Astrologer, writer and fashion designer Lisa Sydney is not your typical client. For one thing, reading your astrological chart is often a prerequisite to hiring. For another, she insists that all work stops during the three weeks when Mercury is in retrograde. Which could explain, at least partially, why the spectacular residence she shares with her husband in Miami Beach took two and a half years to complete.
By all accounts, however, it was worth the wait. The original inspiration was Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, the largest Hindu temple complex in the world. Certainly the home’s ambitions have a similar sense of grand vision, one Lisa was able to realize with the help of New York-based designer Juan Montoya, and architect Bruce Brockhouse and his colleague Al Naranjo. “When I did Juan’s chart, I immediately saw that there was a cosmic connection,” Lisa recalls. “His planetary positions reflected luxury, an eye for detail and a shared mutual vision for our collection of antiquities, and that he would complement my Leo need for grand-scale glamour combined with comfort.”
Montoya immediately saw how another passion of Lisa’s, a love for all things Art Deco, could complement and enhance her extensive collection of art and artifacts from around the world. “Art Deco design of the 1920s had a huge influence throughout the world,” he explains, “in Jaipur, in China, in Egypt. I’ve done a lot of homes in Paris in buildings from the height of this era. But here, the mélange was more important than simply using pieces by Ruhlmann, Rateau or Frank.”
That said, period Deco furnishings are certainly, you could say, in the ascendant: Lalique sconces above two Raymond Subes consoles in the entry hall; chandeliers from Murano (discovered by the owner during a trip to Argentina) suspended in the stairwell; and Lisa’s extravagant black-and-white makeup area, which clearly led a former life as a dressing room for Jean Harlow.
But these seamlessly blend with more exotic fare. Visitors walk under marble arches from an Indian gazebo to reach the dining room, for example. Once there, they find themselves in the company of mid-century modern dining chairs, which gather around a Macassar ebony table illuminated by an Art Deco pendant and flanked by massive antique Chinese laundry chests. The popular cocktail lounge off the foyer assembles together an ancient Indian jali (perforated marble window screen), African figures, Haitian artwork, a Moroccan lantern and prints by Robert Motherwell. In the master bedroom, deeply tufted upholstered walls provide an interesting backdrop for a painting of a nude that once hung in an Indonesian palace.
Curating Lisa’s immense collection, in fact, was one of Montoya’s major challenges. “She probably had 20 Buddhas, out of which perhaps two could be used,” he recalls. “You have to edit to let each piece breathe.”
For the architect, giving these pieces enough room to breathe, of course, involved working at an impressive scale, starting with the entrance. In light of the breadth of the owners’ collection of antiquities from around the world, Brockhouse and Naranjo created a marble façade to conjure a museum-like aesthetic. Imported black stone pilasters frame the 24-foot-high Deco ‘X’ entry doors, establishing a sense of grandeur. Once inside, says Naranjo, “There’s a sense of procession as you advance through the house. Everything is designed to draw you through to the end of the journey at the beautiful Biscayne Bay waterfront.”
Further complicating things was the fact that the design, both interior and exterior, kept evolving. Lisa might be led by some divine planetary conjunction to fantastic new objects for her ever-expanding collection, or she would be struck by a new karmic idea that had to be incorporated. “We would have our creative charettes in a dining room,” remembers Brockhouse, “with literally a library’s worth of books collected in groupings for each room.”
The team’s meticulous attention to every detail, however, paid off and the stars aligned, especially for Lisa. “I wanted to be awed,” she says. “And I’m still awed every day.”
—Jorge S. Arango