Of Graves concern: ex Miss Sweden's plans to redo legendary architect's signature SoBe building brings bitter battle to 1500 Ocean Dr.
A former Miss Sweden is trying to get the go-ahead to redecorate three areas of the building at 1500 Ocean Drive, otherwise known as The Michael Graves Building, and according to our sources, the renowned architect is livid. "He's very unhappy," says our source. "It is his signature building!"
Designed in 1993, the building is one of Graves' most famous. So much so that he has sent the building's residents a letter expressing his unhappiness. In it, he writes, "I’m not sure any of you know, but I have been in practice now for fifty years, and this is the first time something like what is happening at 1500 Ocean Drive has occurred in my professional life. . . . I am quite frankly, devastated by all of this, but don’t know what I can do."
That former beauty queen, Sofia Joelsson, is the owner of SoJo Design, a 13-year-old interior design business. We asked her to chime in on the situation, but so far she remains silent. As of a March 13 vote, at least 49 residents voted against Joelsson while around 48 voted for her plans.
According to a source at the building who asked to remain anonymous, "It's a case, in my opinion, of people with too much money and too little taste." Taste or no taste, it's also a tough sell for famous lawyer Alan Dershowitz, a resident at the building. "He is also against this redecoration travesty."
Rumor has it he even threatens to sue. Especially after a volatile meeting they had last week when Kevin A. Fox, the husband of board president Camille Polimeni, allegedly told Dershowitz to shut up.
Dershowitz's wife Carolynn Ann Cohen sent a letter to residents saying, "It is worth taking more time to do research on the impact of destroying something – the Michael Graves signature - that many of us think adds value to the building. Many of us believe that the SOJO design will make 1500 an unsuccessful imitation of what is already available in the area - apartment buildings with high ceilings and grand lobbies and a slicker, hotel style. Our building was not made for this aesthetic and imposing it will look like an unsuccessful hybrid that will not compete with these higher priced buildings. Wealthy people who want that aesthetic will chose the buildings intended for that look. We will be considered a second best imitation that people with less money can afford. It will not increase the value of our building, but lower it. We will have destroyed a classic Michael Graves building that makes us special. Instead, we will get an imitation of a current popular trend that may change again in five years. We will not be able to recover what we had."
"Good luck with the repercussions," laughs the spy, adding "Dershowitz gets even." Stay tuned.
In the meantime, here's the entire letter Graves wrote to the building's residents.
March 18, 2014
Dear Residents of 1500 Ocean Drive,
I’m not sure any of you know, but I have been in practice now for fifty years, and this is the first time something like what is happening at 1500 Ocean Drive has occurred in my professional life. So, I’m new to all this and for that I am sorry. I should tell you all that there is a different way architects approach problems like this than decorators and designers do. Architects have a full knowledge about what things cost and the rules that govern certain changes. For instance, the new covering that is proposed (if I am reading the SOJO drawings right) for the pool area is raised up from the present grade and therefore is not ADA compliant (ADA: Americans with Disabilities Act), in other words, this change is not lawful. I looked at the proposed changes to the floor plan of the lobby and I don’t know whether you are all aware, but it is massive. While I was a resident at 1500 Ocean Drive, nobody ever told me that they were dissatisfied with the way the lobby functioned, let alone its appearance. Therefore, I simply don’t understand why those changes were made. It appears that there is an epoxy coating proposed for the floor finish in the porte-cochère, this too raises the height to a point where it will not be ADA compliant. These were always our stumbling blocks in former conversations regarding the material in the porte-cochère. The designers have made an addition of natural stone to one side of the porte-cochère with a large logo on its face. This is the only place that stone would be used in the building and therefore strikes me as an anomaly and not in character with the rest of the building. I feel the same way about the tiles that are used on the island in the porte-cochère, the only adjective that comes to mind for these changes is “glitzy”. There are natural stones used as new flooring in the island – which will be very unwelcoming in regards to certain shoe types. With regard to the lobby, do you all realize that upon entering the axis leads you directly to the assistant manager’s office, which has a glass façade? It seemed to me the original location for the reception area, where the assistant manager now is, is much preferred.
There was a mention of a $50,000 fee in a letter to me, I don’t know where this number came from as I gave my services pro bono. My services had to do with the ocean room, the recovering of the furniture and drawings for the elevator cabs. I am quite frankly, devastated by all of this, but don’t know what I can do. It’s so strange to me to have gone through the reupholstering of the furniture throughout the public spaces and the installation of the gaming tables in the ocean room, for somebody to come along and say, “Let’s do it again”. I am sure you are aware of the enormous cost to each of you. I suspect, if a contractor gave you a preliminary bid, it would exceed the number you are now using. Even the current number to me, would kill the deal for what you are getting. Would it be more reasonable for you to take smaller steps in all of this and perhaps, do the porte-cochère first and see how that turns out, instead of the complete upheaval that would be caused by the changes to the lobby, etc. as currently proposed. I would propose also that you make a distinction between material upgrades such as the resurfacing of the porte-cochere and what has been called “freshening”. Freshening, I suspect is a euphemism for redesign. That has nothing to do with material changes, but individual esthetics.
This is hard for me to say, but I noticed that the bottled water that’s given out to residents has on its logo, “The Michael Graves Building”, I was quite surprised to see that , but I’m sorry to say that it will no longer be true if the proposed changes are implemented. There are elements of design throughout the proposal where I simply don’t understand the rationale. For instance, there are two round columns in the lobby with a Venetian plaster finish I have always thought were quite beautiful, but the new scheme makes the round columns square. For what reason would a designer do that? It is simply somebody’s taste, and perhaps changes for changes sake to build up the cost.
I have a fantasy that if you go ahead with all that is proposed, that in the next ten or twenty years the next well-meaning board will come along and put Humpty Dumpty back together again. If I were still a tenant I would insist on bringing the contractor into the mix at this point to get a preliminary bid on the designs that have been proposed, as I think you will all be quite surprised, and I would hate for you all to get this bill after the renovation and have no idea what you are getting into now. I would give this to more than one contractor as I don’t think it should be anybody that is proposed by SOJO, there is too much conflict of interest possible for that to take place. The contractor should be made to bid on what would be ADA compliant, rather than just putting a surface on top of what’s there already with a step.
Finally, I read in one of your letters that SOJO was in contact with me relative to what they were doing. I should tell you that nobody from that firm ever talked to me. I stand ready to help in any way I can and if there are any further questions you need answered, don’t hesitate to call me.
All my best,
Update: Residents on the other side of the battle--those who wish to see the interior design spruced up--have chimed in loudly, explaining that "There are a multitude of buildings in Miami Beach, NY and other parts of the world whose structures are designed by first class world renowned architects, some even greater than Mr. Graves, and its common areas are designed by qualified INTERIOR DESIGNERS. They seem to know the difference between the two disciplines." The battle, it seems, is over interior aesthetics. Graves, whose chairs adorn a lobby that some say is reminiscent of "an old age home," stands firm on his original decor. What follows is the first letter he sent to residents in which he expresses his ire at any interior tweaking:
February 6, 2014
Residents of 1500 Ocean Drive
1500 Ocean Drive
Miami Beach, Florida 33139
Dear Residents of 1500 Ocean Drive,
I have been sent copies of the proposed changes and I can’t imagine a worse fate for the building. I would have to characterize them (one in particular) as somewhere between a brothel and Las Vegas. I had always assumed from talking to Ines that the prices were elevated in the building because of my involvement; however the new board seems to think the opposite. From what I can tell the proposals have been made by decorators, not architects and designers like these have no clue as to the concept of domesticity. I am quite frankly devastated by all of this, but don’t know what I can do. It’s so strange to me to have gone through the reupholstering of the furniture and the installation of the gaming tables in the ocean room, for somebody to come along and say, “Let’s do it again”. Are the residents aware of the enormous cost to each of them, which would be the result of any of these schemes? The old board that I worked with was quite frugal, as they didn’t do anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary for fear of the costs.
It really comes down to a question of taste; the glitz that they might have seen in a hotel versus the domestic character that we aimed for. If they are successful in making these renovations, I am afraid not only will the character of the spaces change so dramatically, but I think the character of the inhabitants will over time reflect the glitziness of the renovation.
If there is anything that you can think of that I can do to help the situation, please let me know.
All my best,
And lastly, as we leave the battle to the building, the renovation proposal from the aforementioned SoJo: