Miami has become an undeniable hotbed for art (thank you, Art Basel and Pérez Art Museum Miami), for food (cheers to you, South Beach Wine & Food Festival) and now more than ever, for interior design. For this, there are many to credit. At the top of the list: the cadre of condo developers and rock star architects whose iconic residential towers, stretching impossibly toward the heavens, have transformed Miami’s skyline and invigorated anything and everything to do with furnishing luxurious lairs of all sizes. In no small way due to them, the Design District’s evolution remains in full swing, with more luxury retailers, buildings by renowned architects and installations expected later this year, and for international design houses, having a Miami outpost has become as important as having a New York City one. But before all of this excitement and building frenzy took root, before South Florida condos officially came back, Karla Pohlmann recognized a good thing when she saw it.
“I arrived in here in 2009, when things here were very difficult,” said the Brazilian-born interior designer. “And I fell in love with it.” Drawn to downtown Miami’s twinkling lights and its work-in-progress urban chic, and romanced by South Beach’s nearby, balmy shores, Pohlmann rented an apartment at the first Icon tower on Brickell Avenue. “The second tower hadn’t been completed yet, and then the financial crisis hit. So construction stopped, the second tower was closed and it was empty.” That might have been enough to send others running back to Rio, but Pohlmann said she knew the challenging times would eventually lead to something better—and that made it interesting to stick around.
For Pohlmann, a former environmental lawyer who also has a master’s degree in fashion design, the move to Miami from Brazil represented not only an opportunity to start a new career and an American life—“There were so many Brazilians already here!”—but a chance to apply her skills to a brand-spanking-new apartment for herself. “My taste is very contemporary and I tend to keep things simple and minimal,” said the founder of kStudio, who has worked on glamorous residences in Bal Harbour and Sunny Isles and who last year was named one of Artefacto’s Design Stars. Known for an eclectic style that mixes old and new, multicultural and historical references, “I also like to mix in the high and the low, and bring in little touches that add character.”
Nowhere is that aesthetic philosophy more apparent than in her 50th floor condo—a stunning corner unit in Icon’s second tower, to which she moved three years ago, when the building finally opened. With floor-to-ceiling windows that line every room and overlook sweeping views of both Biscayne Bay and the Miami skyline, it’s an airy two-bedroom in the skyscraper famously built by Arquitectonica and designed by Philippe Starck. “I wasn’t even looking to move when I saw this apartment,” said Pohlmann, who shares the space with her two white Malteses, Ben and Chloe. “But the moment I walked through the door, I knew it was the place for me. The light was incredible. I turned to the realtor and told her, ‘I’m not even going to think about it. I’ll take it!'"
The mood inside the apartment is modern, urban and pure Miami, flavored with playful, feminine touches that add warmth and personality—reminders that a very real person resides here. “When you have a small space,” Pohlmann said, “you can’t go crazy with minimalism because it will just look plain. You have to layer little things in to make it feel special and interesting.”
To make the apartment feel her own, Pohlmann started by bringing in bright colors. Her first purchase: two mid-century Dunbar chairs upholstered in a brilliant turquoise blue velvet. She was smitten the moment she saw them. “I brought them home,” she said, “and decided to build the whole living room around them.” Classic Herman Miller pieces—a Goetz sofa and an Eames chair, both with trademark molded walnut wood veneer shells and creamy leather upholstery, and a glass-topped Noguchi coffee table—came next to help frame and finish the room and to keep the mid-century motif going. “The Herman Miller seats are placed strategically,” she joked. “Because at night, when I sit on the couch or the chair to watch television, all I have to do is look to my right and I see the beautiful ocean.” She invoked her love of mixing-and-matching with two black, tulip-edged vintage side tables to flank the couch, and with a sweet and playful assortment of accessories, including a beautiful antique flower vase from 1900s Holland, an ornately framed impressionist-style painting by a local Cuban artist and two Eames House Birds from the 1950s. Such whimsy turns to something more pure in her pristine white bedroom, where the centerpiece is a transparent glass headboard from Antiques for All in South Miami that’s backed up against a floor-to-ceiling window, creating the illusion the bed is floating above the city’s tallest buildings. “I was struggling at first with what to use as a headboard,” Pohlmann said, “because I didn’t want anything to block the view. I even considered not having one.” Clear, acrylic nightstands and lamps, and a supremely soft white chair and ottoman in the corner keep things ethereal and luminous. The singular hint of color—a warm shade of orange inspired by the striking hues of a Miami sunset—comes by way of an area rug, delicately embroidered Missoni bed pillows and framed Emilio Pucci prints. “I wanted to keep things really clean,” she said, “because I wanted the bed to be the most important object in the room."
The result is a comforting and cocooning space throughout the apartment, one that’s bound to act as a respite for an interior designer busy in a town bursting with new homes. With a slew of projects and clients in the wings, when Pohlmann will have downtime this year is unclear. But when she does, one thing is for sure: her condo in the Miami heavens will be there, waiting for her.
Top Local Shops “Finding perfect pieces and accessories can take a lot of time and legwork,” Pohlmann said. “But once you find what you’re looking for, it’s a great feeling.” Here, Pohlmann shares four of her favorite Miami interior design sources.
Artefacto Run by fellow Brazilian Paulo Bacchi, this 40,000-square foot Aventura showroom—with smaller outposts in Coral Gables and Doral—specializes in classic and contemporary furnishings and accessories, making it a popular one-stop shop for customers and designers alike. “I have a lot of Brazilian customers,” Pohlmann said, “who ask me to put together their rooms entirely with Artefacto pieces!” (17651 Biscayne Boulevard, Aventura; 305-931-9484.)
Kom Furniture & Accessories Just south of the Design District in Edgewater, this shop “has a great, diverse selection of accessories from around the world and a lot of exotic items. I always find something there!” (2400 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami; 305-576-4566.)
Modern Epic Antiques Tucked into Antiques Plaza Miami, a collection of more than 20 antique dealers and designers, this store specializes in period pieces and vintage items. Their inventory is also available on 1stdibs.com. “It’s where my Dunbar chairs came from!” Pohlmann said. (8650 Biscayne Boulevard, Suites 4 and 5, Miami; 305-761-1820.)
Circle Art at Home “This is where you can find all the Herman Miller pieces,” Pohlmann said. Open since 2002, the shop is Miami’s leading resource for some of the industry’s most respected brands like Knoll, Vitra and Carl Hansen. (1560 Lenox Avenue, Miami Beach; 305-531-1859.)