|Vizcaya as seen from the Boat Landing|
The great Jay Gatsby would approve of Vizcaya. I can picture it as his temporary home when escaping the unseemly cold that wraps itself around Long Island and his mansion in West Egg during the winter months. Vizcaya was built to impress. It screams Old World opulence and money that has been passed down for generations. Its antique-filled rooms and stately formal gardens mentally transport visitors to Europe despite the fact that they are just across the bay from Miami's famed South Beach.
|The Tea House and part of The Barge|
In real life, this villa was quickly built over the course of two years by agricultural industrialist James Deering. He officially kicked off taking up residence in Vizcaya on Christmas Day 1916 with a ceremony involving cannons, gondolas and friends dressed as Italian peasants. Despite that extravagance, Deering was reportedly a circumspect and reserved man who was excited by only two things — Vizcaya and Webster's Dictionary. Deering and his artistic director, Paul Chalfin, envisioned Vizcaya as an 18th century Italian villa with themed rooms furnished with antiques suggesting that they had been accumulated by the family over generations. In fact, they were all purchased by Chalfin to create the illusion of old wealth.
|The central couryard was originally open to the sky to improve air flow throughout the villa.|
Deering's father, William Deering, was the founder of Deering Harvester Company which produced machinery that allowed Midwestern United States farmers to harvest grain at the amazing speed of an acre every hour. By the end of the 1800s, the Deerings were one of the wealthiest families in America. James Deering was a world traveler, cultural ambassador, socialite and arts connoisseur. In 1910, he was awarded the Legion of Honour for promoting agricultural technology in France. Four years later, he retired and chose the the shores of Miami's Biscayne Bay to be the site of his winter home.
|East Loggia that faces the bay where guests arriving by boat would have entered|
Although built to appear from another century, Deering embraced modern technology and hid it throughout the design of the building. The main home is built largely from reinforced concrete covered in a facade of Cuban limestone and Floridian coral architectural trim. Two elevators carried guests from one floor to another, and dumb waiters (food elevators) transported dishes of prepared food from the upstairs kitchen to the downstairs serving pantry. Vizcaya also has a water filtration system, central vacuum cleaning system and a partially automated laundry room dating back to its original construction in the 1910s. There's even an annunciator system that permitted Deering and his guests to call the household staff (16-18 people) whenever they needed something.
|Downstairs Serving Pantry complete with refrigerators and a dumbwaiter.|
Deering was a bachelor who built Vizcaya as a place to entertain guests. In addition to family and friends, his visitors here included silent film star Lillian Gish and President Warren Harding. Vizcaya was his residence from the end of November to the middle of April when he presumably moved back to his primary home on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. With homes in Paris, New York and the Illinois countryside, he was spoilt for choice for where to lay his head.
|The Living Room|
Situated facing the water, the Living Room was also known as Renaissance Hall because many of the items are from that period of European history (1300s-1600s). A man with such a room must certainly have refined and cultured tastes, don't you think? Many of these antiques were altered to better suit the home's modern design. Two electric light fixtures are affixed to tall, ancient Roman marble columns. Above the organ keyboard, the religious painting from the 1600s has been cut in half to function as doors that open to reveal the organ's pipes.
|The Reception Room|
The decorative ceiling of the Reception Room was purchased by Deering in Europe, and the rest of the room was designed around it. The curving, flowing lines of the wall panels, mirror and furnishings harken back to the Rococo style of the 1700s.
The Enclosed Loggia is my favorite room in the house for the very reason that Deering intended it for. It is a visual connection between the indoors and the outdoors providing a fantastic view of the formal gardens. The top arches of the windows feature sea horses and a Caravel ship, two symbols that Deering had incorporated throughout Vizcaya. Opposite these windows, the gates that lead into the Courtyard were originally part of the Palazzo Pisani in Venice.
|The Cathay Bedroom|
Designer Paul Chalfin named this the Cathay Bedroom after the name that Marco Polo gave China. In fact, he gave all the rooms colorful and descriptive names to set the mood for each one. So much better than being told as a guest that you're staying in "Room 202" or "the room at the top of the stairs and to the left." He decorated the Cathay Bedroom in the Chinoiserie style, the 18th century colonial-era European interpretation of Chinese artistic traditions. The bed in this room is specifically designed by Chalfin to be how a Venetian would have imagined a Chinese couch.
The Belgioioso Bedroom sits in the North Tower high above the rest of the house with a panoramic view of Biscayne Bay. The Countess of Belgioioso was a prominent figure in early 1800s Milan. Long dead by the time this room was created, she would have felt right at home as it is furnished in the style popular when she was alive.
|James Deering's bedroom|
Deering occupied the bedroom on the second floor facing the water. Designed in the Empire style associated with Napoleon, it seemed much more restrained and less flamboyant than all the guest rooms. The tub in the adjoining bathroom delivered both fresh and saltwater.
|Close up of Deering's bed|
While the colors and style of Deering's bedroom seemed more muted than elsewhere in the house, I couldn't help but notice the tableaus depicted in bright gold along the bedframe. There was also a giant water stain on the silk covered walls.
|Frog fountain on the South Terrace leading to the Formal Garden|
My favorite part of the entire estate is the Formal Gardens. There were many photo shoots going on while we were there. Some seemed to be for weddings or debutantes whereas another was definitely a fashion shoot with a rack of enviable clothes. Although the house was finished in 1916, the gardens were not completed until 1922.
Deering left the mangroves along the shoreline and the Rockland Hammock native forest surrounding the formal gardens undisturbed, distinguishing himself as one of Miami's early environmentalists. The Garden Mound and Casino (small, ornamental house) rising up at the far end of the formal gardens shielded visitors' eyes from the wilderness just beyond the boundaries.
|The Center Island of the Formal Gardens|
Although the gardens were European in style, they incorporated native and subtropical plants suitable for the Miami's heat and humidity.
|French-style parterre executed with subtropical plants|
In addition to all the plants, Colombian landscape architect Diego Suarez incorporated fountains, sculptures and architectural elements.
|Along the Statuary Walk|
Deering died in September 1925 while returning to the United States aboard the steamship SS City of Paris. His two nieces inherited Vizcaya which was hit by a major hurricane a year later. In addition to leveling Miami's South Beach and paving the way for an Art Deco building spree there, the hurricane caused major damage to Vizcaya. Over the years, the nieces sold off the outer gardens and surrounding land to pay for maintenance and repairs. In 1952, they sold the remaining 50 acres to Miami-Dade County for $1 million and donated all the interior furnishings. Keep in mind that Deering spent $26 million in the early 1900s to build the estate. A year later, the restored villa was opened to the public as a museum, notable because everything is original to the building. In 1994, it was designated as a National Historic Landmark.
If all this isn't enough to convince your kids to look forward to visiting Vizcaya, the exterior also served as Aldrich Killian's mansion in Iron Man 3.
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