When DC architect Andreas Charalambous traveled to Miami to help a client find a retirement condo, he had no intention of buying one himself. But while touring properties, he was drawn to a building on Biscayne Bay with views of the Miami skyline on one side and the Atlantic on the other. Suddenly the “crazy idea” hit him and Charalambous made an offer on a two-bedroom apartment on the eleventh floor; his client bought a property a few blocks away.
“I always enjoy Miami because it’s an international city and I have friends there,” the architect says. “In this apartment, it’s all about the view. You watch the sun set and it’s completely removed from reality.”
This spur-of-the-moment decision rested on a few practicalities. First, the price was right due to the region’s economic slump. Even more compelling was the fact that Charalambous, known for his distinctly modern work, saw potential in eventually developing new business in a city that embraces a vibrant, contemporary aesthetic. In addition, with two renovations underway at once he and his client could save time and resources by working with many of the same vendors and contractors.
His first step was to gut the place. With its wall-to-wall carpet and 1970s-era kitchen and bathrooms gone, Charalambous then constructed a minimalist tableau that would accentuate the views rather than compete with them.
“The plan changes that I made were minor but I think important,” Charalambous says. He shifted the master bedroom door, separating it from the guest bedroom entry and aligning it with the apartment’s main corridor. “The line of vision is much longer and it also gives the bedrooms more privacy.” He replaced a large walk-in closet in the master bedroom with a smaller closet to create more living space. “It allowed me to fit a king-size bed and bigger furniture into the room and let the whole space ‘breathe.’ There’s no reason, at least for me, to have a walk-in closet in a beachfront property; you want to use it for living.”
Charalambous’s design is an exercise in restraint. He sheathed the entire apartment in white, from the walls and ceilings down to the two-by-two-foot porcelain floor tiles throughout. Even the baseboards are made of the same porcelain material. “I had made the decision from the beginning that this is primarily a beach apartment and it’s all about the water,” Charalambous says. “It’s all about the blue outside, so everything inside was going to be white with splashes of color.”
For “relief” from the slick surfaces in the living room, the architect designed a suspended wall of mid-century-style wood panels, backlit with LED lights to create an ambient glow at night. And his own mixed-media art, which he painted on the apartment’s balcony during his first weekend in the home, creates bold strokes of color against the seamless white background in all of the rooms.
Furniture is kept to a minimum to avoid a sense of clutter; Charalambous honed in on clean-lined, modern pieces that he employs almost like sculptures in the space. He also selected low-slung beds to bring a greater sense of volume to both of the bedrooms.
“It was more about making strategic decisions that would have big impact versus doing it all. This was a very restrained solution to the space, but one that I think is powerful in its simplicity,” he says. “You can see the skyline of Miami across the bay from all the rooms—that is the feature.”
He also applied a less-is-more sensibility in the kitchen by avoiding upper-level cabinetry along the two main walls to keep the space open. Under-counter refrigerator, freezer and microwave drawers eliminate the need for tall appliances that would interrupt the symmetry. An ornate white mirror reflects the bay even in this windowless space.
A stone accent wall in the kitchen evokes images of pebbles and sand along the shore. The same organic texture is also applied in the master bath and guest bath in another nod to the outdoors.
Now that his second home is complete, Charalambous takes a break from his busy schedule in DC to visit Miami once a month. He finds that, though brief, his trips to the tropics recharge his batteries, both on a personal and professional level. “Visiting Miami takes me away from the everyday,” he says. “Sometimes we get bogged down by things that in the big picture are really not that significant. It just helps remove you from the situation for a weekend. I think getting away and putting things in perspective and coming back and re-adjusting the issue is really very healthy.
“In Miami, everything that’s being built is very modern; it’s very today,” he continues, pointing out the many resources he now taps in the Miami Design District. “It also helps me get inspired. Going down to Miami and being exposed to a different way of doing things is informing our projects here in Washington as well.”
Photographer Geoffrey Hodgdon is based in Deale, Maryland.
ARCHITECTURE: ANDREAS CHARALAMBOUS, AIA, IIDA, FORMA Design, Inc., Washington, DC.