It would be impossible to look past the seductive city and ocean views of this spacious, two-story penthouse—especially with terraces on both levels that boost the square footage by 50 percent. But the Aventura high-rise where it resides has much to distinguish in and of itself, with the highest level of materials, resort-style amenities and an ambience that sings French 1940s chic. Even so, for the owners and their three college-age children, the ample interiors needed editing in order to better suit their lifestyle. “The apartment was very heavy architecturally,” explains interior designer Deborah Wecselman, who has had a relationship with the couple for 15 years. From ceiling to floor, haute ornamentation ruled, with fancy moldings, detailed tray and coffered ceilings, gilding, lots of figured stone, and dark traditional built-ins.
So the mission was to simplify. The owners wanted a more modern feel and liked the idea of subtle accents suggestive of a Parisian flat. “We made it more French modern,” says Javier Ortiz, Wecselman’s project manager who took on the interior architectural detailing alongside the designer, with Jorge L. Esteban of Accolade Architecture serving as architect of record.
To begin, Wecselman had a white-oak parquet floor installed in the outer foyer. She then replaced stained-glass upper panels on the existing entry doors with mesh grillwork typically found in old French architecture. She liked the European elegance of the ornate iron railing on the staircase inside, but not its open risers. “We removed a wood cap and brass finials, which had been creating excess ornamentation,” says Ortiz. “We added a simpler metal handrail and created a wall to conceal exposed risers, and wood steps instead of stone. It’s a dramatic 180-degree change.”
For the space, Wecselman designed a tufted recamier upholstered in Romo’s teal Loriano crushed velvet and teamed it with modern touches: a Praying Mantis floor lamp reminiscent of the work of ’50s French designer Serge Mouille, a geometric black-marble-topped Matrix table and a white cowhide rug by Stark. More refinements came in the living room. “We removed some trimwork and de-bulked medallions in the center of an elaborate coffered ceiling, and then painted it all white,” says builder Javier Delgado. “It’s a ghost of the old design.”
Keeping the look light, Wecselman had an oak herringbone floor installed and custom-stained it to look weathered, nodding to the style of French designers Patrick Gilles and Dorothée Boissier. “The herringbone especially works in angled spaces due to an irregular layout,” she says. “I didn’t want to be too modern—everybody is doing planking these days.” Next, Wecselman and Ortiz designed a chic bar to replace the old dark cherry millwork. On the opposite wall, a Louis XV-style replace was nixed, as well as its stepped- out paneled framework. In its place, there’s a simple custom lacquered-and-brass cabinet with a flat-screen TV above it. Drawing from a taupe, white and mushroom palette, Wecselman kept the layout simple, squaring up clean-lined velvet sofas with a glass-topped cocktail table and the couple’s existing chairs re-dressed in a practical textured outdoor fabric. Sheer linen draperies warm everything, adding sophistication and sheen at night because of metallic threads. “I love a mix of materials and textures,” Wecselman says. “The French do it the best.”
In the adjacent dining room, a pair of decorative ornamental columns was removed. “That opened the space,” says Ortiz. Wecselman suggested a bold punch of saffron, a dashing complement to the graphic black-and- white art by José Bedia that stretches 15 feet across one wall. Ornamental French-style cove molding was painted to melt into neutral walls, and the ceiling was papered in a metallic pewter leaf, which lends a shimmer that’s especially glamorous in the evening. (“White was a little too crisp,” explains Wecselman.) The classic Parsons-style table, which the builder says had to be hoisted through a sliding glass door because of its lofty size, comfortably seats 10.
Entertaining is indeed important to the couple, so the flow, especially with its impressive indoor-outdoor relationship and expansive terraces that include a pool and sauna accessible from nearly every room, clearly was a selling point. So was the kitchen: Because the space had been specified with high-end custom cabinetry and never-used appliances, there was little desire to gut. “All the original paperwork was still inside most of the appliances,” says Delgado. “The previous owners must have eaten out every day. But the new owners entertain a lot, and the wife loves to cook.” New concrete-look porcelain tile floors and a riveted stainless-steel range hood hint at industrial style, while antiqued-mirrored tiles in a running bond pattern on the backsplash reflect classic French techniques from the 18th century.
For the master suite, Wecselman says the homeowners wanted calm, silvery hues, with an updated French ’40s feel. “No crowns or baseboards. Simple,” she says. “We created a datum line with a piece of lacquered wood that establishes a separation and gives a little crispness to the room.” But Ortiz says that the most challenging space planning involved the reconfigured master bathroom. A new bath layout and shower on an exterior wall required creative work with existing plumbing, as well as “engineering to reinforce the 8-foot-long floating vanity, which held a huge piece of stone,” he says.
Additional bedrooms and bathrooms can be found on the second level, as well as a family room that offers more of the same comfort and vistas. On the huge east-facing terrace, paved with porcelain tiles to replace busy travertine flooring, Wecselman says, “you can entertain 50 people up there and not even see all of them. It’s awesome for partying outside.” The team created a new layout with a barbecue area, complete with a bar, grill, refrigerator and ice maker. Delgado, who is also a landscape architect, laid out a pergola with ipe-wrapped columns.
Now, the sky residence is easy to love. “It offers the flexibility and amenities of a condo with the space and comfort of a home,” says Wecselman. “And with it being the penthouse, there’s nobody around you. You’re on top of the world.”