Architect and builder Zeb Jarosz uses the term sotto voce—an Italian opera term meaning soft voice—to describe his approach to preserving the integrity of a 1920s Mediterranean revival- style home on Miami Beach’s Venetian Islands. “I believe in understated simplicity,” he explains. “As with anything in life, if you have an important message to convey, you should speak softly.”
Before the owners—a family with three small children— purchased the residence, the house had already undergone an interior renovation. But it didn’t meet their needs or suit their lifestyle. “The house had very closed-up rooms, so it was not fully used, and the colors were a mix of dark blues, reds and yellows,” says the wife. “We entertain a lot and have lots of family and visitors around throughout the year. We wanted there to be a calmer, more open feel and flow, and for the house to be more livable.”
As the goal of the project began to grow far beyond a simple redo of the second floor into a more comprehensive renovation and addition, preserving the main structure took on greater significance. “The house was one of the first of the Venetian Islands homes and it emulated the original style of development that was popular in Miami Beach in the 1920s. It was important that we be respectful of the original details,” Jarosz recalls of the renovation—a collaborative effort with designers Robert S. Brown and Todd D. Davis, who were involved with the overall aesthetic and vision for the home.
Jarosz’s experience with historical preservation, which began after he studied architecture in Krakow, Poland, prepared him for the task. “I have a true appreciation for architecture of the past and all its underlying purpose, symbolic elements and technique of construction,” he notes. “In my work I try to translate that past into contemporary reality but still preserve its essence of proportion and scale. Otherwise, it just becomes a caricature.”
The first step was to obtain historical designation, which allowed for more flexibility to preserve various elements of the house and conduct work that ordinarily wouldn’t be allowed under the current code. Structurally, that work involved everything from correcting age-related structural problems to installing new plumbing and electrical components. Aesthetically, it meant a sensitive refreshment of the exterior features and finishes. “We remained essentially true to the original design by replicating the traditional rough texture of the stucco and the handmade clay barrel tiles on the roof,” Jarosz says. The addition of custom-crafted windows and doors, many of which are gracefully arched, adds to the period effect while being able to withstand hurricane winds.
As the interior space was reconfigured, Brown and Davis specified interior architectural details such as the reclaimed antique Dalle de Bourgogne French limestone flooring for the home’s first level and the custom-colored flooring in the newly added guesthouse, and they oversaw the material selections for the kitchen and bathrooms. Select furnishings—such as their custom cream sofas in the living room, and the sleek wood table and sculptural chandelier that they helped the owners procure for the dining room—began to set the tone for the interiors’ aesthetic and complement the architecture.
Subsequently, Michael Dawkins was brought in to round out the interior design program, adding contrast to—yet further complementing—the architecture. “The design team had established a beautiful structure,” says Dawkins. “The house was historic, but the owners were a hip couple. We wanted to infuse a bit of modernism and make it work as a comprehensive whole.”
Room by room, a mood was established. “We considered the indoor-outdoor Florida lifestyle, as well as the need to make things kid-friendly yet elegant,” says Dawkins. “The architecture is so prominent that we wanted to keep the rest as supporting characters.” s-shaped midcentury modern chairs, for instance, lend that mix of fun and sophistication to the dining room—“they add a sense of rhythm and playfulness to the room,” notes Dawkins—as does the grouping of tufted and shag ottomans in the lounge. Throughout, a significant collection of artwork punctuates the transitional nature of the home.
Outdoor living was, of course, a major focus, as well. The architect, along with Brown and Davis early on, spruced up existing gardens, giving them a more formal European feel with box hedges and manicured lawns. At the rear, Jarosz designed that new guest pavilion at the far end of the existing swimming pool; it emulates the architecture of the house but is more modern. “Because of space constraints, the pavilion hangs over the pool and has a grotto effect,” says Jarosz. “You can swim underneath the overhang.”
In the end, the home’s restoration did more than give new life to an important structure; it brought a sense of peace and calm to a growing family with an active lifestyle. “The entire house gets used all the time now, and I do like the juxtaposition of the more transitional interiors,” says the wife. With the house nodding to the past as it celebrates modern-day design, the architect shares the owners’ excitement. Says Jarosz: “we remained relatively true to the original design and updated only certain elements of the exterior but became more free with the interior layouts and details, interior decor and landscaping. It’s the poster child for restored homes in Miami Beach.”