Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 2/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
South Beach is not for the faint of heart. Nor the insecure of body. A leisurely stroll along the beach—heck, simply a quick jaunt to the bodega—reinforces the fact that this town is populated by people who like to advertise their assets (and by the voyeurs who love to watch them).
"The spirit here is so unique—welcoming, exhibitionist, and pleasure-loving," says the name- sake principal of Eric Raffy Architecture and Design. The Parisian architect became enamored of Miami Beach while completing the $12 million renovation of the historic Hotel Clinton South Beach, built by Charles Neidler in 1930. Although Raffy had designed resorts and boutique hotels in France, Malaysia, China, and Brazil, this was his first U.S. effort, and he sought to capture Miami's unique exoticism. "It's about infusing sensuality, into the design," says Raffy. "We're putting the guests on show."
Thanks to Raffy's concept, which toys with notions of propriety, the revitalized art deco property is ready to strut its stuff. We sincerely hope the patrons are, too. In many of the guest rooms, sleeping and bathing areas are separated by nothing more than clear glass walls. Overlooking the courtyard, converted into a mosaic-lined reflecting pool, Japanese-style balconies invite lounging or meditation—in full view of neighboring rooms. Along the lobby's street-front window wall, moderne-style seating allows guests to observe Washington Avenue pedestrians. And vice versa.
Such flourishes, while sympathetic to Miami's if-you've-got-it-flaunt-it vibe, also compensate for the Clinton's lack of vistas and three-block distance from the beach. "We brought the ocean inside. It's present throughout the interior, from the water features to the color palette," explains Raffy. The lobby introduces the ocean motif in the form of a custom carpet's wavelike strokes of blue and purple, and an aqueous periwinkle wool upholsters lounges and ottomans designed to mimic the curves of the female body. Overhead, two oversize ceiling fans rotate slowly, recalling a languorous sea breeze.
To preserve the 3,200-square-foot lobby's landmarked deco features, Raffy brainstormed with the local architectural review board. "The alterations are sympathetic to the existing design, while adding a new dimension," he says. Thus the decision to expose the ceramic floor tile rather than cover it. To disguise a column in the center of the space, he built a clover-shape wraparound banquette, its backrest a faceted cone laced up like a corset. At night, cloud and rainbow images are projected onto the white nylon screen that encircles the top of the column.
Enjoying more freedom with respect to the guest rooms, Raffy gutted the original second and third stories to create more generous accommodations, and a new fourth level increased the key count by an additional 11. All furnishings are custom, including mirrors that reiterate the lobby's lace-up detailing, boxy sofas and wheeled lounge chairs upholstered in plush wool, and mahogany desks in the form of boomerangs. The flooring and wainscoting are white-painted planks, inspired by lifeguard stands on the beach.
Despite stylistic commonalities, each of the 88 rooms is spatially unique. "Different configurations respect individual preferences. They give guests ownership of the space," says Raffy. For visitors in the mood to cocoon, some rooms offer corner beds and a small curtained window between the bed and bath areas. Show-offs might prefer suites with soaking tubs in the living spaces or Jacuzzis on the terraces. Three rooms above the pool feature white-painted wooden balconies with stairs descending directly into the water.
"The design allows you to play," says Raffy. "And playact."