How Miami Became a Trendsetter in Design

By Marcelle Sussman Fischler | May 2, 2016 | Culture Feature

As the design palette in South Florida evolves, so too do the designers, architects, and trendsetters of Miami's sophisticated new look.

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Walls of sliding glass doors provide interconnectivity with outdoor living areas in the Wa Kee Na residence from Max Strang.

Once a pioneer in the Art Deco movement, Miami for decades was considered little more than a sunny spot for vacationers that was mired in pink flamingos and pastels. Lackluster buildings had small windows and narrow balconies. Design was decidedly tacky.

Then Art Basel thrust the city into the global art and design limelight, bringing with it a discerning crowd of design aficionados. “Since the arrival of Art Basel, Miami has gone through 10 years of sophistication,” says Carlos Rosso, president of The Related Group’s condominium division. “Miami today is much more known around the world and a more desired destination, in part because of the association with art and design.”

Now, the second annual Maison&Objet Americas further adds to that vibe, when the preeminent French decorative arts trade fair returns to Miami Beach this month. “Maison&Objet put us on the map as a destination for design,” says Paris-born, Coral Gables-based interior designer Charlotte Dunagan.

Soaring, sophisticated new condo towers designed by world-famous starchitects blend art, architecture, and design while integrating public green spaces and infusing the natural beauty of Miami. Accompanied by a blossoming arts and culture scene, and prolific luxury-brand shopping, Miami’s sun-dappled, casual elegance is wooing a local and international mix of fashionistas and other connoisseurs of urban living. “Great designers have brought an eclectic, chic look,” says Design District interior designer Adriana Hoyos. “Miami is becoming a trendsetter to the world.” Translation? Adios, flamingos!

Home Is Where The Art Is

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This Biscayne Bay residence by Max Strang Architecture incorporates an outdoor lap pool into its overall design.

“Modernism is back with a vengeance, and the Mediterranean Revival style is on life support,” says Miami-based architect Max Strang. The casual yet urbane approach to living that South Florida homeowners seek calls for clean-lined, uncluttered modern homes that “enhance the outdoor lifestyle,” give interior and exterior spaces “equal respect,” and accommodate the changing climate. Walls of sliding glass doors provide “interconnectivity with outdoor living areas”; zoned layouts create privacy for multi-generational living, while locally sourced Keystone and oolitic limestone “are often used as textural accents to an otherwise clean aesthetic,” says Strang.

A room “should embrace the views outside and the personalities within, creating a feeling of being in a lush, tropical, glimmering water oasis,” says Paulo Bacchi, CEO of Artefacto USA, the high-end Brazilian furnishings brand. Bamboo and rattan with “eco-friendly features and natural colors that connect us with our environment” are in high demand in the Miami market.

The bleached wood blocks in Artefacto’s Canyon line, which Bacchi nicknamed “Miami Beach Blocks,” can function as a table or stool depending on the orientation. From his first Artefacto collection for Miami, Jader Almeida’s modern Clad chair and Jardim tables are also favorites.

And less is more in the world of furniture, says Steven Gurowitz of Interiors by Steven G. Porcelain flooring, LED lighting, and art are all hot, while moldings, reminiscent of Mediterranean or transitional styles, are out. “People want clean; they don’t want busy,” he says.

“I enjoy mixing the old with the new Miami style, meaning we keep it light, but it has a twist,” says interior decorator Deborah Rosenberg, whose designs are frequently eclectic, oftentimes featuring Artefacto’s “beautiful and calming” hanging Brazilian swing chairs. “I love throwing an old, beaten-up chair into a sleek Miami modern condo. A Miami look should have a beachy yet European feel to it.”

Rainbow Connection

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The Benedict residence with interiors by Miami-based Michael Wolk.

Colors that would be appropriate in Michael Wolk’s native New York don’t fly here. Instead of the more somber forest greens, burgundies, or plaids, Miami’s palette takes its hues from the sky, ocean, clouds, and the sun. “Those are happier colors,” says Wolk. Accent colors come from tropical fruits. Rather than layering to make a room warm and comfortable, “here you want it to be free and open.”

“The cliché in Miami is that you should sell everything white,” says Roche Bobois’s US director of communications, Julien Bigan. But in Miami, “we hardly sell anything white. South Americans are very into colors and fabric to match.” Roche Bobois’s best seller for the last three years is the Mah Jong sofa, a brightly hued sectional with game tile-like mix-and-match patterned fabrics. Black leather sofas are also popular.

Lalique’s lighting and Art Deco-inspired furniture with modern lines and construction and exquisite materials and craftsmanship seems tailor-made for the Magic City, says Lalique CEO Maz Zouhairi. The Lalique Maison collection includes furniture, lighting, bed and bath linens, cigar boxes, and a $14,000 leather-printed black crocodile backgammon set.

The iconic nest-like chocolate upholstered chair from one of the 10 collections at Adriana Hoyos’s Furnishings in the Design District is comfortable, timeless, and sophisticated. At Wynwood’s Iniva African Concept Boutique, functional ethnic-chic art includes colorful fiberglass stools and masks. Metal bookcases and drawers are crafted from recycled oil barrels.

Tui Pranich, the architecture-trained international designer and owner of Tui in the Design District, prefers “clean, elegant, sophisticated design” using classical elements such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona chair or Corbusier’s chaise lounge. Says Pranich, “Good design should be long lasting.”

Reaching The Sky

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Rendering of a living room in One Thousand Museum by Zaha Hadid.

You couldn’t count the cranes east of I95 if you tried, but these aren’t your father’s buildings. Wealthy international buyers and savvy New Yorkers are collecting trophy properties at places like the late Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid’s sinuous, 63-story One Thousand Museum “as if it is a piece of art rather than a building,” says Gregg Covin, one of the developers. Drawn by the striking architecture, downtown environment, and cultural attractions like the neighboring Herzog & De Meuron-designed Pérez Art Museum Miami, “these wealthy global buyers expect a higher level of product than we had in the past in Miami.”

“Miami has changed its profile to that of a city of the arts, design, and architecture,” says Fortune International President and CEO Edgardo Defortuna, and it is “the perfect location to display the talents of world-renowned architects and designers. The current movement in architecture displays an artistic flair while allowing for a timeless, casual elegance.”

With large undertakings from Brickell City Centre to Auberge Residences & Spa Miami on Biscayne and the Regalia in Sunny Isles (not to mention hundreds of other projects globally), Coconut Grove-based Arquitectonica’s bold modernism is synonymous with the renaissance in Miami’s urban landscape.

Meanwhile, David Martin, president of Terra Group— the developer behind OMA Rem Koolhaas’s Park Grove in Coconut Grove and Renzo Piano’s 87 Park in North Beach—says new boutique-style projects are designed for the “place and location.” According to Martin, they are much more understated, with less environmental impact and more of a connection to nature. Set in a five-acre park, Park Grove has a palette that comes from the ocean, palm trees inspired its faceted concrete columns, and walls of glass maximize bay views. Says Martin, “It’s simple, elegant but with huge functionality and very strong details.”

Cesar Pelli, the architect of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and the upcoming wide-shouldered Armani Casa tower, says the “new buildings reflect our changed aesthetic and take advantage of many technological developments. The new skyline enhances the image of the city, making it vibrant and very much of the 21st century.”

Designed To Suit

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A glass-and-marble Armani/Casa kitchen in the Cesar Pelli-designed Armani Casa tower in Sunny Isles.

Like the shapes of these sculptural buildings, the five-star resort amenities prevalent in luxury hotels and residences are designed to meld subtropical landscapes with an urban setting. Luxe condominiums boast walls of glass, high ceilings, open kitchens, expansive balconies with private pools and outdoor summer kitchens, private elevators, and commodious bathrooms with rain showers and separate soaking tubs.

“Building features that emphasize how an individual lives, and relates to their surrounding environment, guide the design process,” Defortuna says of Miami’s new edifices, which are oriented to maximize views from all units, be it the ocean, the bay, or a cityscape. “Each project allows us to provide more than a home; it is a lifestyle.”

Developers across Miami have “been trying to outdo each other,” says Gil Dezer, the president of Dezer Development, whose portfolio includes the cylindrical Porsche Tower, which features a statement-making glass-enclosed car elevator that brings your roadster to a sky garage by your front door. Built in conjunction with The Related Group, Dezer’s upcoming Armani Casa skyscraper has interiors by global tastemaker Giorgio Armani, including an oceanfront fitness center, a spa with a Turkish hammam, an oceanfront restaurant, a cigar room, a movie theater, and a children’s playroom.

Cascading gardens and a resort-style lagoon pool are just the start on the sleek amenity deck planned for Paramount Miami Worldcenter’s 60-story residential tower. It also includes soccer fields, a half-kilometer running course, two tennis courts, a boxing studio, yoga deck, and a “jam room.” Even in Miami, a fireplace in a well-designed living or family room is a selling point, although a television above the mantel is a no-no, says Ricardo Britto of Britto Design Studio. “A digital-free living room which will allow more family time and interaction is a must.”

Driving the demand is the expanding trend of families and new residents making South Florida their new home every day. To accommodate them, in the coming years, 132 new buildings with more than 13,700 units are scheduled to go up. And with each new interior and exterior design, they will continue to shape an ever-evolving Miami style.

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