For one New York-based investment banker, Florida had been a favorite vacation retreat for nearly a decade before he finally committed to a full-time residence there upon retirement. But the journey from a gracious Manhattan townhome to a Miami Beach condominium left one desire unfulfilled — he had no choice but to put many of his prized possessions in storage. “It didn’t take long for me to realize that what I really wanted was a house on the water,” he says, “one that was large enough for me to enjoy being surrounded by all of my treasures one more time.”
What he didn’t anticipate, however, was that the house he’d eventually buy would require such a massive makeover. “At first, I thought he planned on a minor renovation,” says interior designer Bjorn Bjornsson, whom the owner enlisted to spearhead the project, “but I knew him well enough to know that he would never be satisfied until the house was pretty much rebuilt from the ground up.”
Indeed, Bjornsson and his client enjoy a working relationship that dates back to 1990. “Bjorn and I first worked together when he renovated my townhouse,” the owner says. “He then designed my office and my new apartment in Manhattan, and, most recently, my former vacation home in Miami. He is a superb designer with a wonderful sense of style.”
Early on in the process, the homeowner decided that a complete makeover was in order. Bjornsson drove the process; reconfiguring the floor plan, deleting divider walls, raising the ceilings, and adding Palladian windows throughout the house. Both designer and client attest that this latest collaboration was by far their most extensive; an arduous renovation that changed the house to an extent that “the former owners would not recognize it,” the owner says.
With the exception of the original slab and stairwell, the Mediterranean-style house, initially built in the 1950s, was completely gutted. The resulting 8,500-square-foot home now affords ample display and storage space for the homeowner’s collection of antiques, furnishings and artwork that spans two centuries. And while this decor style is a departure from the owner’s previous residences, all have shared an eclectic theme. “My client has so many beautiful things, from French, Italian and Chinese antiques to Art Nouveau and contemporary pieces, and the styles of his previous homes have ranged everywhere from Edwardian to Art Deco,” Bjornsson says. “Here, the architectural backdrop is Mediterranean, but the decor is purely eclectic.”
Upon entering the home, rooms are awash with natural light from a wall of windows that displays a spectacular view of the Miami skyline. French doors open onto a pool and outdoor living area, where a custom-sized teakwood stone table, set beneath the shelter of a teak pergola, provides ample seating for al fresco entertaining.
Directly fronting the view, a sofa cues the grand-scaled living room’s relaxed, pastel palette, while opulent Venetian plaster walls and a silver-finished coffered ceiling lend a formal, elegant theme. Here, a pair of reupholstered antique chairs from the owner’s mother intermingles with a new chaise custom designed by Bjornsson. All are grouped around a refurbished, silver-leafed cocktail table that the owner used in his Manhattan and Miami residences. Another grouping sits opposite the room, while, in the center, four reproduction armchairs surround an 18th-century burlwood table with inlays of ebony and walnut.
The living room opens onto a formal dining room, set against the backdrop of a favorite antique needlepoint area rug. In response to the owner’s penchant for frequent dinner parties, Bjornsson utilized an oversized table that extends to accommodate up to 24 comfortably. French-style reproduction host chairs pair with authentic 18th-century French side chairs reupholstered in a striped silk fabric from Kravet in blue and green.
Upstairs, a carved-wood, Indonesian-style settee with ivory inlays provides an exotic counterpoint to the master suite’s antique American sleigh bed. A soothing palette of blue-gray, beige and gold derives from the focal point painting displayed prominently behind the bed. Walls clad in panels of curly maple wood accented with bead molding add texture and dimension.
The master bath is arguably the most opulent room in the house, which Bjornsson clad from floor to ceiling with Calacatta Gold marble. The designer then customized the centerpiece tub by enveloping it in marble as well. “I love doing this style of house,” Bjornsson says. “It’s very detailed with intricate finishes and a mix of new and old pieces that work together flawlessly.”
“I compliment Bjorn for his tremendously creative design,” the owner says. “He and I shared a lot of laughs and a lot of anguish over the course of this project, but it turned out beautifully and I couldn’t be happier with the results.”
Interior Design by Bjorn Bjornsson, Bjornsson Design, New York, NY
Photography by Troy Campbell, Miami, FL
Text by De Schofield