January 1, 2010

Miami Twice: Jeffrey Thrasher Renovates A Miami Townhouse

The best way to describe the work of cosmetic dermatologist Fredric Brandt in relation to that of designer Jeffrey Thrasher is to say that the former removes lines, while the latter celebrates them. Back in 1988, Brandt was waiting for Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company to break ground on his future home, a three-story town house in Miami’s Coconut Grove. The Mediterranean-Tuscan facade seemed to demand traditional interiors. But Brandt called the Thrasher Design Company instead.

Thrasher deconstructed the house plans—”the place was just dirt at the time,” he recalls—and customized them for his world-traveling, art-collecting client. The master suite got an all-black bathroom that Brandt describes as very Miami Vice. Ceilings elsewhere were coffered, doorways moved, proportions made more gracious. A boxy entrance opened up, and Thrasher added a Bauhaus-worthy staircase that he still considers his masterpiece.

Keith Haring’s cheerful red-and-green sculpture of two acrobats was perfect for the bottom of the stairs. Brandt had also acquired a Richard Prince joke painting, I Went to See a Psychiatrist. “It was only $28,000,” the seasoned collector says of what now seems like a bargain price.

Fast-forward a couple of decades. Brandt had become an international purveyor of his own brand of skin-care products as well as a master of needlework with Botox, Restylane, and Juvéderm. He was splitting his time between Miami and New York, and his collection had grown to feature large-scale photography such as a staggering Gilbert & George self-portrait with two figures’ naked backsides. “I like the scale,” he says. “It’s like being in a museum.” He also acquired a Damien Hirst “pill painting,” and several Marilyn Minter photographs.

The doctor had furthermore become a homebody. After eliminating running, going to the gym, and dining out, he was adhering to a strict nuts-and-fruit diet and practicing yoga daily. And his household had expanded to include three dogs—ruled by the smallest, a shih tzu nicknamed Mr. T.

None of that matched the Miami Vice bathroom.

As Thrasher remembers, he got a call from an assistant, saying, “Dr. Brandt would like to meet with you. His master bath needs to be upgraded.” After a walk-through, however, the two men decided that it wasn’t only the bathroom that required a face-lift. A 4,200-square-foot gut renovation ensued. “Dr. Brandt had to move out for 11 months,” Thrasher says. “The house was reduced to a shell. The staircase is the only thing I didn’t really touch.” (He did strip and ebonize the ash treads.)

To increase wall space for art, much of which had been in storage, he removed windows and enclosed a Juliet balcony. He took out doors and headers between rooms and combined two rooms to form a grand salon, part gallery and part living room. He changed the scale of the ceiling coffers, removed bookcases, and radically redid the lighting. “Without good lighting, design can’t be appreciated,” he says. “Technology had really changed.” Particularly the LED and halogen fixtures that allowed him to create museum-quality illumination, even in the new yoga studio on the ground level. Few people hang significant art in an exercise room, but this one has a Donald Judd.

Furniture definitely lives up to the artwork. The dark gray Vladimir Kagan sectionals in the salon would be worthy of a design museum. For the dining room, Thrasher selected Kagan’s clear acrylic barrel chairs from the 1970’s, with the original white Hermès leather upholstery. “And I found eight of them,” Thrasher crows. They surround a Carlo Scarpa pedestal table with a glass top in a shade of cobalt that looks as if it had been chosen specifically to accompany the deep blue and lavender of the room’s two monumental works of art.

“My look is about pattern, materials, and textures,” Thrasher says. “And it’s about the line.” Speaking of lines, one subtle Thrasher touch was to sink doorjambs flush with the walls and to define the openings with elegant reveals. “It creates a shadow,” he explains. “And it makes the stairway float.” The reveals are sculptural, voluptuous gestures, easy to overlook but, once noticed, simply stunning.

Important in a house ruled by dogs, white wall panels and floor tiles are Thassos marble that was pulverized and mixed with resin, then heated to a glassy finish that is “100 percent stain-resistant, scratch-resistant,” he says. In the kitchen, he built a breakfast bar with dog-friendly acrylic upholstery. One floor below, a pet door opens automatically to the backyard upon a signal from the dogs’ electronic collars.

As for that Miami Vice bathroom, it morphed into a serene white space with a rain shower and a soaking tub. The window next to the tub is concealed by a sheet of dusk-blue laminated glass. “It took 10 men to carry it up three flights of stairs,” Thrasher notes. “I didn’t go to the house that day. I couldn’t watch.” The only remaining black is a lava-stone double sink vanity that looks, he says, “like a block.” Inset color-correcting fluorescent fixtures flank the vanity mirror, offering bright yet flattering light that a dermatologist would certainly appreciate.

Photography by Eric Laignel.


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