Saturday, February 19, 2011

Florida sunshine

DC has had unseasonably warm weather and it has me missing the 80 degree, sunny days we had in Florida this week (the Biltmore hotel in Coral Gables seen here). Here's hoping you've all taken advantage of this teaser of spring we've experienced. Have a great President's Day weekend!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Coral Gables City Hall

As I mentioned, Coral Gables was a planned community at the latter end of the city beautiful movement. The last piece of George Merrick's master plan to be built in 1927 was the city hall, which is the end piece of the miracle mile.
Merrick again brought in Phineas Paist to design the building which sits on an awkward site. The 'front' of the building, seen above, faces the miracle mile as well as the major road through Coral Gables. However, due to that heavy traffic, the entrance was placed at the rear where parking was to be found. See it on googlemaps HERE.
The centerpiece of the building is the square bell tower which includes a clock as well as an actual bell! The building was (and mostly is) visible throughout the entire neighborhood due to its height with its only other competitor at the time it was built being the much taller Biltmore hotel.The seal of the city sits proudly on the front facade.As with any Beaux Arts designed building, function comes first with a very rational plan. Three sides of the building have entrances with the 'front' being the rounded loggia seen at the top of the post. The actual front door is located at the rear of the building, seen below, and is centered on a charming little forecourt.Bordering the court and seperating it from the street is a wood and terracotta loggia which seems to be popular with the smokers of the building!This beautiful balcony above the front entry would just be perfect for mayoral speeches!
The side entry on the quiet side of the building is the employee entrance but is no less grand. I love the green window frames and canvas canopy.The entry which faces the busier street is actually the exit of the building (don't even TRY to walk in that way as I found out!). The building is built of a local stone, the same as Vizcaya, which has imprints of shells and marine life -maybe a type of travertine? These lamp posts had been stuccod over which is now wearing in a charming way.The loggia was probably my favorite part of the building. Wood ceiling beams and decorative brackets sit atop stone columns with marble corinthian capitals.
I love the brick screen and built-in bench.Terra cotta tiles top the loggia as well as the entire building, fitting in with the Mediterranean style.
Who else but Coral Gables could boast such an elegant city hall!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

San Simeon: The cloisters

While I continue to sort through hundreds of photos taken last week in Miami and Nassau, lets take a look back at San Simeon and the cloisters.
Located on the second floor, this grouping of 4 guest bedrooms have hallways on either side which were originally left open to the elements. This way, when the windows were open on each side of the room, an ocean cross breeze would blow through. To help preserve the furnishings, the hallways have been enclosed with glass. One of the hallways seen above
The views, as throughout the house, are spectacular; of the ocean to one side and the mountains on the other.
The rooms have similar heavy 'antiqued' wood Spanish ceilings as throughout the estate, but these rooms have a pleasing intimacy to them.
They're cozily furnished with armchairs and desks as well as the requisite beds; don't forget the Renaissance art too, of course!
I love this desk with all of the little drawers, but if I were a guest, I'd be afriad to unpack into it; You know you'd leave SOMETHING behind! Note the clerical vestment above the 2 twin beds (old fashioned, no? So Ricky and Lucy!)
Each room had a private bath which was, and still is, quite the luxury. Not the fanciest guest rooms on the estate but also not too shabby! I imagine on the hottest of days that breeze made them quite popular.
As with all of my San Simeon posts, written permission was kindly granted to post my interior photos of the estate on this blog only. Please respect that and do not copy. Thanks!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Colonnade of Coral Gables

While driving around Coral Gables I stopped by the Colonnade Building along the 'miracle mile', a half a mile stretch of road that is the shopping strip of the planned community.Coral Gables was a planned community developed by George Merrick in the 1920s, spawned out of the City Beautiful movement. The public buildings in Merrick's scheme were all done in a magnificent Beaux Arts style which incorporated a lot of Floridian motifs.Merrick hired architect Phineas Paist, who was involved with the local estate Vizcaya, to complete his own fantasy town. Below is a photograph of a lost painting of Paist, allegedly painted by Sargent, who was a friend of his.The Colonnade, completed in November of 1926, was originally designed as Merrick's sales center, and as such, was the centerpiece of the shopping area. It certainly stands out!Since the area experienced a real estate bust shortly after it was built, the building has undergone a series of purposes: a movie studio, pilot training facility, bank and even a parachute factory!The building is now a part of the Colonnade hotel, operated by Westin. You can see the hulk of the hotel behind the original building. The main foyer operates as a ballroom and contains the original Spanish fountain and plaster detailing that you'll see in a bit.The exterior doors house a number of restaurants with the shaded loggias providing outdoor seating.As with most good architecture, you know where you are, despite a classical design. The pink stucco and turquoise window frames with beachside motifs couldn't be anywhere but Florida!The interior foyer, as I said, now operates as a ballroom for the hotel; imagine having your wedding here! It reminded me vaguely of Rome's Pantheon, don't you think?The Oculus is even painted with clouds to resemble the open one at the Pantheon. Here it is more practically enclosed.Now, notice those pretty corinthian columns -what is that in the center?The capitals have birds; Pelicans and Parrots!I instantly fell in love with this room -those birds!The niches at the ground level (empty for some reason?) continue the seaside motif with shells. Ignore those hideous 1980's marble floors. I'm not sure what the original floors were, tile or perhaps a more appropriate terrazzo (marble chips in cement)? At the rear of this atrium begins the hotel with this 2 story entry hallway. I think it melds in pretty well with the original building. This area was originally an alley between buildings I think, based on original photos I found online.
After a maddening day driving around Coral Gables looking for Merrick's buildings (harder than I thought!) and an unexpected and stressful phonecall, I needed a drink. I grabbed a delightful lunch at Le Boudoir in the Colonnade - one of the best Salad Nicoise I've had in a long time, I would highly recommend this cafe!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Back from Paradise

Heather and I are back from our whirlwind trip to Miami and Nassau and I have to say the weather was the best part of the trip; 80 and sunny every day!
My favorite part of the trip, other than the weather, was visiting the incredible Vizcaya. I've been to a LOT of house museums, as you all know, but this ranks in my top 5. Imagine a gorgeous, fantastical palace set amidst stunning gardens with views of Miami Bay and you have Vizcaya. I can't wait to share more of the mansion with you.
Later in the trip I was also able to tour the historic Biltmore Hotel in charming Coral Gables. This grand old dame was no disappointment and I wish we had stayed here for a few extra days!
The interiors appear to be original which is rare in a high end resort. I'm not sure which would be a better location for a wedding: Vizcaya or the Biltmore! And I can't forget the fabulous inaugural cruise of Oceania's Marina. It was the first cruise for each of us and I have to say, we're spoiled for all future cruising!The line prides itself on incredible food and service, including the inestimable Jacques Pepin who we met, ate dinner in his restaurant (in part prepared by him) and received a signed cookbook. We docked in Nassau for a day but the best part was relaxing on our private deck with a view of the town. Weather, food, friends and gorgeous locations; Who can ask for more from a vacation?