Recaptured Splendor

A 1946 Miami Modern Waterfront Classic Is Reincarnated To Its Original Beauty Through A Lengthy Renovation And A Picture Perfect Minimalist Decor
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Rita and Robert Swedroe lived in one of the few remaining single-family oceanfront homes in Miami Beach. Surrounded by lush tropical foliage and just steps from the shore, their first beach house had been built by Rita's mother in 1949. The couple moved in as empty nesters 15 years ago to enjoy an idyllic lifestyle and planned to live there permanently. Then, fate stepped in.

The Swedroes discovered a Miami Modern home on the Isle of Biscaya — a little-known island oasis that leads from the southernmost street of the Town of Surfside. More compound than house, the gated site boasted a two-story, 5,000-square-foot main house, a boat house, freestanding two-bedroom guest house and three car garage on 250 linear feet along the Intracoastal Waterway.

The home's distinctive style and spacious grounds immediately captured the Swedroes' interest. Even though Rita loved the light and open spaces, she had serious trepidation. "It was vandalized," she says, "and in deplorable condition." Nonetheless, after Robert looked through his architect's eyes and envisioned it restored to pristine condition, they purchased the estate. Subsequently an intense, three-year restoration and renovation transpired. Robert, known for outstanding multi-family architecture, brought the 1946 home into the present without compromising the architecture.

Early on, the Swedroes retained interior designer Toby Zack, a minimalist with an eye for fine contemporary art. "It was very exciting to get a job with a well-known architect," Zack says. "From the beginning, we were on the same wavelength." She was immediately drawn to the style and "good bones" of the house.

Now complete, the home enters into a two-and-a-half story foyer through a new steel door with three portholes. Inside is a curvaceous staircase topped with a refurbished blue vaulted dome and blue neon lighting. Highlighted by natural light, the original Lucite and steel railing shines like new.

The great room lies ahead with a dazzling view of the Intracoastal Waterway seen through floor-to-ceiling doors and windows. "Conceptually, the minimalist approach established for this entire area capitalizes on the open space and clean lines, so as not to encumber the featured art, 600-gallon living marine environment and breathtaking water views," Zack says.

The water motif continues with the oil on canvas, "Blue Encounter," by Yuko Shiraishi that draws the eyes beyond the partial east wall to a comfortable lounge area with a custom bar. On the west side, the great room harmonizes with the dining area, divided only by a lacquered buffet custom designed with a French limestone top. Robert designed the adjacent kitchen with the addition of an 8 by 8 skylight above blue, high-gloss metallic lacquer cabinetry by Snaidero accented with Azul Aran granite countertops.

Two bedrooms on the first floor were re-adapted as an office/den and a library/media room, respectively. A deep-well skylight was added to enhance the inviting environment of the office/den, where Zack's floor-to-ceiling lacquered maple cabinetry showcases a collection of ceramic birdhouses crafted by Robert's late father.

In the adjacent library/media room, a stunning Frank Stella piece juxtaposes with the Swedroes' collection of Cocina dolls and Indian art that enlivens Zack's wall-to-wall custom-designed cabinetry, which holds 1,000 books plus. This room also serves as the nerve center of the house — concealing all of the integrated technology, where a one-button control panel operates the lighting, blackout shades for the windows and skylight, audio/visual equipment and an ascending/descending 10-foot screen.

Upstairs, two former bedrooms were transformed to one spacious master suite with glass doors and floor-to-ceiling windows replacing former half-height windows. The view marries the outdoors to the suite and the adjacent lounge while providing easy access to new terraces and the pool.

Although this was the first time the architect and designer worked together, it will likely not be the last. "I'm an A-type personality — I'm very controlling," Robert says. "But Toby went with the flow and she achieved the minimal look Rita and I wanted while respecting the architectural aesthetic."

Interior Design
Toby Zack, Toby Zack Designs, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Dan Forer, Miami, FL

Robert M. Swedroe, Robert M. Swedroe Architects & Planners, Miami Beach, FL

Text by
Roberta Klein