Outside In

When Peter Fine of To Better Days Development commissioned architect Paul Fischman to design a custom spec house, he had a particular vision in mind. In 2013, Fine had purchased a 28,000-square-foot lot on Biscayne Bay, located in one of Miami Beach’s most prestigious neighborhoods. “North Bay Road has always been one of the most sought-after addresses and was crowned ‘Millionaires Row’ for a reason,” says the company’s executive vice president and project manager, Joshua Young. “It is no coincidence that Miami Beach pioneer and developer Carl Fisher placed his estate on this street.”

The impressive mansions and elegant estates that grace this community routinely attract a who’s who of celebrities, athletes, musicians and industry moguls, all lured by the tropics and Miami’s international cachet. Mere blocks from the vibrant happenings of South Beach and the historic Art Deco district of Ocean Drive, the area’s attractions are many – boating, golfing, shopping and exquisite wining and dining are all just a stone’s throw away.

Architectural styles in this exclusive community run the gamut from Mediterranean Revival to Italianate to mid-century modern, but Fine’s vision was clear: He wanted Fischman to design a luxurious, contemporary tropical home constructed of warm, natural materials with clean lines, a modern and open layout and spaces for indoor-outdoor entertaining. He wanted a home that exuded an experiential quality, built with materials and methods that echoed the environment and brought the outside in.

Fischman was up to the task. He is one of three partners in the Miami-based, award-winning from of Choeff Levy Fischman Architecture and Design. With a master’s degree in architecture from the University of Miami and a bachelor’s in environmental design from the University of Colorado, he was a perfect fit for the project.

“Environmental design accounts for macro of microclimate, where you’re responding to the environmental features,” Fischman says. Fine’s directive informed his decision to focus on maximizing the natural light while creating a direct connectivity to the tropical environment.

Walking the lot, Fischman and partner Ralph Choeff studied the landscape, the angle and direction of light, and the architectural configuration needed to maximize the panoramic views of the bays and beyond. Fischman says that by extending a leg of the structure out proud of the main residence, they were able to create unobstructed views of Biscayne Bay and downtown Miami from the family room and second-level master bedroom suites. And the utilization of the new technology for column-free spans of floor-to-ceiling glass allowed for a seamless, open-concept design that forged a direct connection to the tropical topography. “The way I designed this home is that there are pockets everywhere that can be opened up to the outside and nature,” he says. “The view literally drove every aspect of this home.”

The result is a spectacular 15,000-square-foot, two-story glass manse surrounded by sweeping terraces and lush tropical landscaping. With clean, linear lines and wood cantilevered overhangs for contrast and shade, the design features an abundance of patios and balconies overlooking the sparkling waters of the infinity-edge pool and Biscayne Bay to the west, while to the east, views of the Miami Beach cityscape beckon.

Completed in 2016, the seven-bedroom, nine-and-a-half bathroom home has 100 feet of water frontage with a private 40-foot dock and cabana, a gym, theater room, wine cellar, home office and elevator. With many options for indoor-outdoor dining and entertaining throughout, one unique feature is the 2,500-square-root rooftop with 360-degree views – the perfect vantage point for spectacular sunsets or an evening of stargazing.

The home’s strong visual appeal comes from the textured elements of Brazilian cumaru, a hardwood popular for its beauty and ability to withstand the Florida elements, along with natural stone and honed limestone that provide both coolness and warmth to the structure, while the sophisticated interior exudes the warmth of an inviting sanctuary. “We believe that a buyer at this level wants to own a ‘home,'” Young notes. “(This home) has character. It is not just a white box.”

Combining durable and sustainable materials with the latest in advanced technology, the residence is also safe and impermeable, rendering hurricanes a temporary inconvenience. Fischman, alluding to the vast walls of impact glass that take advantage of Florida’s abundant light, says the home is also eco-friendly and energy efficient. “We used insulated glass that creates a thermal break between the interior and exterior climates and a low E-coating that allows the good light in but blocks the solar heat gain and glare.”

“It’s typical for someone not to be in the home year-round, so it is designed to reduce costs and the global energy intake for the client,” he maintains. With automated roll-down shades and programmable technology controlling many functions of the home, all operations can be easily programmed to suit the owner’s schedule. “Essentially the home can be made to behave just like a human,” Fischman says.

Approaching the property through a gated, palm tree-lined walkway, the transparency of the design is immediately apparent. “We designed the residence so you could see right through to the bay the second you open the gate,” says Fischman, adding that the more formal ipe wood door makes for a striking first impression while offering a degree of privacy. Flanking the walkway are two parking areas: a three-car garage with lifts that expands the space for up to six cars and a gravel carport with an ivy-clad pergola for additional parking. “The 100 feet of waterfront will allow the buyer to dock a boat at the back,” Young notes. “And the expandable garage is a perfect place to park their other toys.”

As you step into the home via an impressive double-high entry foyer, you are greeted by an engineering feat of sorts: 2-foot 6-inch beams supporting an entirely column-free, 40-foot-wide great room, where sliding glass walls disappear to united the interior and exterior spaces. The room’s cool limestone flooring extends all the way out to the pool deck, where a sandblasted version renders a nonslip surface. “I wanted to create a seamless, monolithic look so that the second the front door is open, your eye just goes right over the vanishing edge of the pool to the water in Biscayne Bay,” Fischman explains.

In concert with the conceptual design, the low, streamlined seating arrangement, upholstered in muted tones, acts as a backdrop to the views. “When I came in here and could see the water and landscape, I felt I did not want to interrupt that with the furniture I chose,” says interior designer Bjorn Bjornsson. “The color palette has a soft and sophisticated look, yet doesn’t compete with the outside.”

Bjornsson was brought on board toward the end of the project to execute Fine’s vision of contemporary design laced with traditional motifs. “I like to work with different lines, both modern and traditional,” Bjornsson says. “It has to feel comfortable, so I like to create that kind of lived-in look, accented by interesting artifacts so you don’t feel it’s a staged home.”

Blending traditional elements juxtaposed with mid-century modern lines, he added both transitional and eclectic accents to pull the design together. The pillows, throws and artwork in shades of blue, cream, grey and yellow mimic the Florida sunlight, sky and water, while the 11-foot 6-inch high ceiling painted in a metallic shade of silver gives the space intimacy and depth. “On certain days, the ceiling reflects the pool and the waters in the bay,” he says.

To the left of the great room is a glass-enclosed gym spanning the entire southeast portion of the house. Fully furnished with the latest fitness equipment, it also features a spa, sauna and a Zen-like, covered yoga deck that opens onto a jungle of tropical palms and plants.

For the avid oenophile, Fischman included a humidity-controlled wine and tasting room where more than 600 bottles of wine can be showcased and sampled. Illuminating a high-top table and chairs is a traditional, yet uniquely elegant, glass chandelier that Bjornsson introduced as a contrast to the more contemporary wood and black accents. Across the way, a soundproof theater room with blackout shades also serves as a bar and lounge area. Citing the need for multi-functionality, Fischman notes, “When it’s not being used as a theater room, it’s a beautiful space that receives tons of sunlight and engages with the entry landscape.”

To the north of the great room is the gourmet chef’s kitchen, featuring marble countertops and top-of-the-line appliances and fixtures. With access on both sides to the formal dining room and breakfast area, this leads to a family room with an outdoor terrace for dining or relaxing by the pool and cabana. Shaping an architectural niche into useable space, Bjornsson turned a small open courtyard between the kitchen and family room into a seating area replete with rock garden – a peaceful oasis for a morning cup of coffee or reading the newspaper before breakfast. “When the glass is open in this area, all the rooms become a single space,” Fischman says of the design.

On the second floor is a 1,500-square-foot master suite with spacious his-and-her walk-in closets, two marble-floored bathrooms – one with a freestanding tub, and a 10-foot terrace overlooking the bay. Accessible by elevator or floating staircase going all the way up to the rooftop, again, the view here take center stage. With corner opening, sliding glass walls that invite the tropical breezes coming off the bay, the room is spacious and relaxing.

Bjornsson accented this space with soft furnishings in shades of blue, white and sand, installing panels of velvety fabric for the bed’s headboard and a stationary wall covering to frame the view. Automated pull-down shades ensure both privacy and a restful haven. On the southwest corner, a mini-master suite for guests or partners who choose to sleep in separate rooms has walk-in closets, full bath and shower and a walkout terrace affording stunning views of the bay and downtown Miami.

Also on this floor and acting as an auxiliary part of the house will still being connected to the main residence is a breakfast kitchen and additional quarters with private entrance. “A lot of people may have a maid, a driver and a chef, especially European and South American clients,” says Fischman. “This home has the flexibility to be either for a family or someone with staff.”

Modern yet warm in its elegance, the innovative design encapsulates the relaxing essence of the tropics. The landscaping and use of organic materials and natural light throughout the home effortlessly intertwine the interior and exterior spaces, creating a harmonious ambiance and sense of place.

“For such a huge house, it has an intimate feeling, which I love,” Bjornsson says. “I walk around the home and it’s very calming. The soul of the house is that of a peaceful sanctuary.” Fischman agrees. “The elegant treatment of materials and the response to the tropics and environment is what sets this home apart, he asserts.

Noting Fine’s proclivity for treating every project as if it were his own and anticipating the types of amenities a discerning buyer will expect, Young says the home’s nuanced design gives the residence soul while the attention to detail makes it a different kind of tropical modern home. “Our development team spent a lot of time making sure no detail or expense was spare,” he says. “(A prospective buyer will be) someone who is very familiar with high-end luxury goods and has an eye for quality. When you walk through the front door you can feel it right away.”