When you’ve spent decades living in traditional-style homes, acquiring a modern residence would feel, understandably, a little outside your comfort zone. Making that sort of design-180 requires a very open mind and, most importantly, trust in the professionals. Fortunately for designers Rob Brown and Todd Davis, many years of working with a couple on their multiple abodes had engendered a mutual respect and appreciation that freed the duo artistically when it came to their latest collaboration, a jewel-box house in Miami Beach, Florida.
For the couple’s new home, Brown and Davis encouraged the clients to embrace a look that fit in with the eclectic surroundings. The husband was ready for something architecturally adventurous, but the wife was reluctant to relinquish the traditional aesthetic of their Georgian waterfront residence in Maryland and their horse farm in Kentucky. “Having worked with them for so long, we understood her taste and knew not to make this house a big white box,” Davis says. “It had to be very comfortable and filled with character.”
After the existing residence was demolished, Brown and Davis tackled the structural plans. Their concept for the two-story residence reveals a creative mix of materials just from its exterior: a painted white stucco facade; a front door clad in Peruvian hardwood planks; stainless steel balcony railings; and floor-to-ceiling glass windows and doors. The clients desired a place where they could live comfortably when it was just the two of them but that could also accommodate visiting family or even a party of 100 guests. “They wanted a compound for the entire family,” Davis explains. As a solution, the designers placed the master suite on the ground floor, allowing the homeowners to reside on one level when they are on their own.
The duo let Miami’s reputation as a thriving capital of contemporary art drive the project. “Everything had to be art,” Davis says. “The husband pushed us. He said, ‘I want things I haven’t seen before.’ ” They collaborated with artist Zachary Oxman on the property’s 14-foot-tall sculptural front gate, which opens to a courtyard and signals what’s to come. Guests entering the house are greeted by a curvy spiral staircase constructed of raw steel and walnut on-site. “It was originally going to be a white-painted staircase, then the concept started evolving,” recalls builder Gus Gil. During an early site visit with the husband, Brown mused about polishing the steel rather than painting it, so they decided to go bold with the mirror finish–even if it meant adding weeks to the construction timeline. “The staircase took about two-and- a-half months to polish because only one person could work on it at a time,” Gil says.
Like the staircase, each surface in the home offered an opportunity for unexpected, inventive details, especially when looking up. “In a lot of contemporary architecture, the ceilings are ignored,” Brown says. But the designers put a modern spin on classical plaster by devising a three-dimensional puzzle-block pattern in the living area and the husband’s office. They also incorporated a dramatic feature wall of veined quartzite in the living and outdoor dining areas. “As we began designing, we knew we wanted interesting stone that would be book-matched in ways that would create art, interest and pattern,” Brown says. Asymmetrical rugs in the living and dining areas further play to the home’s angular plan and imaginative feel.
Throughout the interior, the designers carefully broached a middle ground between traditional and modern styles via colors and materials. They chose hues appropriate for a contemporary home, including soft grays on rugs and flooring, but also introduced classic ginger tones, such as the fabric on the 1940s wing chairs in the living area and the vintage Mazzega Murano light fixtures that illuminate the dining table. Rosewood veneer and walnut paneling were placed in the kitchen and office, respectively, giving each space a coziness not often found in this style of home. “We knew this would be a great opportunity to use some natural wood and warm colors that would make the wife feel comfortable in a contemporary house,” Brown says.
Adding to the comfort level, the designers created nearly every piece of furniture, with a focus on maximizing functionality. The dining area’s floating buffet converts into a work space for the wife, and the living area’s double- sided sofa–outfitted with a device-charging station–lets guests enjoy views of the garden on one side and the television on the other.
Artwork came last, and the couple built their collection of pieces by up-and-coming artists during visits to Art Basel Miami Beach.
A graphic Marco Lorenzetto work hangs in the office, while a Sally Michel Avery piece graces the master bedroom, where a beige wallcovering featuring a blooming willow tree also offers an arresting focal point. These finishing touches were added in the same spirit the project began: inspired by creativity. “There’s an extra layer of thought that went into this house–that next level of artistic and design thinking,” Davis says. “We didn’t stop at ‘This is what someone else would do, and that’s fine.’ That wasn’t good enough for this house.”