New York architect Lee Mindel is a confirmed modernist, but he's also a humanist. The homes designed by his firm, , are precise and understated but also richly layered and comfortable, subverting Le Corbusier's classic description of a house as "a machine for living."
Mindel looks to 20th-century masters like the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto — who integrated the environment, local materials and craft techniques into his buildings — to create a more sensual strain of modern design.
Such is the case with this apartment, overlooking the ocean in Palm Beach, Florida. Mindel had already designed an apartment in New York for the clients, a mature, well-traveled and sophisticated couple who wholeheartedly share his aesthetic. The first time they hired him, they'd interviewed several architects but took to Mindel right away.
"We love minimalism," says the wife — particularly Mindel's version, which, as the architect explains, "is based in minimalism, but very enriched." Eleven years later, when the couple purchased this apartment, they didn't hesitate. "The first person we called was Lee," she says.
swivel chairs covered in a fabric surround a table in the dining area; the flooring is Gascogne gray limestone, the curtains are of a , and the painting is by .
Mindel gutted the 2,800-square-foot space for an entirely new layout, consisting of an open living and dining area, a kitchen and breakfast area, three bedrooms and two-and-a-half baths. Apart from considerations of space and function, the owners' main request was that the apartment showcase their collection of works by such noted contemporary Romanian artists as , , and .
The couple had lived in Romania for a time and came to appreciate the subtle but powerful work of these artists, who matured in the post-Ceausescu era.
Mindel says of his clients' adventurous tastes: "They're not kids, and they didn't take the easy way out. It's an honor to work for people who are willing to create something and find their own voice."
In the media room, the sofa, covered in a , and the armchairs are by ; the 1970s Italian cocktail table is by , the glass chair is by and René Coulon, and the concrete wall plaques are by Radu Comsa.
The one thing the architect couldn't change was the building's heavy black-framed windows and sliding doors. Mindel designed what he calls a "rectangular colonnade," which was placed in front of the existing window walls — a device that helps frame the ocean views and accommodates lighting and diaphanous linen curtains.
The coastal setting inspired several of Mindel's interior moves. He lined the 90-foot-long inside wall of the apartment — which contains the kitchen, laundry room, powder room and closets — with bleached mahogany to render the look of a "driftwood wall."
A sliding panel can be closed to conceal the kitchen from view or kept open, offering a 52-foot-long diagonal sight line through the space. "We were always looking for light and air," Mindel notes.
An artwork by hangs on the sliding wall of bleached mahogany that separates the kitchen from the dining area.
His designs for the apartment's luxurious custom rugs were also inspired by the beach: The one in the living area mimics the ripple pattern a stone makes when dropped in water, while those in the bedrooms have striations that appear to be drawn in sand.
The wife, who is fond of designers like Chanel and Armani, told Mindel, "The one thing I want is closet space." His solution is a freestanding closet in the master bedroom, a faceted circle of sandblasted acrylic panels that Mindel calls "the pearl."
The furnishings, a who's who of 20th-century and contemporary design, further enhance the idea of light and water. Mindel likens the living room's vintage mirrored cocktail table by the Finnish designer Esko Pajamies to a reflecting pool.
The rubber Sushi sofa by Fernando and Humberto Campana is an unusual monochromatic version that reminds the architect of bleached "flip-flops washed up on the sand." The slender pedestals of the dining chairs, by French designer Pierre Paulin, obscure neither the view nor the clear glass base of the Maria Pergay table they surround.
The master bedroom's settee by Gastone Rinaldi is upholstered in a Bergamo fabric, the rug is by , the walls are covered in Venetian plaster, and the adjacent closet structure is sheathed in acrylic panels; the drawings above the bed are by , and the photographs in the corridor are by Mircea Cantor.
The kitchen area's table and chairs, originally designed as outdoor pieces by Alvar Aalto, are complemented by what Mindel describes as a "mollusk-like" lamp, by Alessandro Mendini for Memphis, on a cabinet nearby.
More transparency is found in the media room's glass side chair by Jacques Adnet and René Coulon, and in the numerous glass vases and bowls, many by Finnish designers, found throughout the rooms.
"Glass is made of water and sand," Mindel explains, "and I have an affinity for Scandinavia."
Mindel credits the late Peter Shelton, a former classmate with whom he founded the firm in 1978, as a guiding force. Even as his own work evolves, Mindel constantly asks himself, What would Peter think? "He never hesitated to strip something to its essence, and his thought processes inform our work today."
On the main terrace overlooking the Atlantic, the sofa, cocktail table, and chairs are by , the cushions are upholstered in a fabric, and the rug is by ; the landscape design is by Peggy Brazzeal.
In this particular project, Mindel was especially drawn to his clients' open-mindedness.
"We always have a wonderful exchange of ideas," he says. In the end, the apartment's fusion of architectural rigor and material sensuality was not lost on its owners.
"We still see new things every time we walk in here," the husband says.
His wife adds that Mindel's design for their vacation home manages to feel equally relaxed and sophisticated — a result that came as no surprise given her past experience with the architect.
"I expected him," she says, "to do what was most beautiful."
This story originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of Siweb.
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