Friday, March 4, 2011

Vizcaya: the bayside

The main facade of Vizcaya is really the 'back', facing Biscayne Bay. The first time Deering ever saw his completed winter house was actually arriving by boat.
Paul Chalfin designed the house to appear as having been built over time. The center balcony is off of Deering's private bathroom with his bedroom suite to the far right, while the left hand side of the balcony is the main guest suite. The rear terrace was set with a tent for a party the day we visited, hiding the first floor. Now stone covered, the terrace was originally a carpet of grass. This construction photo shows the first floor as well as gives you an idea of what the house looked like when the center was an entirely open courtyard. You can see right through the house to the entry drive.
The terrace steps right down to the water. Deering actually chose the location for the house, unusually close to the water, against the advice of the design team members. This relationship is so important in person that it was an ingenius decision.Just to the right is the tea house, built prominently out into the bay.Probably the most charming space on the entire estate, I can see breakfasts and afternoon tea being served here. Besides the view back at the house seen below, an excellent view of downtown Miami is also visible.The use of interior trellis was big at the time, popularized by Elsie de Wolfe, who had recommended Paul Chalfin to assist Deering. The teahouse as well as a boat landing flank the house (opposite from the teahouse)and are reached via Venetian styled bridges.
The most well known aspect of the garden is probably the stone barge, built out in the bay from the terrace.Originally, the barge was heavily planted, covered with statues and had a small pavilion as well. This design obviously doesn't weather hurricane season very well and is a bit high maintenance for a house museum! Below you see the barge in 1934, a simplified version after the 1926 hurricane.Just around the corner from the terrace was the swimming pool.The swimming pool, in Roman fashion, is submerged half into the house and half in the open air, so that entry can be gained without going outside in your bathing costume (this was prior to the bikini being the official dress code of Miami). You see the bay to the left and how the pool enters the basement to the right.
This wouldn't be ArchitectDesign without some boring detail shots. The concrete terrace drains off the side through these scuppers and into the planting bed below (and then into the bay??).
And in case one should fall overboard, life preservers are at the ready!

Adjacent to the pool is entry into the lower level of the house which once held a bowling alley and smoking room but is soon to hold the newly refurbished cafe and gift shop! I'll be giving you a sneak peek soon when I start the interior tour of Vizcaya.
The 2 historic photos come from the book 'Vizcaya, an American Villa and it's Makers' by Witold Rygbczynski and Laurie Olin.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Vizcaya: Formal Italian gardens

Charles Deering (along with Paul Chalfin) chose the Italian style for his Miami estate, Vizcaya. The mediterranean style is well matched to the southern Florida climate but many of the plants had to be replaced with heartier stock. The use of local plants in a foreign Italian manner fit the house itself, which was a mixture of styles from different time periods. This all was very zeitgeist as the grand estates of the time mixed styles with abandon (an affect I personally love). The garden just south of the house was used as the main garden, seen to the right of the house in the map above. Florida, as a general rule, is incredibly flat and this site was no exception.To counteract that, Suarez had an artificial terraced hill created at the end of a long pool of water that also would create some shade so one could view the garden from the house without glare (so smart!).

The garden is walled in and on either side of the house, the walls hide service spaces (to the left of the house, where one enters the garden today) and a 'secret' garden meant for the display of Orchids seen above (on the right of the house labled as #18 on the map)The long pool has an island (#8 on the map) which is really spectacular -imagine having a party there!Fountains in the pool keep it from getting stagnant and attracting pests. Notice the spanish moss in the surrounding trees.Urns of the local coral limestone surround the pool and are filled with decorative native plantings.Boxwoods, seen below, also do well in the climate and are used to create green walls.The mix of colors is so gorgeous, my photographs don't capture it quite well enough as in person; The blue sky, the pink house, the red roof, the yellow garden walls and the lush greenery are almost sensory overload at the same time as feeling incredibly tranquil.The walls surrounding the Semi-Circular pools (#9 on the map) must have been rebuilt at some point as the construction looks much more modern, and in the dark pink color we saw earlier.They also house some gazebos with iron railings of dubious construction which don't exactly match the quality of the other work, seen above. Yes, thats the same photoshoot that we saw in the entry garden! Green and yellow -one of my favorite color combinations.The walls surrounding the artificial mound are covered in statuary and are of deep coral pink stucco.Notice the party lights hanging in the oaks around the pool!The central staircase has terracotta pots, similar to the ones in Deering's time.The stairs are flanked by grottos in the Italian manner. A caryatid and telamon support the archway. What a great spot to take shelter from the rain or to relax.Each has a fountain and long bench along the wall. Notice the shells which decorate the ceiling, a great detail!
The terracing up to the mound is really beautiful; I love the combination of materials and stucco colors.I could have sat here all day long, the most incredible gardens.
The terracing continues behind the mound as well, where there are also some obelisks.I'd be smiling too if this was where I lived, like this happy bust. The stairs on the sides of the mound have tracks up the center for the gardener's wheelbarrows.
Gates seperate the garden from the other areas of the estate. Across the street was the whole farm village (like many of the golden age estates, this was a somewhat self-sustaining estate) which now house administrative offices and we were unable to see.More of the gardens tomorrow, you won't want to miss it!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Vizcaya: the entry

One of the biggest surprises Heather and I had on our trip to Florida and Nassau was definitely Vizcaya in Miami, the James Deering estate; we were blown away!The designing and building of Vizcaya was a labor of love for Deering, which he did with the aide of Elsie de Wolfe's protege, Paul Chalfin. Chalfin was the driving force and visionary behind the entire estate, and indeed, it was his one masterpiece which he worked on for decades.Chalfin envisioned the estate as an Italian Villa due in part to the fad with Italian design from Edith Whartons Italian Villas and Gardens which was ideal for the climate. In fact, he convinced Deering to abandon his plans for a more conventional Spanish styled villa.I'll start with the gardens, as I promised Sandra, and hopefully they'll begin to give you a peek into this magnificent estate.Construction was started in 1914 on the house with completion in 1917 but the gardens weren't complete until shortly before Deering's death in 1925. Sadly, much of this work was ruined in the major hurricane of 1926 but Deering's family, who had inherited the estate, hired Chalfin to patch up the damage.Chalfin opened a studio in NYC with a staff of architects, craftsmen and drafters, funded by Deering, which designed many aspects of Vizcaya (and other projects he took on) such as these lanterns above which dot the estate. The colors blue and yellow become a theme throughout the estate and hark to a Venetian scheme.The photos above (and the main estate plan) show the entry from the northwest (bottom left of the map) through an original hammock (hardwood forest) which was important to Deering to preserve. This forest now acts as a barrier from the surrounding neighborhood and harbors a lot of wild life, like the little lizard seen on the pergola above!The first glimpse of the main house, above, is after reaching a statue-filled, round entry court (entrance seen in the 3rd photo above) and then down a drive flanked by walkways with fountains leading you down to the house. This trickling water, neccesary to every Italian styled garden, also connects you to Biscayne Bay on the other side of the house. Magnificent statues of the local coral limestone are abundant.
Above you see the arrival court from the house, looking back up the drive towards the entry court. In Deering's time, this green patch surrounding the pond was heavily planted, as was much of the estate.
This really is the back of the main house, as it fronts both Biscayne Bay and the main southern gardens (which we'll explore in my next post).
Notice the continuation of blue and yellow in the curtains and awnings. Originally, the center of the house was completely open and these curtains provided shade and protection from the elements. It was glassed in for preservation in the 1980s.The stucco has a pink tint with the local grey stone providing an accent. I love the texture of this stone and the little pockets provide places for greenery to sprout; Probably not the best for preservation but great for effect.The entry is flanked by more urns and statuary and these great copper sconces; the green is striking against the pink hued stucco.While the design remains Italian, lots of the details and the name itself remain true to Deering's original Spanish intentions; Spanish galleons are seen throughout, like this one below at the entrance.The court is flanked by 2 triumphal arches, which make a great backdrop for photoshoots!The stucco of the surrounding court walls is a coral pink color, much stronger than the house's light pink hue.The Beaux-arts influence is evident by the site lines, everything aligns! Below we are looking through the arches and central court.Chalfin designed the house to appear as it had evolved and changed over generations of an Italian family. The house was to seem to have been added onto as time progressed and these baroque arches would have been 'later additions' style wise.Chalfin however, was not the architect of the house but more of an owner's representative and design director. He worked closely with Deering on the design, even traveling with him throughout Europe scoping out precedents and, much like at San Simeon, buying architectural 'salvage' to use and copy in the estate.The architect they chose was Francis Burrall Hoffman, who was unceremoniously dismissed after the bulk of the main house was complete, with Landscape architect Diego Suarez (who had studied in Italy) designing the gardens (even if Chalfin later took credit!). To the side of the house are the servants entrance and maintenance sheds, which this time are in a beautiful yellow stucco. These are the entry for visitors today into the main gardens which we'll see soon, I promise!As a non sequitur, I loved seeing a true 'Florida door' (louvered wood door) in use in Florida as my old apartment here in DC used them as entry to our apartments!