Up until a dozen years ago, the Miami Beach building where interior designer Christopher Coleman lives with his husband, Venezuelan fashion designer Angel Sanchez, was a place of worship. It was then that the former synagogue was converted into eight duplex apartments. Today, the building–or at least this apartment–reveres a different set of credos: a faith in bucking local convention, a firm belief in recycling and reusing rather than the extravagance of buying everything shiny and new, and a devotion to the timelessness of black and white."Down here what you usually see is either Lilly Pulitzer colors or too much white-on-white-on-white," Coleman says of the lion's share of South Florida interiors. "And Angel likes Armani's palette–black, white and gray–which is very soothing." Coleman's reputation, however, was built largely on an unabashedly bold use of bright, saturated colors.
Indeed, the couple's former Miami apartment was red, yellow and white, and their New York abode showcased a Mondrian-inspired palette of primary colors. But black has frequently played a role in Coleman's interiors, too, a product of his early training in graphic design, which instilled an appreciation of how the hues could outline colors and distinguish forms.Not surprisingly, the two men's tastes rubbed off on each other some during their 20-year relationship, encouraging them to start a joint design business, Sanchez + Coleman Studio, which has already been commissioned to create interiors for a restaurant at the Indigo Hotel Brickell and a lobby for the soon-to-open Aloft hotel in Coral Gables.
For their own home, the decision to go with an unconventional, non-tropical palette was also informed by another consideration. "I believe in day and night apartments," Coleman explains. "We're constantly out during the day, so this is mostly a night apartment for us, and black and white works well; it's relaxing, easy on the eyes and perfect for entertaining. We also looked at our artwork and felt that black and white would anchor it better. Black is such a reference now in design; it has such a presence."Sanchez, who was educated as an architect, drew up plans for the renovation, which were carried out by Hidalgo Construction Group and its project manager, Roberto Fernandez.
The remodel called for entirely demolishing the kitchen and designing a new one, renovating the floors, adding risers and facing to the cantilevered treads of the stairs to create closet space, and collapsing the two second-floor bedrooms into one large master suite with his-and-his bathrooms. "Separate baths are the secret to a good relationship," jokes Coleman, pointing out that each bathroom has a 55-inch opening that can be closed off with a rolling barn door for privacy or left open to make the space feel airy and expansive.
In the new kitchen, a deep closet hides the washer and dryer, refrigerator and tableware, and the custom 42-inch-wide bar-height table telegraphs a slim profile and seats up to 10. "We could do a whole article on barstools," says Coleman of their exhaustive search for seats that didn't take up a lot of width, thus enabling a more generous guest list at dinner parties. These, as well as a few other selected pieces, were purchased new. But the majority of furnishings and art were drawn from their various homes, as well as from the designers' storage lockers and the Christopher Coleman Collection, Coleman's home furnishings gallery in Hudson, New York.
An inveterate "dumpster diver" during his early career–collecting from the copious castoffs perpetually available on New York's streets–Coleman's penchant for remaking and repurposing pieces is visible throughout: He joined two sofas he designed for another project to create the living room sofa, and the Danish slipper chairs opposite, he says, "have had nine lives." They now boast three shades of Tonus fabric by Kvadrat. A perforated-metal coffee table has moved through two color incarnations before being treated to its current black enamel demeanor. The couple then layered in textures: a white rug downstairs, a black velvet rug upstairs, Italian men's shirt fabric on draperies, and so on.
For the artwork, they concentrated on pieces that enhanced the black-and-white theme and added optical interest, such as a large diagrammatic work by Alexis Hayère above the kitchen counter and a corner sculpture by Chris Engman over the sofa. Yet Coleman and Sanchez couldn't resist a little break from their self-imposed black-and-white commandments: Downstairs, a colorful Alexander Calder-like stabile springs out of a wall, and upstairs, a red table sits by a reproduction Egg chair. After all, who can resist a little temptation?
—Jorge S. Arango