Nikki Simkins desired something simple—very simple. She, her husband, Michael, and their three children had left their Mid-Beach home for a large waterfront estate just up the road, and they wanted the new place to embody the efficiency and mood of a resort hotel, with “a cohesive palette of just a few fabrics and finish materials,” she says, “and everything really neutral and Zen.”
But the rambling house was complicated. Built in 1926, with an extensive 1935 addition by prominent architect Russell Pancoast, it had been done in the Mediterranean Revival style, with hints of the Art Deco detailing so fashionable in the ’30s, making it an important part of Miami Beach’s architectural history. Its marble- and millwork-heavy interiors felt tired, however, and the structure was unsound and unamenable to alterations—a fact the Simkinses learned only after embarking upon what they thought would be a largely cosmetic renovation.
“We had to go back to the drawing board and start over,” Nikki says of the decision to tear down. But the city’s design review board wouldn’t allow just any dwelling to be built in its place. Rather, the new residence would have to replicate elements of its predecessor, from the entry tower to the tile roofs. The homeowners agreed. “We said, ‘Let’s rebuild exactly what’s there but just modernize it,’” Nikki recalls. “We wanted to keep that Miami Beach history.”
Working with designers Charlotte Dunagan and Thomas Diverio and architect Thomas Weber, the couple stretched the original home’s plans to allow for taller ceilings, bigger windows and a new family-friendly layout. “It became a very interesting project, because we were able to incorporate details that were traditional in nature,” Diverio says, “but we did a modern take on them because the clients were leaning toward a modern interior.”
The new white stucco exterior presents a streamlined version of the original Med-Deco style. “We took those traditional details and began to either simplify or literally strip them away,” Weber explains, leaving simple window moldings, graceful arches, elegant belt courses and, his favorite, Juliet balconies “with a simple swoop detail at their bottoms.” Dotting the grounds are a pool, a tennis court and cabana-like outbuildings that house amenities such as a gym and a summer kitchen. Among the structures are fruit, vegetable and flower gardens and some 110 palm trees, all placed by landscape architect Michael Sapusek to recreate the property’s original character. “It is an estate feel,” he says, “which requires an experience that needed to be formalized with mature plantings, gardens, long views, gathering spaces and destinations to encounter as you move throughout, drawing you into the property.”
Inside the house, the team subtly referenced the property’s original Deco flavor through moments such as porthole-style windows and the elegant curves on a staircase railing. Other details root the structure firmly in the present, like the dramatic glass-and-black-iron partition Dunagan and Diverio designed to separate the dining room from the adjacent entry hall, and sleek walnut millwork—including kitchen cabinetry, custom built-ins and deep window and door casings—that shows off the wood’s natural grain.
The residence’s restrained materials palette highlights the couple’s impressive contemporary artworks, including a massive John Williams triptych in the living area and a rhinestone, acrylic and enamel painting by Mickalene Thomas in the dining room. “Their collection is very eclectic and, in general, extremely bright,” Dunagan says, “so our job was to design in a very subtle way—to create a backdrop against which the art could pop.” For this, the designers sourced contemporary furnishings with a “laid-back resort feel,” Dunagan says. Some pieces incorporate edgy accents of black metal or dark glass, like the foyer’s sleek console table and the dining room’s mobile-like chandelier. Others are upholstered in neutral fabrics, from casual prewashed linens on sofas to a rich taupe leather on the dining room’s walnut chairs.
The designers amplified the vacation vibe in the spa-like main bathroom, incorporating a floating tub that perches atop an illuminated platform and an adjustable daybed that mimics a poolside chaise. In the adjacent bedroom, soft draperies and a charcoal-colored wood-veneer wallcovering create a cozy cocoon. “It’s the layering of all those textures that creates the warmth and the character of the house,” Dunagan says. “To me, that’s what finally puts the whole story together.” And, thanks to its timeless appeal, what will carry the house through its next chapter with ease.