Nov / Dec 2000
This South Beach penthouse condo was actually opened up from its original floor plan and outfitted as smartly as a deco liner to be a "decompression zone" for an active and peripatetic couple.
High above the bustle of South Beach is an apartment so trim and shipshape that it might be the cabin of an elegant oceangoing yacht. Look out the window and, indeed, there is the ocean blue; but the intervening dunes and the art deco sky-line silhouetted beyond offer an urban reality check, an intimation o the lively city scene below.
Roger and Nydia Stone – he’s a public affairs consultant and she’s a photographer – are out-and-about types who think nothing of dancing till dawn, so an apartment in the thick of things suited them fine. The building, a nondescript 1960s high rise, sits at the gateway to South Beach, right on the Atlantic, a perfect venue for a subtropical pied-a-terre.
At first the stones lived on a lower floor, but they seized the opportunity to move on up when a tiny penthouse became available. The apartment had been carved up into many rooms, which turned a small space into unlivable smaller ones. The walls were painted turquoise, yellow and red. "I’d say it had a Mexican restaurant motif", says Roger. The Stones called in another husband-and-wife team: architecture William Taylor and designer Phyllis Taylor (of Taylor and Taylor), who collaborated with their associate partner, Juan Carlos Menendez remembers his first encounter with the Stones’ new place: "it was schizophrenic."
The couple wanted a retreat that was a transition point between their hurried schedules in New York and Washington, D.C., (where they have an apartment and a house, respectively) and the animated activity of South Beach – basically a decompression zone. They asked Taylor and Taylor for an apartment "that was minimalist but not ridiculously so, a clean design that referred to the streamlined, to art deco."
The apartment was gutted and turned into a single L-shaped space, with areas for dining, living and sleeping. What was once a foyer is now a compact dining room, with a table from Holly Hunt (the Chicago retailer recently opened a second showroom in Miami). With its "X" legs, it’s a take on the traditional captain’s table.
Because the Stones are not serious cooks, all they wanted were the bare necessities. A wall kitchen was hidden behind broad doors paneled in pale woven raffia. Fling them open and there it all is: granite counter tops , microwave / convection oven, under counter refrigerator, doll-size dishwasher and full-size espresso machine. Close the paneled doors, and all that is left is an elegant, subtly patterned wall. The raffia paneling continues around the dining area, covering the doorway and hiding mechanical systems.
In the rest of the space, the walls were paneled in maple, "chosen because it came the closest to the bamboo we used on the floors", says Menendez. He established a geometric wall pattern, large vertical panels juxtaposed against smaller horizontal ones, to create a subtle rhythm and a balance.
As on a boat, efficiency is a real key here. Storage is behind the paneling. The clothes closet is large – "my wife and I are both clothes horses," admits Roger – but the bathroom is compact. A custom-made curved partition separates the living and sleeping areas. The cleverly designed partition functions as a headboard on one side and in the living room as a compact cabinet for the television and sound components.
The cacophony of colors that the Stones inherited inspired the new palate, which is as fresh as it is light. "All that color was the last thing you’d want in an apartment this size," says Menendez. "Neutralizing it was my very first instinct."
A trademark of Phyllis Taylor’s interiors is the mix of antiques and modern pieces. Thus, the side tables next to the sofa are vintage art deco – a nod to the more than 800 classic buildings in the national historic district just downstairs. But the wood and corrugated-glass coffee table is from Details in Miami.
Since the apartment only has two windows, Menendez did all that he could to maximize the view. The large mirror over the sofa is strategically placed to imply another eye on the world. Look into either window or mirror and the ocean looks back at you. "We were trying to create a sense of openness by bringing the ocean view into the apartment," he says.
The design of the mirror is intended, Menendez continues, "to allude to the Afro-Caribbean style that influenced Parisian deco." The patterned, geometric rug is Tibetan. These references to Parisian ethno-deco are what Menendez calls "Zen abstractions – the furniture allows for that because it’s unspecific."
The chairs and sofa are upholstered in earthy "new neutrals" of beige, green and brown. "It’s almost monochromatic," schemes that actually works – all because of the diminutive size of the apartment."
Just as the raffia from the dining room walls was carried into the living room area’s barrel chairs, so the maple from the wall paneling was used in the built-in desk that sits against one wall – a desk with a beach view. It’s used again on the casework for the headboard / entertainment console / room divider.
Outside of the apartment, says Nydia Stone, "there’s South Beach. Inside there’s a view of both the water and the great art deco architecture – but this is an escape. Up here, other than the occasional boom box going by, you don’t hear a thing."