From the meticulous clip of a bonsai tree to the perfect placement of rocks in a river, traditional Japanese gardens are defined by carefully crafted moments of nature. Architect Jaya Kader was commissioned with capturing this same sensibility for a couple’s new South Florida home in Bay Harbor Islands. As active travelers and architecture aficionados, the clients have an avid interest in classical Japanese design and its seamless connection between built and natural environments.
Situated along Biscayne Bay, the selected lot is limited in size at 75 feet wide–a challenge Kader saw as an opportunity to produce an inventive layout for the structure. “The clients were mostly interested in creating something special and not necessarily building it to the max,” says the architect, who worked with general contractor Carlos Ortiz. “So making these kinds of magical moments became possible.”
Just as Japanese stroll gardens feature paths that reveal a series of new perspectives, the home’s footprint similarly weaves between a sequence of indoor and outdoor spaces. The property begins with bridges that traverse soothing reflective pools throughout. In the front-entrance courtyard, Kader added to the sense of calm with a massive living wall conceived as a kind of outdoor art installation. Using a mix of fern and philodendron varieties, landscape architect Deena Bell-Llewellyn kept the design “very simple, with monochromatic texture,” she says. “We did not want to create too much color or chaos, so it is very soothing to the eye.”
Inside the house, the space contracts around the entry vestibule. “The air-conditioned area narrows in the center to make room for these beautiful outside spaces,” Kader says about the entry courtyard and backyard terrace. The transition indoors and outdoors remains fluid, with ceiling accents of rich ash wood and flooring of shell reef stone adding “a lot of warmth and a grounded feeling,” the architect says. “I like to use natural materials because they tend to age, so you feel the home lives and time has lapsed.”
The interior design reveals a similar spirit, reflecting “the more organic feel of the architecture,” Kader notes. She worked closely with the homeowners to place their furnishings, which favor minimalist, low-profile silhouettes, echoing the elegant simplicity of traditional Japanese designs. Many materials also remain subdued–such as the dark wood of the dining table and kitchen cabinetry–as measured doses of pattern and saturated color pay tribute to the home’s subtropical environs. A striped sectional and woven rugs in earthy shades like orange and gold accentuate the entrance, while jolts of vermilion and citrus enliven the great room’s built-in bookcase and accessories.
The homeowners’ extensive art collection was also “intricately woven into the puzzle of the project,” Kader says. Thus, she strategically cut openings into dividing walls to reveal and frame selected works. To ll the double-height vestibule, Kader collaborated with artist Andres Ferrandis on a massive layered collage that plays against the architecture’s geometric contours, especially the dramatic cantilevered staircase.
Sunlight entering floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding glass doors that Kader employed throughout enhances the home’s fine details and underscores a relationship with its surroundings. “When you’re circulating around the house, you’re always aware of the outdoors,” she says. This proves particularly true in the dining and great rooms, where glass dividers pivot to control the ow of air and light. The latter space, which reinterprets a traditional Japanese pavilion, features an extended roofline and sliding walls that open completely to the adjacent pool area, designed as a complementary reflecting element. “There is a theme of water running through the house from front to back,” Kader says.
Outside, the overall landscaping offers a modern take on Zen rock gardens. “We created a lot of dry, decorative, river rock stone gardens with a few accent plants,” Bell-Llewellyn says, “so we ended up with a minimalist appearance in shades of green from juniper and bamboo.” Though evoking a specific Japanese style, the foliage also remains responsive to Miami’s coastal environs. “Heavy wind and salt spray o the bay blow directly onto the site,” the landscape architect notes. “Everything we selected had to be salt-tolerant and sturdy.”
This deference to nature reinforces the home’s essential role as “a series of open spaces that speak highly about indoor-outdoor living,” Kader says. “From the street all the way to the dock, we’ve carved out space from the inside to give back to the outdoors.”