Here are some points to consider if you plan to build a dream home in The Bahamas. First buy the biggest and most prestigious piece of land you can afford. If you live on New Providence, the main island, it should be situated at the eastern or western end of the island. (Don’t mess with anything in between!)
Now the next step is highly controversial. If you once wore ‘Earth’ shoes, utter the name ‘Greenpeace’ in the same breath as the ‘Beatitudes’, and believe that the movie ‘Free Willy’ is the most important statement of the 20th century, you will walk through the property tying red ribbons around the strongest and most beautiful of the native Bahamian trees. This tells the tractor operator what you want to leave standing.
If you are the other type of Bahamian to whom ostentation is most important, you will level the property to ensure maximum space for ‘concrete’ expansion. Whichever class of Bahamian you belong to, you will probably plant fruit trees extensively, and take your family to gaze fondly at your ‘piece of the rock’ each weekend from time of purchase straight through the construction process.
How should the ‘true-true’ Bahamian house look? Think about the Ford automobiles of the late fifties. The accent is on big and noticeable with plenty of glazing. Some of us would incorporate chrome into our exterior design, as well, if we could but find a way. Try, by all means, to afford hilltop property or large acreage, but don’t despair if you can’t. Squeezing a 4,000 square foot, two-storied, balconied house on a 50′ x 100′ lot will have much the same impact.
If your pocket dictates a small bungalow, painting the exterior in a rainbow colour will attract just as much notice. No need for timidity in the area of colour for a Bahamian house. Walls of Tyrian purple, and of no less bright Florida orange may be considered tasteless elsewhere, but are certainly not unknown here.
For increased presence, don’t neglect the advantage of having decorative finials for the pillars of the walls enclosing your property. The more discreet among us usually settle for the traditional pineapple ornament or a practical lamp. Those of more Napoleonic vision go in for winged victories and lions rampant. Those totally lacking in taste go so far as to gild them.
Most of the foregoing excesses are committed most often by the newly or unexpectedly rich. When the money has aged considerably, Bahamians like their houses to match. We therefore resort to beautiful Bahamian Georgian architecture either by imitation or by buying the homes of old colonial barons or winter residents who have moved to more secluded islands in the Bahamas chain or further south to islands too small to appear on standard maps.
Excerpted from How to Be a True-True Bahamian, Guanima, 1994
•••Patricia Glinton-Meicholas is a Bahamian satirist, poet and novelist who has written numerous papers, articles and monographs on Bahamian history, art and culture as well as ten books, including coauthoring Bahamian Art 1492 to 1992, the first comprehensive work on the subject, two volumes of poetry, and several works of satire. She contributed entries to the Bahamas section of the Macmillan 37 volume Dictionary of Art, and her story, “The Gaulin Wife” is included in the Penguin anthology Under the Storyteller’s Spell.