Just for fun: What's with the pineapple?

By: Shannon Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Old House Construction, Old House Musings

Here's a neat quirk about old houses that you might have noticed, but never understood: What's up with those pineapples everywhere?

I remember the first time I actually noticed the pineapple motifs on an old house. I'm sure I had seen them before, but this particular house had a ton of them. It even had a pineapple painted on the parquet floor. After I saw that, I began to notice them everywhere: on the front door, on the wallpaper in the bathroom, and of course, on the finials of the garden gate.

I asked the realtor about the pineapples. She looked a little confused, shrugged, and said, "They're cute, aren't they?"

And that's where I left it until a few months ago, when I noticed another pineapple. This was one on top of the gate leading to my favorite local veggie farm. "What's up with the pineapple?" I asked.

This time, I got an answer.

Why pineapple is a must for an old house

The pineapple thing goes way back. All the way back to Christopher Columbus, or so the story goes. When he sailed his way into the Caribbean, he found that pineapple was used for much more than eating. It was a sign of hospitality: if the pineapple was at the entrance to the village, or on the doorstep of the house, it meant that those within were welcoming to visitors.

There are other theories as well. The same 'fruit at the gate' sentiment is often attributed to ship captains, who left a pineapple at the gate to indicate that they were home. It might have also come from the landowners in the West Indies, who used pineapples as a sign of hospitality. For those looking for a spiritual side, there's that as well: the pineapple plant actually dies in order to produce fruit, which can be tied into Christian beliefs across the globe.

Once pineapples caught on -- and why not, being so tasty and sweet? -- they became quite the novelty and luxury in colonial America. Given that the pineapple had to be shipped from its traditional growing areas, a trip that often wound up leaving nothing but huge piles of rotted fruit, actually getting your hands on a somewhat fresh pineapple was almost impossible. Those who did manage to get one were considered quite the social success.

Pineapple architecture for your old house

From home decor to incorporating pineapples right into the architectural details of your house, there are more than a few ways to give off that welcoming vibe. Many old homes will have pineapples carved into the delicate woodwork of the porch, or used as an accent on the screen door. You might find it tucked away into a wallpaper design or as delicate finials on lamps throughout the house. One of the most common pineapple spots is the front gate, where the fruit signifies that it's just fine to "come on in!"

Pineapple just not your thing? The traditional "welcome" mat with a pineapple is a great way to add some hospitality without going overboard on the theme. For those in the know, it's enough to make them smile. For those who are curious, it's a great opportunity to clue them in to the old house pineapple mystery.

And there you have it!