Unique Elements of Our Island’s Architecture

Stepped White Roofs
Our distinctive roofs are not just visually striking they’re remarkably functional, too. Shingled with limestone slates, Bermuda’s roofs serve the dual purpose of collecting rainwater and channeling it into underground tanks for household storage. While these roofs may appear uniform to the untrained eye, traditional architecture in Bermuda employs two distinct styles. Gabled roofs feature two pitches sloping down from a central ridge, with the triangular end wall known as the gable. This gable can either remain unadorned exposing the zigzag edge of the shingled slate or it can be embellished with a cornice moulding or a Flemish. On the other hand, hipped roofs have four separate pitches descending from the ridge, their facets meeting at angles at the building’s corners.

A noteworthy characteristic of many Bermuda homes is they are constructed in modular components. What once was a single-bedroom cottage evolves into a three- or four-bedroom dwelling over the course of decades, with various roof types often being combined or intermixed with each subsequent addition.

A classic Bermuda roof features overlapping stone slates that, after multiple applications of lime wash, amalgamate into a unified structure. During the initial stages of stone quarrying in Bermuda, labourers employed hatchets or, in some instances, their bare knuckles to tap the stone. The resulting sound determined the suitability of the stone for use in crafting roof slates.
During the mid-1800s, ventilation slots were integrated into the roof, facilitating the flow of air in and out of the home and enhancing overall circulation.

Tray Ceilings
Tray ceilings have consistently held favour in Bermudian architecture, primarily due to their ability to enhance room height and, more importantly, to promote air circulation, a crucial factor in Bermuda’s humid climate. The initial iterations of tray ceilings lacked plaster linings, and showcased every element of the building’s roof, from rafters and collars to slate battens and the underside of the slates.

According to David F. Raine in his book Architecture Bermuda Style, eyebrows, the decorative shapes moulded over the tops of windows, weren’t seen until the turn of the seventeenth century. Their origin, he says, may well lie in the practice of ecclesiastical architects who frequently placed similar raised stonework above Gothic arches in churches.

The “eave” denotes the part of the roof that extends beyond the exterior wall of a home or building. Unlike in the West Indies, where eaves are consistently left two or more feet deep to provide shade, Bermudian houses have shallower eaves, typically measuring only 8 to 10 inches. This deliberate choice aims to minimise the risk of hurricane damage as broader eaves could expose the roof to the force of winds, increasing the likelihood of complete lift-off during a storm.

Bermuda’s chimneys stand out for their unique proportions. According to the Bermuda National Trust’s Traditional Building Guide, our chimneys are likely the largest in the world relative to the size of the houses they adorn. Traditionally, the base of these chimneys measures 8 feet in width by 4 feet in depth constructed in a straight upward ascent with stepped increments. In their earliest forms, these chimneys featured a corralled collar designed to disrupt draught on the leeward side which prevented smoke from being drawn down the stack.

The majority of Bermuda’s houses are furnished with slatted louvred shutters to safeguard against hurricanes and winter storms. The earliest louvred shutters featured wide slats and were constructed as a single framed unit. In contrast, later top-hung shutters were quartered, featuring narrower slats. The side-hung louvred shutters, prevalent today, are a more recent addition to the vernacular tradition. While these shutters provide protection from storms when closed, they do not offer shade from the sun.

Welcoming Arms
Welcoming arms serve as a poignant symbol of Bermudians’ hospitality. Early examples feature nearly parallel arms, exemplified by the stairs at Carter House in St. David’s. Later iterations boast expansive, splayed steps complemented by broad, open arms.

Quoins, the large and small stones running up the corners of a building, emerged as a decorative addition to Bermuda homes in the eighteenth century. Some buildings feature same-size quoins, while others include quoins of alternating sizes.

Sash Windows
The widespread adoption of sash windows in Bermuda’s architecture can be attributed to the innovation of an Englishman named Robert Hook, born in 1635. However, Bermuda’s sash windows possess a distinct characteristic—their frames were crafted from the abundant Bermuda cedar. Today, these unique cedar-framed sash windows can be seen in some well-preserved local residences.

The verandah became a common feature in barracks and military houses of early nineteenth-century Bermuda. It provided shade as well as a somewhat private space for receiving visitors. The style gained popularity at Dockyard in the 1820s, notably seen in structures like Commissioner’s House, the Parsonage, and the Old Post Office on Pender Road. By 1834, St. George’s was described as a line of low houses with vibrant verandahs along the waterside.

Before refrigeration and before ice was imported or manufactured, most local homes had a buttery. According to David F. Raine, this small out-building was specifically designed for the cool storage of food, and it did so successful by employing three key strategies. Firstly, the buttery was strategically positioned away from the main house, providing a degree of isolation from domestic heat. Secondly, the storage room itself was elevated above ground level, accessible by five or six steps, distancing it from the warmer earth, especially crucial during the summer months. However, the most pivotal design element was the pointed roof of the buttery. Often constructed at an angle of 60 degrees or more, this design allowed warm air to rise upward into the roof, leaving the lower section, where food shelves were situated, comparatively cooler. To enhance ventilation, doors and sometimes sides were fitted with open slatted shutters, facilitating the circulation of free-moving air throughout the interior and effectively maintaining cooler conditions for the stored contents.