It makes perfect sense for an interior designer who lives, eats and breathes jaw-dropping, luxury condominiums to call one home herself. After playing Eloise at Miami Beach’s Setai hotel for years, Sofia Joelsson settled into a stunning two-story penthouse overlooking Biscayne Bay at one of South Beach’s chicest addresses. Home for the last five years, it’s a straight shot west of Sojo Design, the Ocean Drive-based firm she founded in 2001, which recently expanded into a showroom for her custom furniture collection and design studio in New York. And to think it all started with a local real estate flyer.
“The penthouse at the Netherland’s condo on South Beach was for sale, and I fell in love with its 360-degree views,” says Joelsson of the project with which she launched her firm and that charmed a Chicago couple into purchasing the unit despite the property’s lack of amenities. “They still live there, and we’re actually renovating now since that was so long ago.”
All these years later she remains a stickler for floor plans, almost always convincing clients to do the whole shebang versus only a new kitchen once they see the potential. And these days, with the South Florida luxury market exploding, she’s had to do a lot less convincing, as she increasingly works with owners at high-end buildings like the Apogee and the St. Regis Bal Harbour, where grandeur and coziness are gracefully balanced. Recently she gutted several residences at the Continuum and Il Valliggio since, as she has found, one remodel kicks in the domino effect.
For all the finery in which she is immersed, Joelsson is famously grounded in bones. “Every job begins with trace paper for a good base, or else it doesn’t matter how many beautiful wallpapers and throw pillows you have,” she says. After flow is established, she next focuses on lifestyle. For example, if her clients tell her they don’t cook frequently and order in a lot, she suggests installing warming drawers. Full of tips, she also recommends opening baths to bedrooms for more natural light because no fixture competes with the real thing, and combining showers and tubs into wet rooms for a home spa experience. After living with the results, clients often commission her for their other homes, from Texas to New York. Indeed, last year her firm completed six projects in Manhattan and three in the Hamptons. “It’s funny. Most of my single-family homes are outside Miami,” says Joelsson, who’s also broadened her portfolio with commercial projects like Bimini Bay Resort’s restaurants.
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Though random, this former art major, actress and Miss Sweden’s path to a sweet spot in the design world has been steeped in beauty. Indulge visited Joelsson at her elegant penthouse to talk design and life, tips and trends.
What’s your favorite design piece?
My leather trunk bar in white crocodile with leather trim by Serge de Troyer. It’s brilliant with a glass tray that slides out to cut lemons and limes, crisscross wine rack and adorable buckle shelves. I ordered one in chocolate for an attorney’s office and would like to customize some in two tones. A smaller version that debuts in April at the High Point Market (the world’s largest home furnishings industry trade show) will be great for New York apartments. It’s the one item all my clients should own.
You have a stunning pair of mid-century modern chairs in your living room. Where do you source vintage?
They were in such good condition they just had to be re-upholstered in a mohair cashmere blend. I frequent shops in the Hamptons and along Miami’s Biscayne Boulevard, but my absolute go-to is 1stdibs.com. You truly have it all there.
What’s a good tip for an awkward angle or unusable space?
A corner of my living room was completely useless, so I placed a large mirror against it at an angle to correct the room’s flow and reflect light. With a simple table and some accessories, it transforms into a little vignette for the eye to rest.
You also have an exceptionally large outdoor area. How do you utilize it?
My favorite thing is to have families over for movie nights. We’ll set up the kids with coolers and popcorn in front of a giant screen, so the adults can relax in another area with a large kitchen and bar.
How does your bedroom differ from the norm?
Its floating bed elongates the space and enabled me to turn a wall into a much-needed closet disguised with white leather. The bed’s custom platform design lessens bumping toes in the night and is low enough for my two dogs Cashew and Casper to jump on—yes, I sleep with my dogs! Floating beds require lighter nightstands, so I have a silver gilded branch table and a rolling Lucite one that I tuck behind the headboard during the day.
Where do you go for linens?
Thread Count in the Miami Design District, which is opening on the beach soon. They have the softest sheets with a touch of silk that caress you. I stock up on them, plus their cozy blankets. I mix the neutral background with throw pillows that pop by Kelly Wearstler.
What’s something you wish clients wouldn’t request?
Most people build rooms around the TV. I don’t have TVs in my bedroom or living room because I believe that enhances conversation.
To settle the ongoing kitchen debate, open or closed?
Latin Americans prefer closed kitchens, but I always have the opposite, personally, because everyone congregates in the kitchen. It’s really the heart of the home, especially in Florida, where we don’t need fireplaces. I also like outdoor kitchens.
Since most people favor linear rugs, why did you choose a round shape for your main room?
The space didn’t have any straight lines, so it’s better for flow, and the organic curves are softer on the eye. I also recommend woven cowhides to hide pet stains and lend texture to harsh tile floors.
What’s your obsession regarding objects?
I love sea urchins, whether the natural ones my boyfriend dives for or in manmade materials. They’re all over my house and take me back to vacations I’ve had.
Where do you spend holidays?
Every year I go to Capri with the same group from around the world who have become like family. We spend the days sunning and swimming on a gozzo boat captained by Vittorino, also known as Mr. Capri, a quintessential native with piercing blue eyes and tan skin who barely speaks English, which makes him so much more charming. We picnic on his garden vegetables and fresh catch, plus plenty of rosé.
That’s right. You started a rosé wine brand. Tell us about that.
Since you can’t have a wine cellar in a condo, I’m a huge proponent of temperature-controlled wine rooms with custom racks for magnums and half bottles, Lucite tasting tables and walls of smoked and bronze glass to protect the product while filtering natural light. So it was an obvious step to launch my own label with a friend from Napa a couple of years ago. Since her name is Mary and mine Sofia, we call it S&M. Corks are engraved with handcuffs. Who would have known the whole Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon would happen simultaneously!
Do you ever visit your native Sweden?
I’m immensely proud of my heritage and organize an annual group trip for the summer solstice festival. The one year we couldn’t make it, I hosted a smorgasbord with all the trimmings from meatballs to herring, not to mention rounds of aquavit. The girls wove flower crowns and danced around the maypole. I’m always running to Ikea to stock up on lingonberries for Swedish pancakes, too.
What commercial spaces inspire you?
I like the homey chic Ralph Lauren look, so places like Casa Tua, where I celebrated by big 4-0 in January. That’s why I also always stay at J.K. Place in Capri, whose gorgeous library I would kill for. Just to sit in that retreat perched on a cliff above the marina and leaf through coffee table books all day is a true luxury.