This Key Biscayne Home Exudes Color Dynamism

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Forever Young in Key Biscayne

A youthful couple's penchant for color inspires a much-venerated New York design team to create a dynamic Key Biscayne Home.

Bold Yellow Lacquer Wall Entry with Chandelier and Artwork

A Claudia Wieser faceted-mirror artwork from Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York welcomes visitors in the entry of this Key Biscayne home designed by Ellie Cullman and Alyssa Urban with the help of architect Thomas Kligerman and builder Grey Marker. Manhattan decorative painting firm Uriu LLC lacquered the entry wall in a bold citron yellow, while a vintage tubular glass pendant from Karina Gentinetta Disegno hangs from the ceiling.

Lounge Chair Living Room with Gold Touches and Windows

A seating area in the living room is anchored by a custom Habité sofa by Anthony Lawrence Belfair flanked by vintage Willy Daro lamps; a custom chaise sits next to a brass side table purchased through London dealer Alexander Cohane. A vintage Gigi Radice armchair from Gustavo Olivieri Antiques in East Hampton, New York, and a Greek key coffee table from John Salibello, also in New York, complete the setting, which sits atop a custom pale zebra-pattern carpet by Joseph Carini Carpets.

Artful Dining Room with Yellow Chairs and Branch Lighting

In the dining room, Urban designed the table with a brass-inlaid top crafted by Larrea Studio and a base made by Harris Rubin. It is surrounded by custom Kate dining chairs by Anthony Lawrence Belfair and illuminated by a Charles de Lisle chandelier from The Future Perfect in New York. A painting by Eddie Martinez from New York’s Mitchell-Innes & Nash gallery hangs above the Harris Rubin console from Dennis Miller Associates, also in New York.

Multi Media Artwork Dining Hall Wall and Console

A faux-shagreen credenza by Larrea Studio complements the dining room’s chic aesthetic. Above the sideboard is an Anne Doran multimedia work bracketed by lamps of smoky quartz rock crystal and brass from Phoenix Gallery in New York.

Colorful Art Installation Breakfast Room with Bubble Chandelier

Kaiser Suidan’s custom 'Jacks' installation sprawls across the breakfast room’s living and dining area, which features a Larrea Studio walnut pedestal table with an inset reverse-painted glass top, Powell & Bonnell side chairs and a Pelle bubble chandelier. The sectional is bookended by Anthony Lawrence Belfair custom tables of yellow lacquer and silver mica; the Kendall Oval Mod Swivel coffee table is from GDF Studio.

Multiple Clock Gray Wood Kitchen with Island and Bar Stools

Color and a sense of whimsy, rather than time consciousness, is the point of the array of clocks in the gray driftwood kitchen, which showcases custom barstools fabricated by Anthony Lawrence Belfair and covered in faux snakeskin.

Colorful Pillow Outdoor Furniture Patio Surrounded by Trees

Brightly colored pillows add punch to Toan Nguyen’s Mu sectional sofa and the twin Swingrest rotating loungers, both from Dedon, on the patio. The three Bouquet tables by Kenneth Cobonpue from Designlush in New York sit atop Porta Forma’s Sayer outdoor rug from Frontgate.

Bright Blue Outdoor Dining Table with Umbrella and Palm Tree

Near the pool, the family dines in Forest side chairs surrounding a rectangular dining table topped with Angela Adams blue glass fabricated by Weatherend Estate Furniture, all available through Janus et Cie. In the distance is Dedon’s Mu adjustable beach chair.

Comfortable Lounge Outdoor Patio Pool

Getting splashed is unlikely in Daniel Pouzet’s rotating lounger, designed for Dedon’s Swingrest collection, which sits at a comfortable distance from the pool.

Man Cave Colorful Light Bar with Gray Cabinets

In the home’s “man cave,” Kligerman designed a bronze wall unit backed with milky glass, which can be illuminated in different colors. It houses the TV, a bar and shelves that fit into notched panels.

Book Chair Library with Pops of Color

Kligerman built cantilevered shelves throughout a transitional space to create a library, which now holds glass pieces commissioned from Long Island artist Michael Davis through Comerford in Bridgehampton, New York. The book chair is from the clients’ collection.

Arrow Artwork Master Bedroom with Palm Tree View and Chaise

In the master bedroom, marble lamps from Hudson Mercantile in New York perch on Irwin Feld nightstands from CF Modern, also in New York, and flank a custom-lacquered headboard featuring a blue shagreen panel; Ted Abramczyk’s Cumulus chandelier for Ralph Pucci hangs overhead. The arrow paintings are by Midwest artist Tony Tasset, purchased at Eric Firestone Gallery in East Hampton, New York; the vintage chaise by Milo Baughman is from John Salibello; and the carpet is custom.

Being open-minded is often a prerequisite for being a good designer—especially when it comes to clients with a very particular and singular vision. Luckily, designer Ellie Cullman is well-versed in working with homeowners who think outside the box. “Our firm has no signature style,” she says. “We like as much diversity as possible.” In fact, keeping variety in their portfolio is one of the reasons Cullman and design partner Alyssa Urban embraced a recent project for a young couple with three small children in Key Biscayne. 

While the wife approached the home’s design with a discerning and exacting eye—no doubt passed down to her from her grandmother, the legendary fashion icon Betsy Bloomingdale—she felt the home should balance cutting-edge design with a fun-loving family vibe. Cullman and Urban, for their part, knew exactly what that meant: The design needed to feel fresh. “It had to be lively and energetic, but not glitzy in any way,” Cullman says. “It was more about a bright and bold color palette.” 
But there was someone who needed convincing: The husband’s more conservative tastes might not have gravitated to all the Crayola colors and sense of whimsy injected into the home. So, the wife took the lead, working with Cullman and Urban on the home’s signature aesthetic. “My husband didn’t see anything until he walked into the house at the end,” says the wife. “We both have strong opinions. I thought if we both did this, we might have to get divorced. So, I said, ‘You just have to let me do it.’” 

First, though, the team would have to address the home’s nondescript construction. Other than the main floor’s 12-foot ceilings—some of them swathed in warm wood—the interiors of this house had little architectural character to speak of, recalls Thomas Kligerman, the architect hired to add some zing. So, he found ways to make the rooms more embracing. “The library was a sheetrock box,” he says, “a space you walked through your way to the laundry.” Kligerman, working with builder Grey Marker, wrapped it in cantilevered shelves with uplights to invite the residents to linger. 

Another sheetrock box was a space designated as the husband’s “man cave.” For Kligerman, this became the most elaborate part of the project. To give the room some distinction, he designed a wall of glass shelves framed in bronze. Then he backed the unit, which houses the TV and the bar, with translucent glass and installed lighting that could change colors on a whim. Other changes included an overhaul of the master bathroom, with Kligerman and Marker basically replacing everything except the floor—the lighting, tub, shower enclosure and surfaces. The architect also added a glass barn-style door in the family room that rolls elegantly on a track to open or close the space’s connection to the playroom. 

In its own way, though, the whole house feels a bit like a playroom—albeit one for adults. The project is home to a wealth of cool, contemporary art pieces, yet it doesn’t fall prey to Miami’s prototypical slick white-lacquered interiors and Lucite furniture. In fact, even the furnishings feel like artwork, such as the dining room’s custom wood table designed by Urban and inlaid with brass pieces. It is surrounded by equally sophisticated dining chairs, but their backs are characteristically covered in citron-colored upholstery—a hue first introduced in a brighter version on a wall in the entry. 

Daring turquoise and burnt orange shades abound in the living room, while the kitchen, breakfast room and family room mix citron with marine blue. The evolution of the palette was “emotional and instinctual,” Cullman says. Urban adds, “In the beginning we thought we’d leave all the walls white because many rooms were open to each other.” But, Cullman elaborates, “It felt like a design that was missing some spice.” 

Yet for all the playful polychromatics, the rooms are punctuated by a mix of elegant midcentury furniture and bespoke pieces. “They’re both into the arts,” Urban observes. “So, we found young craftspeople and asked ourselves how we could come up with bespoke versions of many of the furnishings.” These pieces rise to the level of the many artworks displayed throughout—most of them assembled by the wife, who concentrated on young up-and-coming talents such as Los Angeles-based artist Petra Cortright. Cullman and Urban also contributed, discovering, for example, New York-based glass sculptor Abby Modell, who created a whimsical wall installation for the family room. 

In the end, the collaboration was exactly what Cullman and Urban had hoped for when taking on the project. “We are excited by clients who challenge what our firm has been doing for 30-plus years,” says Urban. Cullman adds: “This was just so much more fun because of the vivid color and the dynamic personalities involved.” 

Jorge S. Arango