When Robert S. Brown and Todd D. Davis were recently commissioned to reimagine a 1980s modern Miami Beach house, the designers already had a long head start. After all, they had owned, renovated and lived in the house themselves in the early 2000s. Tickled by its past as a filming location for TV’s iconic Miami Vice, Brown and Davis had seen the home’s architecture—an interlocking series of white cubes, balconies and floor-to-ceiling glass views—as a modern alternative to the Mediterranean vernacular dominant locally at the time. “The Miami-modern style had its day and then was completely out,” Davis recalls. “We could feel then that the modern trend had to be coming back; it was just time.”
Brown and Davis initially reconfigured the home’s layout and redesigned architectural details, a feat implemented by builder Tom Palmieri of Palmieri Design Management, but they eventually gave up their new digs. After a subsequent owner made a few changes, the new occupants—a couple and their three daughters—became the perfect fit for the refashioned classic. They, too, embraced the home’s signature Miami-modern style and waterside setting—along a canal off one of the Sunset islands where the waterway opens up to Biscayne Bay. “It’s classic Miami Beach,” says the husband. “There’s a little bit of extravagance and a tropical feel to it, but with these modern, clean lines. It’s not a sterile, boxy building; it has a certain human element to it. We love hosting events and small dinner parties here and like to eat outdoors or have pool parties with the kids, and our neighbors and friends.”
As they began their endeavor for the new owners, the designers sought to “make the home approachable and stylish,” Davis says, “but we also wanted to bring in a soulful quality.” The house blends contemporary and midcentury modern furniture in soft tones and textures and lively patterns. In the living room, for example, vintage 1950s Marco Zanusco chairs pair with a silk rug designed by Brown and Davis. In the dining area, a classic Saarinen table juxtaposes a sculptural chandelier. Sumptuous silks make the living room upholstery comfy and inviting, and, together with mixed metals—a cast-bronze bench in the foyer, brass tables and 1960s nickel lamps in the living room—help create the glamorous yet livable environment the designers and owners wanted. Set against crisp white walls—which help bounce the golden Florida sunlight throughout the space—furnishings also complement the clients’ art collection, including a large abstract blue canvas, painted by the husband himself, that hangs above the living room sofa.
Although modern style is often about openness, one standout feature in the house is the enclosed foyer, which the designers specified in order to “create a sense of mystery and maximize that first impression,” Brown explains. “It’s taking advantage of the drama of compressed space moving to expansive space.” Two structural columns that once appeared as oversized goalposts were filled in to create a striking onyx-clad wall. This prompts a momentary pause before visitors walk around a corner and are struck with a perfectly framed view of the pool and the bay through the living room, which boasts 13-foot-high ceilings. As the grand piano and glass chandelier suggest, it’s an elegant space, yet it gives way to a more casual area outside, featuring enlarged terraces and a pool that was reshaped to have a cleaner aesthetic—part of the landscape that Brown and Davis also designed. With its bounty of glass, the home is set against a backdrop of lush palm trees and tropical plants. “The ’80s modernist style really lends itself to that,” the owner says of the way the blue sky, turquoise water and verdant greenery pop against the pristine white house.
While bright, sleek surfaces and vintage glam furnishings create a wow factor throughout the public spaces, the master bedroom is more serene, evoking a palette reminiscent of the water and sky. An aqua carpet gives way to golden hand-painted wallpaper in a discreet floral motif that also ties in with the adjacent master bathroom’s mosaic tile floors. “We looked at over 40 houses in Miami Beach as we were deciding to move, and we just fell in love with this home,” the husband says. “It’s a very special example of Miami architecture. Then when you add the sunset views over the water and all the wildlife we see— stingrays, wild dolphins and manatees—it’s unbelievable.”