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Project 11


One day, out of the blue, I get a call from out-of-state from the secretary of a Fortune 500 CEO.  She says that her boss just bought a house on Hibiscus Island on Miami Beach.  He, she says, wants to remodel and add to the house.  “Would I be willing to meet with him on a Saturday because during the week he’s not in Miami?” she asked.

“Of course”, I said. And the following Saturday we met at the house.  It was gay couple and they loved my portfolio.  They particularly like the railings of the house I had designed in Coconut Grove.  The following week, I prepared the agreement and they signed it.

They didn’t want to spend over $750,000 on the remodeling and additions.

The back side of the house had already been remodeled on both floors, but they wanted to add a second story to the front of the house and remodel the downstairs of the front to add a garage.  The upstairs would have 3 new bedrooms, and two new baths, and downstairs we would have a new two-car garage.  The staircase which was quite shabby, with risers which did not even match each other, had to be completely redone.  They wanted something special.

The new addition created two major axes.  The first was the central corridor which ran from the front door to the back of the house which fronted on Biscayne Bay.  The other, perpendicular to the first, was created by two fountains on each side of the central corridor.  The new living room has a 12'-0" coffered ceiling.  The A/C units had to be replaced and new ones added for the new areas.  The electrical lighting was changed throughout the house.

See floor plans below the text.  Ground floor plans are first and then the second floor plans.


This project I knew would be complicated.  The first problem was the cost of the renovations.  This house was within a flood zone.  Actually, the back of the house was on the water.  If we looked west, we would see Miami, if we looked east, we would see Miami Beach.  It was a magnificent view.  But being on the water comes with its own problems.  There is the FEMA code. 

According to FEMA, when you are in a flood zone, you cannot add or remodel more than ½ of the cost of the actual house, not including the lot.  Normally, old houses present a problem as the value of these houses is in the lot and not the house.  Most of the time, the property appraiser has depreciated these houses over the years the house had existed, so often the value of the house is almost nothing. 

You can read more about the FEMA rules here:  Flood Zones - Why You Need to Know if the Building or House You Are Buying is in a Flood Zone

Issues with this project:

(1)  Value of the house according to the property appraiser’s office.

The first thing we had to do was to have the client get a new appraisal.  The city of Miami Beach will accept a new appraisal instead of the values from the property appraiser’s office.  There are three ways to do an appraisal and one way is called the “cost approach”.  This generally will yield a higher value for the existing house. 

(2)  Foundations would have to be on piles due to poor soil conditions.

The problem of the budget was significant especially since the soil conditions in that area are generally poor so the additions would have to be built on piles.

(3)  Size of the new house required that there be a review by the Miami Beach Design Review Board.

The third problem we had was that the house the clients wanted was larger than what was acceptable as a matter of course by the zoning code.  This would require going to a review by a special Miami Beach board, the Miami Beach Design Review Board.

We dealt with No. 1 above first.  The new valuation by the private appraiser was enough so that we could built a $750,000 addition and remodeling.

We then proceeded with the design.  After we met all the requirements of the Design Review Board and had all the documents the client presented his project to the Design Review Board, and I was present to answer any questions.  This obviates the payment of the lobbying fees the city would require if I had presented.  The board was pleased with the design.  In fact, they were very complimentary.  They asked for a couple of minor changes, and we agreed to comply.

Then, we proceeded to work on the construction documents with all the engineers.  This took several months as the work was extensive.  I was concerned with the budget, not because of the client who had no problem with the money.  I was concerned with the FEMA rule.  With the new parts of the house on piles, the costs go up substantially.  This was my biggest concern getting the right bid from the contractors and making sure we were going to comply with the FEMA rules on the price of the modifications.

But alas, just as we were ready to submit the drawings to the building department for permitting, and after we had started the interview process with the general contractors, my client’s partner’s mother became very ill.  They asked me to put the project on hold.  They said that with the illness of the mother they really couldn'tt focus on the project. Then, they put it on hold indefinitely and then cancelled it.  So, the project was never built, and later they sold the house.  It was very sad for me because it would have been a beautiful project, but these things happen.  They did pay me everything they owed my engineers and me.


"Before" plans of Hibiscus Island House, Miami Beach, by United Architects
"After" plans of Hibiscus Island House, Miami Beach, by United Architects
Before photo of house on Hibiscus Island, Miami Beach
Rear view of house on Hibiscus Island, Miami Beach

If you would like your house redesigned, call Maria Luisa Castellanos, the principal of the firm, on her cell at 305-439-7898, or email at

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