Ti kay is the Creole term meaning “small house.” Mostly these houses rely on the availability of local materials and the ability of local builders to create wonderfully livable small spaces out of their ingenuity and knowledge of what is being asked of them. Ti kays conform to regional style and aberrations are beacons of foreign invasion, er, investment. In the Kabik & Cayes-Jacmel area traditional Ti Kay’s are one-story constructions of concrete, wood, bamboo and palm & banana tree leaves. Combining these materials manifests in charming well-sited architectural crowns that, beside being aesthetically pleasing, bring in great amounts of Caribbean sunlight and naturally allow for cross ventilation. Thankfully not all foreigners seeking to build in Cayes-Jacmel are blind to the lovely, airy native style.
Sophie has allowed us to live in a successful rendition of the “Kabikoise” style, which is a one-bed one-bath ti kay dubbed “Tree House.” Set up in the Plateau Tessere Area,the house is a brief skip from the beach, next to a river, and surrounded by (you guessed it) trees. Sited at an ideal section of the neighborhood, the Tree House is at the foot of a great hiking mountain yet is still close enough to hear the sounds of the Caribbean Sea. This ti kay differs from its neighbors in that it is taller and does not feature the familiar dried leaf roofing system that Sophie’s own house has. Tree house instead employs a classic house shape – four enclosing walls and an interior half wall separating the kitchen from bedroom, and the high-pitched wood panel ceiling is covered on the exterior with riveted iron panels to deter rain. Similarly to other Haitian ti kays is the traditionally poured and mixed concrete and paint floor that renders a very expressive treading surface.
In such ti kays function precedes form and it is a true wonder to stay in a house that reminds you of the truest bare necessities, and your own ability to make what you want of it. This is an integral aspect of the Haitian mentality to which freedom is vital. Inhabiting a ti kay therefore requires personal energy be put into your situation; an investment that will be repaid by the gratification of your days spent walking in and out of your little house. In an area where the populace gets by on relatively little daily money, creativity flourishes not simply because the people are talented, but because often it is necessary to be inventive with limited resources in order to solve problems quickly. The architecture throughout this area expresses that freedom to transform your surroundings how one sees fit in its use of local materials dressed in forever summer colors that flash as the sun tags them.
The Tree House is special among its neighbors lower on the hill because three sides employ oversized cut outs, which give the impression of being outside for most of the day. All four walls would probably be open if concessions did not have to be made for the bathroom and kitchen with stove, sink, and refrigerator – all of which are luxuries that most do not have here. Rolling down the locally made bamboo shades helps to escape the strong mid day sun that pours in through the cutouts. These bamboo shades are a cool touch as they are made by a few Haitian gentlemen in a bamboo atelier that overlooks the sea, which is a short walk up from our ti kay. Added to the list of locally found furnishings are two huge colorfully painted pillows from a local artist, a two-toned cloth hammock from a shop in Port au Prince, bamboo floor mats from our neighborhood artisans, the queen sized bed frame and a wooden dining table with chairs. Accessible talent is also true for the beautiful varnished Calabas light fixtures that filter the would-be harsh glare of bulbs into the Tree House rooms at night. The fellow who makes these is the same guy who takes care of the house during the day. It seems that the notion of having several jobs and skills is common around here, and the community is built on an attitude of codependence and fairness. As in PAP honesty, respect and fairness govern any interaction far more than any police organization could. You are only as good as your word, and if you conduct yourself under these principles you will not be short of trustworthy, reliable neighbors here in Kabik.