Having just survived a hurricane in Florida — Irma, to be exact — and a week without conditioned air, I was given some downtime to think and write. This hot, miserable period of time allowed me to gathers ideas for comfort — or lack thereof. Just as each hurricane season seams to get more intense, is it possible to decorate for survival? What the heck, I felt like I was a contestant on a reality show … I was sleeping with windows and doors wide open, taking several short but cold showers. I was naked and afraid!

I swear I could feel every gnat and critter existing on earth slowly climbing through my home. Immediately, my mind ran to the early days when the pioneers came to the south. How’d they do it? How did they survive? I’ve seen some early images showing the first families of the south in layers upon layers of clothing. I, for one, would have died an early death from heat exhaustion.

Contemplating the clothing that would “protect” one from the heat led me to think of the architecture that was designed for such hot and humid climates.

When I was in architecture school at the University of Miami, I remember being given a book to read for a class called “Thermal Delight in Architecture,” by Lisa Heschong. She describes how ancient architectural buildings would provide heat and cooling through the architecture itself, and challenges the reader to think about the possibility of passive heating and cooling systems, with the idea that hermetically enclosed air conditioned buildings are just not sustainable. Well, of course, I think it’s a great small book to read, while I don’t believe air condition should or will ever go away. I do believe that you should design spaces that take into consideration when mechanical systems are down.

So here are my observations for survival:

–Make sure all windows and doors open. If you have the ability to align windows and doors across from each other, even better.
–Provide screening for openings to avoid bugs from coming in the home. If you can provide an outdoor screen porch or patio, even better.
–Use linen and cotton fabrics that can easily be hand-washed and line-dried.
–Although you may have central AC, keep a window slide-in unit in a room that can be powered by a generator.
–There are a number of decorative battery operated led lamps that blend in with the decor of any home online.
–Raising your floor above the ground help breezes blow beneath your home, but also with tidal surges it is advised to be at least a few feet from the crest of the street your home is on. A city survey will tell you the street elevations.

Architecturally, most homes from the early 1900s through the 1930s incorporated some passive systems of design, such as front porches, higher ceilings, extended overhangs to protect from the sun, windows that aligned for cross-ventilation and elevated floors with a crawl space beneath. Take note of these historic beauties — there is a reason why they are still around.

Joseph Pubillones is the owner of Joseph Pubillones Interiors, an award-winning interior design firm based in Palm Beach, Florida. His website is www.josephpubillones.com.

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