A Modern Masterpiece in Miami Beach

Is it a house? Is it a yacht? You’d be forgiven for asking when standing at the stern—sorry, rear—of this expansive home on one of Miami Beach’s exclusive VenetianIslands. You’re firmly anchored to land yet have the feel of floating over the silvery shimmer of beautiful Biscayne Bay.

Credit the celebrity architects who spent weeks observing the bay at all hours before ordering mosaic tile for the infinity pool that seems to flow seamlessly into the ocean beyond. “I was on the property at every time of day—on my way to the office, after work—watching how the color of the water changed so we could do our best to match it,” says Paul Fischman of Choeff Levy Fischman, a practice that names Barry Gibb, Matt Damon, and other stars among its clientele.

The materials and fixtures of this 7,628-square-foot home built for a retired couple and their new contemporary art collection also speak to the stuff of superyachts. There are doors, walls, and ceilings of the rich ipe hardwood that clads all the best boats and an outdoor kitchen awash in the Kalamazooappliances that furnish the finest galleys afloat. But in this house, the indoor kitchen trumps it all with a rich, textured wave of blue agate, bringing the ocean into the heart of the home while water cascades down the walls indoors and out.

Add palms, seagrasses, and other local plants, and the house is the epitome of the Tropical Modernism in which this practice specializes, befitting the mid-century modern heritage of South Florida, with its plethora of luxuriant vegetation. Yet intriguingly, the most distinctive architectural element is a massive feature wall of patterned concrete reminiscent of London’s National Theatre, more than four thousand miles from the Florida shore.

“There are more than a dozen patterns in the concrete of that building, which the client and I studied at length before honing down on our own custom pattern,” says Fischman, already a fan of the raw concrete that was an enduring inspiration to the British owners when they planned a Florida retreat large enough to entertain the family, as well as house new art of sometimes monumental proportions.

It was a bold move for a retired couple who had previously lived in a highly traditional home. “It couldn’t be further from this,” says Fischman. Soft furnishings with more traditional lines appear in bedrooms and other private areas, while the stark modernism particularly admired by one-half of the couple is given full rein in the public spaces. Not least in the entry, where that board-form concrete takes pride of place as the support wall for a wood-clad cantilevered staircase and as a backdrop for the indoor-outdoor pool above which it floats.

There’s a treat here for visitors at the point of entry—a Harry Bertoia bronze and wire sculpture sitting in a reflecting pool, the sole piece brought from the existing collection to join bespoke art commissioned by the couple with the help of New York-based gallery owner Meredith Palmer, who has known them for fifteen years. “They had more traditional tastes in art—nineteenth-century works from Europe and America—but started collecting contemporary art passionately as they became excited about it with me,” explains Palmer, who advised them on works for their London flat before the build started in Miami. 

Sculpture and painting are everywhere; even the powder room mirror is an assemblage of several overlapping planes of irregular-shaped glass. Palmerconsidered the bright Miami sunshine and the couple’s predilection for colorful pieces when helping them find existing works by some of today’s most compelling artists, including Katharina Grosse, Bernard Frize, and Federico Herrero.

Their privacy may be paramount, but the owners have deliberately created a piece of public art on the second-floor landing above the front door. “It’s meant to be seen from the street,” says Fischman of Matt Mullican’s huge, multicolored acrylic and oil stick mural The Frame Is Everywhere. The landing’s function as a gallery has been enhanced with recesses at the base and crown of every wall to help the work stand out against the pristine white walls, which, like many aspects of the home’s infrastructure, seem to float.

While works on canvas sit on huge walls designed to showcase the paintings, other walls are transformed into art in their own right. For example, in the powder room—one of eight bathrooms—diagonally laid stone forms the vanity, echoing the wall behind it, its lines suggesting a tropical rain shower. “We had fun pushing the boundaries with new shapes and surfaces that were unfamiliar to the client’s previous traditional dwelling,” says Tony Ingrao, principal of the eponymous New York City-based design firm that did the interiors.

The house may be new, but not every piece in it is a contemporary design, Ingrao points out. “We had fun collecting twentieth- as well as twenty-first-century pieces,” he adds, citing fire-hued Pierre Paulin ribbon chairs chosen for the living room and a textured aluminum dining table by Ado Chale. Like so many aspects of this house, he says, that table was inspired “by a drop of water”—in this case, think of water splashing into a pool and creating concentric circles around itself.

As far as vintage pieces are concerned, the Paul Evans credenza in the living room is an assemblage of beautiful materials—wood clad in polychrome steel and patinated bronze topped with stone. The custom-made side tables of fractured orange resin sitting at right angles make the perfect foil.

But perhaps the greatest wow factor is the long, extravagant kitchen backsplash of blue agate and silver, above and below which the white Italcraft units are barely perceptible. “That was the idea—that the kitchen should disappear so that it’s all about the backsplash,” says Fischman.

Agate, ipe, and other top-drawer materials aside, the house conveys an unmistakable sense of place, first and foremost. “There’s something unencumbered about the city of Miami, and we tried to reflect that in the interiors,” says Ingrao. Still, the vibe captures the shining sea as much as tropical South Florida in this thoroughly shipshape house that may be anchored to land but broadcasts its water-loving soul in almost every surface and finish.

Read more at: VIE Magazine