The baby boomers who own this Mediterranean revival home in Miami Beach loved their former 15,000–square–foot mansion on Biscayne Bay’s Tony Star Island. In the 1980s, they had expended considerable energy renovating it to such perfection that famed fashion photographer Bruce Weber often used it as a setting for his iconic images of youthful sybaritic beauty.
But when the couple’s two daughters left and started families of their own, the Star Island house felt cavernous and empty. Looking to downsize, they were drawn to this patch of land because of its infinitely charming 1930s coach house, which had been designed by Russell Thorn Pancoast, one of the city’s founding architects (author of, among others, the Surf Club and the Miami Beach Public Library, now the Bass Museum of Art).
Smitten, they hired architect and builder Zeb Jarosz to erect a humbler structure roughly half the size of their former residence that would, nevertheless, retain a certain level of sophistication. As founders of a popular national women’s clothing boutique chain, they socialize with design-obsessed fashionisti, and as current partners in the largest entertainment company in South Florida, they needed elegant digs in which to host formal functions.
Having supervised their previous house’s larger renovation, the homeowners were experienced and discerning. So for the duration of the build, they lived in the 2,500-square-foot coach house to keep an eye on things. “At seven o’clock in the morning,” recalls Jarosz, “I’d get a call from [the husband] to find out if certain subcontractors were going to show up! He was in love with the project and often knew more about it than I did.”
“We’re very opinionated people,” acknowledges the husband. “It takes us about three minutes to make a decision.” And there were a lot of decisions to be made. Some flowed naturally from the inspiration of the Pancoast building, which determined materials: stucco, keystone (local coral stone) and pecky cypress. But, explains Jarosz, the new home, called Villa Verde, would be “more sophisticated in terms of shape and form” than either the former residence or the coach house. “Ornament is simplified, expressed in the Florida keystone trim.” And, adds the architect, the minimal monochromatic interiors, whose spaces telegraph a kind of monastic hush, “are more quiet, more 21st century.”
Jarosz also brought great subtlety to the interior architecture. “I like to squeeze, then open spaces,” he says, by varying rooms’ character “so you move from an intimate space to a grand one, from one that’s more ornate to something cleaner and simpler.” So an austere groin-vaulted hallway leads into a library paneled warmly in cypress, and a low-slung door under the soaring, gracefully curved staircase opens into a snugly proportioned breakfast room.
Though they consulted designers from time to time, the owners sourced most of the interiors themselves. “A lot of lines we knew from past experience,” says the husband. “And, truthfully, when you’re looking for the best, you’re options are more limited.” Still, they were exacting, going through 60 different shades of white paint over two months before having it precisely mixed themselves; spending “hours and hours and hours on the Internet”; insisting that the Botticino marble baseboards be partially set into the walls rather than protrude from them.
On one occasion, the owners fell in love with two Italian chandeliers. But while they had stepped away to consider the purchase over coffee, the store owner sold the fixtures to another customer. A year later, the couple mentioned to her how much they liked the pieces and offered to buy them from the current owner. It turned out the chandeliers had been too large anyway and were sitting in the store’s warehouse. Today they hang in the library.
“The design process continued constantly throughout construction,” says Jarosz. “Under normal circumstances, a house like this would take about a year. But the owners deserve a lot of credit. They wanted the best.” Clearly, that is exactly what they got.