an American designer is speaking from a Moroccan garden about a Madrid-based architect who has designed the shell of a Guatemalan’s home built by a contractor with a Basque name. Yes, complicated. But the result of the three-year project is as spectacular as will be found on any continent or in any country.
Rising up in poured concrete chasms, clad in thousands of feet of limestone tiles, this 11,000-square-foot, modern manse juts and thrusts, roils and stabs at the clear blue sky of Key Biscayne, seven miles south of the clamor of Miami. Seeming to emerge from the water like a contemporary Atlantis, the home is the vision of one Central American woman, who with her interest in history, art and architecture was essential to every decision. And her choices tied together an international design team that created what is, in fact, a residential work of art.
Up for the challenge, contractor Mike Aixala would be tasked with building from the plans of architect Joaquín Torres, while interior designer Frank de Biasi would collaborate with each of them as he designed the interior’s wall placement and furnishings. With focus and constant artistic feedback, this international design team and the owner spanned continents to create a livable home that is pared down to its aesthetic essence.
“Because the property is in a ‘high velocity’ zone, our first challenge was putting in 150 pilings, 35 feet deep into the ground,” says Aixala, sounding almost exhilarated as he describes the architectural challenges with “radius walls, leaning walls, the curving walls and steps…”
The structure itself is all poured-concrete and Rebar, including the enormous, spiraling stairway inside. And all of it clad in massive slabs of light and dark stone. It is a tone struck by de Biasi as well, a kind of reverence for the scale and scope of the project. “After entering what feels like a modestly high entrance, the volume of the living room is truly breathtaking,” the designer says. Soaring more than 20 feet upward and flanked by both a wall of windows overlooking the water and a skybridge spanning the landward side, the living room de Biasi and his senior decorator, Marta Polo, created exudes an ambience of warmth and comfort despite the magnitude.
“Textures are vital in keeping the space from feeling commercial or like a museum,” de Biasi says. To balance the great volume of the living room which soars high above the skybridge, the designer divided the space into two distinct seating areas separated by an elegant stained oak table. “The homeowner’s vision was for something simple and contemporary,” he says. And flooded in light, the designer and architect achieved that and great drama.
The living room functions as a sanctuary despite the vast art collection the owner holds dear. “I asked the owner, whose other homes are filled with art, to provide me with big pieces,” says the designer, who muses that “the living room could even handle more.”
A straw-marquetry screen from Lison de Caunes offers an organic feel, while multimedia visual artist Pae White’s brilliant piece of luminary art, a megalithic plaster-coated metal work, pulls the eye up to the skybridge. Created by Aixala from a 10-inch steel beam into which he molded and set a thick glass balustrade, the skybridge now serves as a gallery-like mezzanine of sorts.
Sharing the living room’s water view, the intimate dining room feels sedate and polished. An Italian chandelier stretches out its Murano glass arms over a heavy plank table. Mismatching the bleached oak chairs from de Angelis and the parchment-faced chests from Jonathan Baring feels daring and explorative — and just right for provoking conversation about the collection of Central American artists on display.
Tucked beneath one corner of the skybridge is another sanctuary. In homage to midcentury Florida, the library’s pair of red-and-white floor lamps join vintage sconces from Gallery Kreo in Paris. A pair of simple area rugs designed by Doug and Gene Meyer for Holland & Sherry seems to emphasize the immense size of the polished limestone floor tiles, while the huge stone treads contrast with the more delicate arc of the stairway’s curve.
Upstairs, the master suite is faced with an elongated balcony overlooking the bay. Yet inside the suite, instead of filling the space with furnishings, the designer and owner selected simplicity and serenity as the vocabulary — understated lines, the palest of hues and the calming water view as a canvas for dreams.
Morocco and New York–based de Biasi, Madrid native Torres, and Aixala, scion of the Bacardi family of Bermuda and Cuba, joined forces to turn a Central American matriarch’s vision into a dramatic, livable and hurricane-worthy reality created of glass and stone, organic textures and pure inspiration … and no international incidents occurred.
Interior Design by Frank de Biasi and Marta Polo, Odeon Decoration, New York, NY
Architecture by Joaquín Torres, A-Cero, Madrid, Spain
Builder Mike Aixala, Interscope Contractors Corp., Miami, FL
Landscape Architecture by Andres Arcila, Naturalficial, Inc., Coral Gables, FL
Text by Marina Brown
Photography Moris Moreno, Miami, FL