Bali Inspired

Iconic Rockhouse in Grove Celebrates 10 Year Anniversary

Florida native and Architect Max Strang moved back to his home state and settled in Miami in 1998 after attending graduate school in New York at Columbia University. He quickly fell in love with Coconut Grove—one of Miami’s most tropical like locations with an abundance of lush foliage, something Groveites pride themselves on.

“The Grove reminded me of far-flung tropical locations. Its character didn’t even feel like part of the United States,” Strang said. “When I was designing the home, I looked to places like Sri Lanka and Bali for inspiration. The Rockhouse was a blending of those foreign influences with my certain appreciation of mid-century modernism.”

He and his wife traveled to Bali and purchased most of the home furnishings during that trip. However, there are a few items, like the George Nelson “Coconut Chair” and the Nelson platform bench, that are both available at the Design District’s Design Within Reach.

It seems that the Bali influences of his home fit perfectly with the Grove’s often jungle-like lush landscaping. He feels the Balinese have honestly perfected the tropical lifestyle while most Americans still prefer to live in air-conditioned boxes with little regard for outdoor living.

“I recognized that Coconut Grove offered an amazing opportunity to fully realize a wonderful tropical lifestyle within the United States.  Hence, the home’s primary feature became the second-story upper deck,” he said. The upper deck as he calls it, features panoramic 360 degree views.

Being up there with the breezes, views and the macaws became his passion. The family could even pick mangos directly from that terrace. The property was only an acre but to the family, it felt like they were in the middle of the nowhere, and on the equator. The open-air covered terrace measures 3,400 square feet. They also have an outdoor kitchen that connects to the main kitchen by an elevator.

The heavily landscaped pool area features a banana tree that sits where the original home’s fireplace used to be. The grounds also have tropical bamboo, several varieties of palms, mango and avocado trees. Perhaps that’s why it is most often referred to as a tropical oasis.

Before the house was completed, it was already attracting attention from one Michael Mann, creator of the “Miami Vice” television series in the 1980s and then the feature length film in 2006 who used it in the movie as the jungle lair of a South American drug lord.

The original home was built in the 1920s and the guest house that remains was also built then.

As the house was being built, he incorporated an abundant amount of Miami’s local stone, oolitic limestone, hence the name Rockhouse. Oolite, as it’s regularly called, forms the bedrock of Miami. Coconut Grove is perched on some of the highest land in the county a soaring 18 to 20 feet above sea level which he says will come in handy one day given all the reports about Miami’s rising waters.

Some of the Rockhouse’s oolite was quarried onsite when they excavated the swimming pools a bit deeper but a lot of the stone came from the excavation of the nearby mall in Coral Gables—The Village of Merrick Park.

“Our contractor would bring the oolite limestone from the excavation and that is what was used for our exterior walls,” he said.

Also, it’s interesting to note that the swimming pool was created amidst the foundations of a small cottage that used to be on the property. Strang and his wife and I lived in the cottage while he was designing the new home.

The house remains the same overall, the current homeowners changed up just a little bit of the furniture inside. The home features concrete floors and impact resistant doors and windows to withstand hurricane force winds, always a threat in Miami.

Plus, he says what surprises a lot of people is that the roof is industrial steel with a rust finish on it and most people assume that it’s wood.

“The steel was how to incorporate my love of mid-century modern and the rust finish creates a warm palette and also works well with the wood decking,” he said. “It’s definitely a great outdoors and summer house.  It is the project that really launched my career upon its completion 10 years ago.”

The home’s timeless design was also attractive to the USA Network who used it on their former hit show shot in Miami “Burn Notice” as well as folks shooting several television commercials.

And shortly after the home was finished in 2004, the American Institute of Architects Miami Chapter gave it their Design Award. The following year, the organization’s Florida Chapter gave it the Merit Award of Excellence.

The Rockhouse, where he lived until 2010 before re-locating to Telluride, CO, served as a great home for his wife and two kids. They sold the house in 2011.

“I established a satellite location for my architecture firm in Colorado and our main headquarters remain in Coconut Grove. I regularly travel back and forth between the two offices,” he said. “I have found a way to balance raising my family in the Rocky Mountains and working in Miami.”

Although he’s based in Colorado, the bulk of his firm’s work remains in South Florida. That comes even after the doldrums of Miami’s recent financial and real estate crisis which led to a sort of re-emergence for them.

“My firm has emerged with renewed energy, creativity and an impressive roster of new projects. We currently have over twenty active projects stretching from the Rockies to the Bahamas,” he said.

And he was recently honored with the Silver Medal for Design by the American Institute of Architects Miami Chapter which is the highest honor that the organization can bestow on an architect.

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