Call it a perfect storm: The tenants of a South of Fifth condo were moving out, and its owner was tiring of his nearby home, which had become within a painful earshot of construction projects. The idea to reclaim the condo, which enjoys panoramic views of the Miami skyline, hit soon after the owner hired residential designer James Wall to orchestrate some improvements. “It went from being a business decision–let’s freshen this up and re-rent it–to it being all about him. He got excited,” Wall says of his client.
For Wall, making it “all about him” meant capturing the outsize personality of the homeowner, an art gallery proprietor and fine-art photographer with a yen for travel and a passion for collecting. “Because of his amazing art collection and his exotic flair for unusual things,” says Wall, noting pre-Columbian pottery, masks from Sumba, Indonesia, and antique military regalia among them, “It was more like, how do I create the background of soft, modern luxury that he wanted?” The owner had few requests beyond a warm, organic feel–and purple. “Everything was coordinated with the color purple, but it was only used in accents,” Wall explains. “He believes it is such a strong color.”
Working with general contractor Adriana Hernandez, Wall first had to gut the condo to eliminate unnecessary walls in order to open up the views. One area that received a major facelift was the kitchen, and it was during the conceptualization of the new layout that the owner first started thinking about making the apartment his own. The Varenna design he chose with walnut cabinetry and display cases clad in bronze-sheen glass set the tone for the luxurious materials that would fill the rest of the space. The master suite, in particular, is a temple of marble, with 20 slabs of Calacatta Borghini covering the bathroom alone, and two gray Statuary slabs, with subtle hints of purple veining, shrouding the fireplace and TV wall of the bedroom. “Everything was slab,” says Wall, pointing also to the Perlato Gray marble on the kitchen floor and the Ocean Blue travertine lining the elevator lobby. “He wanted it as artwork.”
For Hernandez, that meant intensive work to ensure each piece of stone was precisely cut and perfectly book-matched. “A mistake means you have to buy everything new,” she says, noting that a single marble slab can cost up to $4,000. “I spent hours looking at the slabs and thinking about how I would have a fabricator cut them. I wouldn’t let a subcontractor do this for me–it’s too important and too expensive.” Even more delicate was the task of slicing the marble into one-eighth-inch sheets to cover the water-closet door and the shower ceiling. “These two pieces of marble were sliced and put onto a honeycomb-plastic panel,” says the general contractor. “It’s crazy and beautiful, but also so much easier to manipulate than the heavy, three-quarter-inch slab.”
They added more special effects in the main living area, which spans a 260-degree vista from downtown Miami, across South Beach and over the ocean to Key Biscayne. For the ceiling, the client requested a reflective PVC coating, which he’d used in a former gallery. “He loved it so much, he wanted to do it in his apartment,” Hernandez says. Her team had to heat the condo to 120 degrees, so the plastic film would fuse to the ceiling, but the result was well worth the effort: “You feel like it’s way taller than it actually is, and you can see the city in the ceiling,” she says.
To further amplify this ceiling effect and create a visual sight line anchoring the dining table, Wall incorporated three glass globe sculptures on the narrow partition just beyond the table. Each globe contains micro-projectors playing video of thunderstorms and lightning over Miami, which is especially exciting at night. Obtained through Victor Hunt Designart Dealer in Belgium, Wall says, “We didn’t drop a chandelier over the table because we didn’t want to hide the Victor Hunt globes.” The living area’s wall of windows frames more objets d’art set on pedestals: A woman’s bust sculpted from pennies, and another one made from puzzle pieces; whale-bone rib and vertebrae sections; and a crocodile skull. The residential designer used modern European furnishings to provide a sleek setting for all his clients’ curiosities, while the custom khaki-colored walls serve as a backdrop for the large-scale artwork. “There’s such an interesting balance between the owner’s contemporary aesthetic and his antique collections,” Wall says.
As Wall enumerates the dramatic gestures he employed in the design–the stone work and ceiling treatments; B&B Italia closets lined in Hermes-orange leather; a near-total rebuilding of the interior architecture–he praises the team of artisans who made it possible. “Every vendor was so great and so high-level, but ultimately what made this all happen is the unique character of the owner,” he says.