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In the Air Tonight

A couple from New York finds the perfect penthouse and gets the Zen gallery of their dreams.

For the master bedroom of a 4,000-square-foot Miami Beach penthouse, Dunagan Diverio Design Group elevated the bed by Monica James & Co., and installed a recessed projection screen that can be lowered when in use.  

The open living space features a white leather sectional sofa from E.M. Soberon, while a Moooi chandelier hangs above a refinished dining table.  

The wraparound terrace 18 floors above the beach affords peeks through the floor-to-ceiling glass doors—and into the sleek Sub-Zero and oak kitchen. 

Passageways are covered in oak millwork and arresting art, such as the wife captured in a triptych—in a series of dynamic moves. 

The open-style Sub-Zero kitchen

Pale walls and neutral oak floors allow the couple’s art collection to command attention.  

Once the designers fitted the corridors with glass walls, their clients were delighted with the amount of sun and city lights that came shining in. The dark hallways had vanished during the gut renovation. 

When Charlotte Dunagan’s clients, a retired New York City judge and his wife, learned that the 4,000-square-foot penthouse in their Miami Beach condominium was available, they quickly purchased it, upgrading their newfound leisurely lifestyle to a home 18 stories high with 270-degree wraparound views spanning the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay.

They moved to Miami to be close to their two adult sons—that choice was easy. But their biggest challenge was that the penthouse’s narrow footprint and original floor plan did little to honor the view. “A hallway spanning the entire home created a long, dark corridor and felt disconnected,” says Dunagan, principal of Dunagan Diverio Design Group. “It was cold and flashy with no flow.”

“The clients had a vision of a condo that looked like a high-end hotel, but felt like a home,” Dunagan says, so along with her partner Thomas Diverio, they started fresh with a gut renovation, transforming the five-bedroom unit into a three-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bath home with an office and an open living room. They employed glass walls in both the home office and master suite to optimize the view and create a floating effect. “After knocking down walls, they were blown away by the amount of natural light,” says Diverio.

The penthouse is accessed by a pair of private elevators. Here, the designers took a cue from hotel design by creating a warm, lobby-like vignette with dark oak paneled walls. A large-scale, pop art triptych portrait (by Deborah Kass) of the wife greets guests in panels of red and silver. On one side, the home opens up to the common areas for entertaining, while the bedrooms and personal spaces are off to the other. Dunagan took advantage of the penthouse’s long, continual wall to showcase the couple’s treasured art collection in a gallerylike setting with recessed architectural lighting.

When furnishing the home, Dunagan explains that she sought “modern pieces that feel inviting and easily integrate with the owners’ antiques.” In the living room, which is bordered by floor-to-ceiling windows and a terrace, a taupe leather sectional sofa is paired with an antique French period chair reupholstered with linen for “a modern flair.” The space is anchored by a custom wool and tencel rug in neutral shades designed to mimic freshly raked sand on the beach, while the home’s lightly stained natural oak floors balance out the wall’s darker millwork.

A dining room table from the couple’s New York home was stripped and refinished with a dark patina. Overhead, a celestial chandelier designed by Marcel Wanders dangles with delicacy.

All the areas of the home flow easily into the Sub-Zero Wolf kitchen, with appliances seamlessly integrated into the space. “The kitchen takes on a cubelike element,” Dunagan notes. “The wood panels open up for storage and hide utilities and electrical panels. We wanted to maximize all the available space like a boat. The design has a natural, warm feeling.”

But before reaching the living room and kitchen, one encounters sliding glass doors encased in dark steel that open up to the home office. The room’s floor-to-ceiling windows, with their northern exposure, complete the glass-cube-in-the-sky effect. On the wall in front of the desk, a large-format photograph by Isaac Julien of a similarly framed window creates an optical illusion and continual faux sightline. An area rug has a sharp, dark border, accentuating the room’s modern lines. For a touch of whimsy and softness, the office features two French period antique chairs with swooping asymmetrical backs and rounded arms upholstered in contrasting gray velvet weaves. “They are so specific and fun,” Dunagan says.

In the master suite, yet another floating glass wall separates the bedroom from the bathroom; the latter is located directly behind the bed. This choice creates the illusion of more space, extends the view and maximizes the natural sunlight that pours in through the floor-to-ceiling windows. The suite is arranged in symmetrical fashion, with a loveseat and sitting area in front of the custom bed, which is elevated to create a crow’s nest-style perch. “Everything is based on the view,” Dunagan says. “You can enjoy it everywhere you are—from the bed, the sofa, the bathroom.”

With the only walls in the master suite leading to his-and-her closets, Dunagan and her AV consultant, Marc Lewin of Visual Acoustics, had to get resourceful and creative with the suite’s home entertainment. Rejecting a TV that would obstruct the view, they installed a recessed projection screen to be lowered when in use. As in the living room, the master suite is furnished with a blend of antiques from the owner’s collection and new custom furniture. A pair of low-slung, midcentury armchairs were reupholstered and sit atop an Oriental rug. A rack of antique canes rests alongside a silver model airplane for an eclectic, personal touch.

The happy homeowners are now settled in after a lifetime dedicated to public service in New York. “‘Every day when we wake up, I can’t believe we live here,’ the husband told me,” Dunagan says. “He says he feels like he’s living in a Zen gallery. He’s so grateful.” When a couple lives in a Miami Beach penthouse in close proximity to their children—who chose their city well—it would seem that good karma might have something to do with it.

High-rise condo

Miami Beach

Dunagan Diverio Design Group

Office area rug and executive chair

Custom millwork

Living room sectional sofa

Office desk

Living room custom throw pillows, master suite bed and sofa

Dining room chandelier

Living room area rug

Kitchen appliances