Tag Archive for Vizcaya Museum & Gardens

Villa Vizcaya

We had the opportunity to tour Vizcaya Museum & Gardens back in the spring while visiting Key Biscayne & Miami. I took more photos than anyone would care to see :-)  which can’t begin to do it justice~ if you are visiting Miami and have time I highly recommend a tour! Photos are permitted only on the grounds and gardens of Vizcaya, but you can see photos here of some of the interior, as well watch a part or all of a wonderful documentary of this grand estate if you’re interested.

 Villa Vizcaya, was the winter home of International Harvester Vice President, James Deering, from 1916 until his death in 1925.

Built between 1914 and 1916, Vizcaya was designed in the style of the Italian Renaissance and Baroque villas that Deering had visited, and adapted to the subtropical climate of South Florida. Originally an estate of 180 acres, it was designed to resemble a northern Italian farm, with a dairy, poultry house, mule stable, greenhouse, machine shop, paint and carpentry workshop and staff residences.


James Deering created Vizcaya with the help of three designers:  F. Burrall Hoffman (1882 – 1980) who designed the buildings, Diego Suarez (1888 – 1974) who planned the gardens, and Paul Chalfin (1873 – 1959) who was the general artistic supervisor for every phase of the project.

Together they created an estate that looked as if a family had lived in it for 400 years~ with each generation adding its own period furnishings.

Most of the decorative elements including furniture, lighting fixtures, doors and fireplaces were purchased by Deering on shopping expeditions throughout Europe including entire ceilings of Italian palazzos, mantels from French chateaus and wrought-iron gates from the Palazzo Pisani in Venice.

Housing an important collection of 16th –  through 19th-century decorative arts, the house was built with all the modern conveniences of the early 20th century to satisfy an engineer and wealthy industrialist. . .central heating, an automatic electric telephone switchboard, a master clock, elevator, refrigeration, a central vacuuming system and a fire control system, essential for a remote estate.

The house took two years to build with the formal gardens finally completed in 1921 due to the outbreak of World War I.

 At the time of Vizcaya’s construction, Miami’s population was around 10,000.  More than 1,000 workers were employed at Vizcaya, including laborers and craftsmen from the Caribbean and Europe.


After Derring’s death in 1925, a minimal staff maintained the property. The hurricane in 1926, which devastated much of Miami, severely damaged the grounds and formal gardens. Paul Chalfin oversaw the first restoration of Vizcaya in 1933-4 while the heirs attempted to operate the estate as an attraction, but another major hurricane in 1935 overwhelmed their efforts. In the 1940s, Derring’s descendents transferred extensive portions to the Catholic Diocese  and nearby Mercy Hospital.

The remaining house, gardens, and village was conveyed to Miami-Dade County resulting in Vizcaya opening as a public museum in 1953. Age and exposure to the subtropical elements including the 2005 hurricane season beginning with Katrina and ending in Wilma, require ongoing conservation to preserve Vizcaya’s historic artifacts and character.

The Casino~

 In the tradition of the Italian Renaissance, the Casino, or house in miniature, offered a place for relaxation away from the formality of the main house. Guests could enjoy tea in the two rooms and view of the gardens.

 The center panel of the loggia ceiling is the work of Paul Thévenaz (1891- 1921) and the border is from the studio of Gianbattista Tiepolo (1696- 1770).

Chalfin had a fascination with seahorses that appear throughout the estate~

The Stone Barge was designed to appear as a Roman ship and serves as a breakwater in Biscayne Bay for Vizcaya. At one time it was an island garden with a pavilion, fountains, flowers that evolved into a work of art with mermaids & statues carved by sculptor Alexander Stirling Calder.

Thank you for indulging my vacation photos & your visit~

 I’m joining:

Little Red House for Mosaic Monday~
A Southern Daydreamer for Outdoor Wednesday~
 Jenny Matlock for Alphabe-Thursday~ this week’s letter is V~
The Tablescaper for Oh, The PLACES I’ve been!


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