West is the necessary downsizing. The island is only 5.6 square miles and space is extremely precious. Fortunately, being surrounded by endless azure ocean vistas gives a sense of boundless expanse. Key West’s distinctive historical architecture has been influenced by settlers from New England, the Deep South, and the Bahamas. Bahamian immigrants developed the beloved Key West cottages known as “Conch houses:" small rectangular wooden houses typically built on posts for air circulation, with a porch the full width of the house. Many Conch house designs reference neoclassical architecture with a typical temple front.

In 2018, I was incredibly lucky to purchase a little Conch house in lovely Bahama Village, a quiet neighborhood in old Key West originally settled by the aforementioned Bahamian settlers. The thing about Conch houses is that they are very, very small so wall and floor space are at a premium.

One of the most liberating feelings in the world is to move somewhere new and bring only the bare essentials. Having left all my belongings behind except my two Abbyssinian cats and my books gave me the freedom to reinvent myself with a whole new environment. Examining each and every thing you own and only keeping those things that give you joy requires discipline. So, of course the first thing I did upon landing in Key West was buy a tiny Gabbeh rug that I fell in love with at Archeo, where I had just started working. To me, beautiful art is not just nice to have, but necessary in life. I chose my Gabbeh because it had a fairytale quality that reminded me of the Unicorn Tapestries at the Cloisters Museum in New York. Hanging it on the blank wall in my tiny library gave me more joy than a house full of things that I didn’t really need!