A Florida couple created a sparkling Miami beach house out of a neglected 1950s white elephant.

By James H. Schwartz
August 12, 2008
Troy Campbell

Pierre Krys and Max Griffin share a rare gift. Together they canwander through an abandoned house surrounded by overgrown bushes orunkempt lawns and imagine all that it could be. "It's not really socomplicated," Max says. "Sometimes you just have to take chances inyour life and picture what you want." That's precisely what theydid nine years ago, when they purchased a 1950s house on BelleMeade Island that owners had been trying to sell for a decade.

"People thought we were crazy when we bought this," Max says."The asking price was high. It had been unoccupied for five years.And the neighborhood nearby seemed a bit risky. Still, weconsidered ourselves lucky."

Made of reinforced concrete, the plain white house lookedunimpressive from the street and contained a warren of tiny rooms.Worse, a covered porch off the living room blocked any prospect ofa view. And what a view! The house looked down to 40 feet of lawnand 170 feet of shoreline along Biscayne Bay, and boasted a greatvista of the Miami skyline beyond. Confident they could create ahome as beautiful as the site, they couldn't wait to start.

Gutting the house and rebuilding took more than a year.Contractors carted away 15 containers of debris; removed wallsbetween the front hall, vestibule, dining room, living room, andgame room; and opened up the kitchen. A structural engineerrecommended adding two steel I-beams for support, but Max andPierre made all other architectural decisions. When they werefinished, the dark, cramped first floor had become a shining2,000-square-foot living area surrounded by telescoping glass doorsoverlooking the bay. Upstairs, in place of three tiny bedrooms,they created a spacious master suite and a large bath. With thestructure complete, Max and Pierre designed the interiors, focusingon simplicity and local materials. "A lot of houses we'd seen inMiami looked as though they belonged to a branch of royalty inEurope," Max says. "There was abundant gold leaf. And that's notthe design direction we wanted." Instead they followed Pierre'sself-described "pure approach to design." They painted all of thewalls bright white and chose natural materials whenever possible.Putting down Brazilian-walnut floors and contrasting them withwhite paint gave the rooms a Key West feel. "Instead of anart-filled palace, we created our own beach house in Miami," Maxsays.

Outside, the couple celebrated Florida's beauty. Rather thanplanting ornate French-influenced gardens or exotic trees, theyturned a portion of the lawn facing the bay into a beach. "Webrought in sand and filled the area with native plants that live inthe dunes," Pierre says. "Sea oats and sea grape, sealettuce―whatever grows on the water." They also added a fewcrinum lilies for color.

In place of a concrete/AstroTurf deck, which former owners hadbuilt around the pool, a new patio sparkles with slabs made ofnative coral stone, carefully pieced together and pitched to shedwater. Subtly textured and filled with natural imperfections, thestones establish a visual link between the house and the seabeyond.

"The best thing about this house is the sense of nature," Maxsays. "Many mornings you awaken to an egret or a shorebird walkingthrough the grass, or iguanas sunning on the sea wall. To live soserenely with nature just 15 minutes from Miami's internationalairport is pretty incredible."

All it took was a little vision.