Photography by: Jessica Glen
Architecture By: Erika Belsey & Phil Mahla
Construction By: Croom Construction
An Interview with the Architects Erika Belsey & Phil Mahla
What led to the gut renovation of this condominium? Tell us a little about the state of the residence before you started that led to this remarkable remake?
The condominium building was built in 1978. This particular unit was nearly in original condition so it presented a blank canvas for our clients to envision a new way of living in the John’s Island community. For us, there were no constraints other than the laws of gravity. We were free to make their vision a reality.
How long did it take to implement the design and then complete the renovation?
Erika Belsey and I first visited Vero Beach with our clients in October of 2012. We started design work after the New Year. Demolition began in late June of 2013 and there wasn’t a wall left standing afterward. It took nine months to put it all back together.
Did you encounter any major problems during the project?
The plumbing conditions in a multi-unit residential building always present challenges. We had to work around waste, supply, and vent risers, not to mention a couple of roof drains. Probes in the beginning were enormously helpful. We were able to achieve the layout exactly as we planned it, including the addition of a new powder room.
What change has made the most impact on the function of the home?
I would say that there isn’t one change that has had the most impact, but the many, many changes that make this home tailored for our clients. It’s in the well-proportioned entry and gallery furnished with their favorite pieces including a Hockney lithograph they have owned for years. It’s in the carefully designed kitchen cabinetry that has a place for everything. It’s in the selection of marble rock floors and frosted glass tiles for the bathrooms that evoke beach glass glistening in the sand. Erika is especially fond of the carpets with a subtle wave pattern woven in Indian for the living room and master bedroom.
Did your client have a vision for what they saw for the home or did they leave it up to you?
Our clients had one requirement: that their home had to be on the ocean. And it is. We joke with them that if you squint hard enough at the ocean view you will see France.
What was your design concept?
Maximize the ocean view. All of the principal rooms enjoy vistas of the ocean. We created arched openings framing the view for the gallery and the family room. The kitchen has its own portal looking out directly at the water.
Another design concept was a carefully zoned plan, and knowing our clients well was a great asset. We instinctively knew what they needed in terms of this home. The public rooms comprise a large open area for relaxing and entertaining. The master suite is separate from the two bedrooms and the two bathrooms that are reserved for guests.
What in your opinion is the most important design detail you added to the home?
We like to create a collection of moldings specific for each project, and for this home we gave the door casings, panel moldings, and crown an elongated beveled profile framed by sharp edges. It creates a lovely shadow line in the Florida sunshine. We took advantage of the long Florida tradition of plasterwork and had the crown executed in plaster. Everyone who worked on it did a terrific job, and it is one of the nicest details.
What was the inspiration for the beautiful blue color you choose for the interior doors?
The ocean was the inspiration – we wanted to capture the deep blue you see just at the horizon line. We narrowed it down to three options, and the final choice Benjamin Moore’s “New York State of Mind” won us all over, and the name didn’t hurt either.
A dark color on doors is a terrific way to make a standard part of interior architecture special. A fully saturated hue actually becomes a neutral, and the Nanz Hardware door levers look beautiful against it.
What led to the decision to create a Library in the back hall?
Our client’s love books and they have many of them, so we always try to find ways and places to include them in their rooms. This hallway library is the perfect place for guests to choose a biography for the beach. One shelf is devoted to books on Vero Beach history and Florida birds, seashells, and shipwrecks. Several bays are specially sized for their collection of French children’s books.
Where did you source the modern pieces, dining table and fixture specifically?
The dining table is a mid-century modern find – one that we didn’t have to search very far for. The husband inherited it from his parents. A little bit of polish, and it looks like new. The dining room chandelier is Jonathan Adler’s Ipanema Multi-Boom Pendant, and there are a number of other unusual fixtures to mention. The floor lamps flanking the USM media unit are vintage French, Jielde factory work lamps. The gallery chandelier is David Week’s 3-tier Sarus mobile. At nearly 9 feet long, it was specially crated and shipped to Florida. The gallery floor lamps are called Cadmo. Karim Rashid designed them in 2006 for Artemide. We’ve nicknamed them penguins – true snowbirds.
How did you come to work on a project in Vero and did you find it difficult to work on a project in FL when you are based in NYC?
This project is our third major renovation with these clients and they are the wonderful people who brought us to Vero Beach. They also introduced us to the group of hard-working and talented people at Croom Construction that made this project happen.
As far as the distance between NYC and Vero, I have two words for you – Jet Blue Granted the northeast weather could have been more favorable last winter, but with snow on the ground in NYC, it can be easier to make a 10 am meeting in Florida than one on the upper west side of Manhattan.
When did you start your firm?
Erika and I started our work together in 1994.
How did you and your business partner meet and come to work together?
We met while working in the New York office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. It was a great learning experience, but we thought we could go our own way. Twenty years later we’ve learned even more, and have a long list of clients that we truly appreciate.
Architecture & Interior Design
Belsey & Mahla Architects
Partners: Erika Belsey & Phil Mahla
Project Manager: Aaron Benson
Jobsite Superintendent: Doc Gibson
Country Tile (stone & tile installation)
Nye Portfolio (cabinetry)
La Corte Woodenworks (cabinetry)
Shaver Millwork (interior doors & custom moldings)
Walter McCall Plastering (plaster crown & exterior stucco)
Smith Services (HVAC)
Bill’s Audio Visual Innovations
Precision Painting & Waterproofing
Central Window (replacement sliding doors & windows)
Florida Shutters (hurricane shutters)
Public Room Flooring
Ergon Stone Projec,t 12” x 24” (Artistic Tile)
Tavole di Legno, 6” x 48” (Stone Source)
Hafele cabinetry inserts
Subzero & Miele appliances
Pietra del Cardosa countertops & backsplash
Duravit Happy D fixtures
Dornbracht Tara fittings
Floor: Random Series, Random Tile 12” Square Interlock, White Onyx (Artistic Tile)
Wall Tile: Satin Opera Glass, 1” x 1” (Artistic Tile)
Calacatta Gold countertops
Crestron controlled wooden blinds & roller shades (Bill’s TV)
Custom draperies (Roth Interiors & Pierre Frey fabric)
Custom Indian silk woven rugs (ALT for Living)
Custom Upholstery (K & F European Furniture, Pierre Frey, Osbourne & Little fabrics)
USM media unit
Classic modern tables (DWR)
Beds (Restoration Hardware & West Elm)