A Mid-Century Odyssey
In The Heart Of Coconut Grove, An Internationally Savvy Homeowner And Her Environmentally Conscious Architect Revel In Their 30-Month Journey
Architecture and Design:
Max Strang, Strang Design LLC, Coconut Grove, FL
Claudia Uribe, Miami, FL, and Claudio Manzoni, Miami, FL
Hector Castro and Alex Permuy, Halmac Construction, Miami, FL
Brian Rogers, Avalon Gardens, with consultant Andres Arcila, Naturalficial, Miami, FL
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She is a self-admitted, “unshiny” person. She likes consistency in what she does and designs. And she loves squares. Meet Katherine Hucker, artist, homeowner, and very definitely the heart of design for this 5,800-square-foot dramatically modern home overlooking Biscayne Bay. Katherine and her husband Rupert, whose métier is in oil and chemicals, have lived all over the world — from Europe to South America.
But several years ago, they decided to shift continents permanently. Leaving London behind, the couple was charmed by Coconut Grove and even as they rented a home there, Katherine was “driving the streets” looking for a waterfront lot upon which they could build. Thrilled to have found a rare 3/4-acre at the lush, jungle-like junction of a canal and Biscayne Bay, the Huckers set out on what would become an odyssey filled with code specifications, detailed design and redesign, and the sheer undertaking of building a house that according to the architect, should withstand a Category 5 storm.
That architect is Max Strang, a renowned creator of climate-driven designs, who follows many of the precepts he learned growing up in a house built by the prime mover of the Sarasota School of Architecture, Gene Leedy. Strang and his design team would use those concepts, including the mid-century aesthetic of deep overhangs, sun-shading devices, balance with the natural world, and an environmentalist’s interest in sustainability and passive systems to design this elegant and most livable home.
Working through what Strang remembers as 15 to 20 architectural designs, he and Katherine calibrated, honed and crafted the main house along with a 1,458 square-foot guesthouse and art studio. Balconies that wrap along the horizontal thrusts of the towering concrete structure make it not only “fortress-like,” according to Strang, but beautiful. “The structure needed to be lifted 9 feet above ground level with 163 pilings driven 20 feet into bedrock,” the architect says. The cantilevered cube-like rooms seem to float over the water, their shimmering reflections mingling with those of Florida’s sunsets.
As Strang was carrying over the “structural layering” from the home’s exterior to an interior of floated ceilings and cached walls, Katherine was attending to the inside’s textures and furnishings. Strang calls her work, “spare and highly curated by a master of color and design.”
Indeed, Katherine is not one who gazes at design magazines and merely dreams. She is a doer and even better, an artist with strong conceptualizations. “For four years, I attended Art School at St. Martin’s in London. My own artistic inclinations are contemporary and I know when its right,” she says. “I was very much involved, visiting the site two or three times a week.” A neutral palette of grays, creams and browns allows textural elements and the expanse of the outdoor vistas to become dominant features of the home, where a series of indoor and outdoor living areas, lush gardens, open terraces and glass-encased rooms blur the line between inside and out.
In the great room, Surrounded Islands, a dramatic Wolfgang Volzs photograph of environmental artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s pink-wrapped Biscayne Bay islands provides the living area’s artistic focal point. With jutting linears everywhere and gray tones the only distraction from the art, the dining area’s rectangular Piero Lissoni crystal table from Luminaire complements with a modernist note. Nearby, Strang and Katherine reduced the expansive kitchen to its streamlined essentials as Binova’s dark wood cabinetry designed by Interium softens the open space and Deja Vu’s stainless steel stools keep things crisp and cool.
Upstairs, the minimalist master bedroom offers what is essential, particularly a view that inspires. Spare geometry doesn’t faze Katherine as the uncluttered design continues with a bold orange sofa that announces the daughter’s room … a place her own aesthetic senses can run wild.
Strang and Katherine began as collaborators and became friends. “It was wonderful working together,” the design duo says. “This is a house that will endure whatever nature brings.” And the Huckers plan to enjoy its full beauty from the vantage of their decks.