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Historical Design Inspiration Found in America’s Oldest City

In 1587, the Plymouth Company established themselves in Roanoke, which today we know as Virginia. However, even before then in 1565, the Spaniards had already begun colonizing further down south in St. Augustine, Florida.

In my recent travels, I explored the multicultural roots of modern Floridian architecture. A city rich in history, it was also rich in design as shown by the magnificent monuments, theatrical resorts, and luxury architecture created in the 1800s.

With multiple architectural styles that have stood the test of time, St. Augustine has countless ways to teach and inspire. Join me as I, Angie Wetzel, carry us through St. Augustine history and its accompanying architecture that provides a fountain of inspiration for much of modern design in Florida.


A Historical Overview of St. Augustine

The land of St. Augustine, Florida was initially occupied by an indigenous group called the Timucua. After the Spaniards arrived, a small town thrived until taking a hit in the Civil War, but then rebounded by the late 1800s.

When Henry Morrison Flagler visited in 1883, he immediately fell in love and could see the city’s potential for extensive beauty and grandiosity. At this point, St. Augustine began flourishing as a premier resort spot for wealthy northerners.

Many generations of inspiration can be seen today in St. Augustine, which is why I am so captivated by the city. In my own work, I love pulling from different styles to develop a unified, yet unique and revitalized montage of my favorite influences.

Indigenous Roots

Prior to colonialism, a native people referred to as the Timucua by the French and Spanish occupied St. Augustine. They were a sophisticated matrilineal society, meaning ancestry was traced through one’s mother. They lived in circular homes made of thatch in closely-knit communities, living off the land and closely tied to the Earth.

Their ‘Vernacular’ architecture was created with local vegetation and resources such as palms, timber, and coquina stone, a naturally found cement made of shells. With so many generations of knowledge about the local geography, climate, and vegetation, they built incredibly strong and sustainable homes.

Unfortunately, as with many Native American peoples, their population ultimately dwindled with the arrival of the Spaniards. But their memory serves as a reminder of the importance of living in harmony with nature instead of trying to control nature.

Learn More > Biophilic Design

Establishing a Settlement

St. Augustine, a Spanish territory in the Deep South, developed as an architectural entanglement of not just Southern-European buildings, but also French and English influences. The combination of so many styles planted on the white sandy Florida coast made for a unique montage of characteristics.

Strategically places just off the coast, one of the most commanding landmarks of Spanish Colonialism is the Castillo De San Marcos. Built from durable coquina, this fort wasn’t once captured in battle. This resilient structure reminds us of how the best pieces of architecture are created – they are built to last.

Castillo De San Marcos reminds us that the most impressive pieces of architecture are built to last.

Perseverance Through Tribulations

Although the fort withstood the British attack in 1702, most of the original town was burned to the ground. Castillo De San Marcos is one of the few buildings that remains from before this attack. As a signal of strength and determination, many of the buildings were rebuilt inspired by architecture of the earliest settlement. To this day, tourists can wonder at remnants of the coquina and earth walls that once encompassed the city.

Spanish Law of the Indies required that a plaza was established for government, church, and public use. Therefore, a colonial-style building was developed. The simple stone composition, flat roof, and exposed beams that still can be found throughout the city radiate Spanish Colonial Roots

Spanish and Greek Renaissance styles are seen in the terracotta tiling, courtyard fountain, and natural tones. We can see the foundations of modern-day Mediterranean-style homes that are growing increasingly popular, particularly in coastal regions.

A New Millennium

In the early 1900s, St. Augustine faced a surge of tourism after entrepreneur Henry Flagler arrived and fell in love with the city. He ushered in the Spanish Renaissance Revival Style, incorporating smooth and light stucco siding, clay tiles, terra cotta, iron décor, and elaborate trimmings.

This extravagant style can be seen in Flagler’s buildings such as the Ponce De Leon Hotel, which is now Flagler College, St. Augustine’s first ever hospital, the Alcazar Hotel, and the Memorial Presbyterian Church.

Hotel Ponce de Leon

The Hotel Ponce de Leon, now Flagler College, was unveiled in 1888 as a masterpiece of Spanish Renaissance architecture. Containing 450 rooms, Tiffany glass, gold-leaf Maynard murals, and electrical work by Thomas Edison, Ponce de Leon was an appealing destination for many well-to-do Northerners.

Elements of Moorish design, such as geometric entryways, sculpted crenellation, and ornamented courtyards, can also be seen throughout the architecture.

Memorial Presbyterian Church

As a monument to his daughter and grandchild, whom both died during childbirth, Flagler built the Memorial Presbyterian Church. This Renaissance revival structure is one of the most European-influenced buildings around St. Augustine, inspired by St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Italy. Its Baroque and ornate features make it a striking statement in the city.

St. Augustine’s Centuries of Style Evolution

The evolution and integration of multiple stylings in St. Augustine have greatly impacted coastal American architecture, particularly in the south. Take a drive in any Florida neighborhood and you’ll likely find terracotta tile roofing, incorporation of natural materials in design, stunning courtyards, and more.

Every time I travel, I am in awe of the creativity and resourcefulness of communities through the centuries. Without our modern technologies and access to information, these people relied purely on their problem-solving abilities and the materials at hand. In the beginning, they only had the seemingly limited yet incredibly vast resources the land provided.

On your next opportunity to travel, I, Angie Wetzel, highly recommend you explore the culturally-rich city of St. Augustine. You will leave feeling invigorated and ready to create.

If you feel inspired to pull the romance of Spanish style architecture and design into your home, contact Interlux Interiors to create your very own historical oasis.



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