Carolyn and Barry Baumel once thought they would live in their dream house on Miami Beach’s Sunset Island for the rest of their lives. But when their children moved out, the couple decided to chart a new course with a condo instead. When they came across an ocean-side penthouse with its own floor and an accompanying rooftop pool offering views of the downtown Miami skyline, it was an easy sell. “It doesn’t feel like you’re in an apartment,” Carolyn says of her new home. “It’s a house in the sky.”
The couple may have left Sunset Island, but Carolyn insisted that their friends, designers Robert Brown and Todd Davis, come along to reimagine the interiors of their new home. The building had been completed in 1990, and the owners and designers set out to gut, reconfigure and update the space to a more current contemporary style, with interiors that nod to the glamorous comfort and approachability of the 1970s. But Carolyn also wanted a few key possessions to remain, such as the couple’s two heirloom rugs, their gilded-framed art collection, a Steinway piano and a pair of Baccarat crystal chandeliers. So the home indeed underwent a complete renovation and became a sleek white envelope for a blend of traditional and ’70s-influenced furniture and objects. “We know sometimes the soulfulness of a few vintage pieces can bring further drama through juxtaposition,” Brown explains. “And what’s great about the Baumels is their willingness to explore: a new lifestyle, new materials and a new aesthetic.”
To bring the apartment up to date, Brown and Davis implemented state-of-the-art features per the clients’ specifications and designed clean, contemporary architecture to further support their goals, with Juan C. David of JCD Architect serving as architect of record. A highlight of the residence is its white glass-tile floors, which give the home a lustrous, almost space-age feel. The flooring material has existed for years, but advancing technologies have reinvigorated it. “Before, it would either warp or scratch easily, or the color consistency wasn’t quite there,” explains builder Jim Schlobohm, who helmed construction with the help of project manager Calvert “Zibo” Ventura. “You didn’t have the pure white running as perfectly as it is now. This is the third generation of that material, so I think they figured it out.” To break up the monotony of one long hallway, which became a kind of gallery for some of the pieces in the Baumels’ art collection, Brown and Davis also added sections of black marble flooring, as well as a series of classical pilasters “for compression and expansion,” Brown says.
In the spacious kitchen, where Carolyn, an enthusiastic cook, often holds court during dinner parties, a thick white marble-topped island pairs with walnut cabinetry to add warmth; that walnut reappears in the nearby living room’s wet bar. Brown and Davis designed the bird’s-eye maple dining table with brass-inlaid trim, one of numerous touches of brass and bronze, such as the legs of the stools at the wet bar and an end table in the office; the designers mixed these metals, along with stainless steel, throughout to achieve depth and balance. “Knowing we would have a lot of clean, contemporary architecture, there’s nothing like the beauty and warmth of those pops of brass and bronze,” says Davis. Those finishes also speak to the vintage 1970s style permeating the condo. “When you go to some of the best shops in New York or the world, the collectors are collecting ’70s pieces now,” Brown says.
“It’s a trend that’s underway, and here it was a chance for us to do something loungy and sexy but also approachable and comfortable.” A leading example is a crushed-velvet sofa in the living area—a take on another sofa Carolyn showed Brown and Davis that reminded her of clustered marshmallows; it’s also one of numerous pieces from Brown and Davis’ new custom furniture line.
The owners decided to reduce the number of bedrooms in order to make each one more spacious. “I had a clear vision of this place: to just take every single wall out that I could,” Carolyn says. The five-bedroom, 6 1⁄2-bathroom penthouse was reduced by one bedroom and one bathroom. “I don’t think a woman designed this building,” Carolyn adds with a laugh. “It had all these bedrooms and bathrooms and not one linen closet.” Now the master bedroom, in particular—which boasts a warmer palette of brown, eggplant, sea green and cream—has become an oasis where the couple can linger and enjoy the ocean view from bed or from a nearby chaise. Here, purple wood chests of custom-colored Macassar ebony stand out as additional gems from the designers’ custom collection.
Thanks to a fully automated system, any shade can be drawn or the temperature adjusted or even cupboards opened with the touch of a button. But the most tempting adjustment may be to move outside, onto an outdoor terrace wrapping the entire penthouse, or to the private beach downstairs or the residence’s private pool above. “It’s a special place,” Carolyn says. “We created something that feels like a home, but there’s nothing like this. It’s like being in a Zen garden on top of the world.”