Though most of the buildings in Florida share traits common to American vernacular architecture in general, the state's larger homes and estates tend to draw more from the Spanish and Art Deco schools for inspiration. This is largely due to the fact that the Spanish were the original European powers to lay claim to the area while the city's major metropolitan and retreat areas, like Miami and its environs, rapidly expanded during the timeframe in which Art Deco was popular, particularly the 1930s. Indeed, as the state's population and reputation as a comfortable vacation area expanded after extensive rail and highway connections were established throughout the 1920s and 30s, a number of then contemporary forms, like Art Moderne and eventually the 'Googie' or Futurist style, developed in Florida alongside Art Deco. Even today, it is not uncommon to see television programs and movies make use of Art Deco and buildings from allied schools as backdrops for dramatic scenes.
It is, however, the Spanish, and in particular the related Spanish Colonial and Spanish Colonial Revival, styles that are most commonly associated with the larger estates that populate the coast beyond the limits of Florida's major cities. Combining elements from the Spanish Baroque, Moorish Revival, and certain design touches from the American Arts and Crafts movements, this family of Spanish-derived architectural schools is noted for its extensive use of stucco walls, low-pitched, often colored, clay tiles, flat roofs, and terracotta decorations. Other common details are Roman-inspired arcades, small balconies, wooden casements, and a variety of accents that point to this school's historicist leanings.
Mediterranean Revival architecture, which shares historical and cultural ties with Spanish Colonial and Spanish Colonial Revival, is also quite common in Florida. Indeed, to a certain degree the two schools, through ultimately both derived from the architectural traditions of the western Mediterranean, have been mixed in new and creative ways throughout the state and, to a larger degree, some major homes can alternately be described as 'Spanish' 'Mediterranean', or, less accurately, 'Renaissance'. There are, however, traits that make Mediterranean Revival homes distinct from their Spanish cousins as, though both styles make use of stucco walls and tiled, low-pitch roofs, the former is noted for tile-capped parapet walls, articulated door surrounds, keystone feature detailing, arches, and large, symmetrical facades. Balconies and windows that feature wrought iron detailing are also common to this style.
Other historicist movements are, as is true among most upscale areas, also represented in Florida, including 'Italianate' and the variety of types that are routinely grouped under the 'Victorian' label. Florida's next most conspicuous architectural school, however, is that of Art Deco and related, contemporary movements. A common choice for the hotels and major commercial buildings that sprung up after Miami and other South Florida communities were connected to the rest of the nation by way of roads and rail lines that were cleared through the state's swampier areas, this style, with modifications, was also adopted for many privately held residencies. Indeed, even as other areas of the country and the wider world moved on from Art Deco to more austere emanations of modernism, many of Florida's homes and other buildings soldiered on with an even more energetic and colorful form of Art Deco and, as the American economy boomed in the 1950s, the 'Futurist' influences on that form began to re-surface in the iconic 'Ray Gun Gothic' Googie architecture that has come to symbolize the era.
Though, as the name implies, Art Deco is primarily unified as a school of architecture by its heavy insistence on decorative details and structures, it is perhaps best thought of an eclectic movement that utilized the sensitivities of industrial design, advanced technology, and even archaic elements like the mysterious designs found on Egyptian and Aztec temples and effectively grafted them on to buildings with modern layouts. This, of course, is a somewhat rough description, as the movement was unified more by stylistic touches than a grand theory or philosophy, however an Art Deco building can, in general, be described as a structure that seems to be a futuristic interpretation of the past. Beyond a heavy use of linear symmetry, homes and other buildings from this school are often noted for their colorful, recessed lighting, heavy use of parallel, horizontal lines to break up flat spaces, stylized, machinery-inspired décor, and, in the latter stages that Florida is noted for, a reliance on multi-colored surfaces that often draw from a variety of materials to create a sense of contrasting textures. Art Deco buildings are also famous for elaborate, highly abstract glass and window work.
The Sunshine State is, of course, host to a number of other architectural schools and variants and, within the course of any year, a number of both common and unusual styles will come up for sale in the real estate market. Many, like some of the schools discussed above, are variations of traditional Mediterranean forms. Others, like Art Deco, seem to be examples of how the past once thought the future would turn out. Still others, like the 'Cracker' style that is common among small homes in Florida's panhandle, point to a continuation of pure Americana and Southern sensibility. As always, however, a buyer should balance their own architectural preferences with the virtues of specific locations and the craftsmanship that is evident in the construction of any particular property.