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!

  33 comments for “Villa Vizcaya

  1. September 13, 2011 at 6:50 am

    What a beautiful place, and you have documented well with your gorgeous photos.

  2. September 13, 2011 at 9:13 am

    Gorgeous images Mary. What an amazing place. Enjoyed!

  3. September 13, 2011 at 9:58 am

    So impressive! The shell ceiling is quite something!

  4. September 13, 2011 at 11:16 am

    The garden waterfall just made my day! Actually, I thought for sure this was European when I first saw it on Nancy Wallace’s blog. Thanks for the lovely article and photos!

  5. September 13, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    this is one of my favorite places in our country, i adore the gardens and often fantasize about building a house with the central courtyard like that. your shots are as fabulous as viscaya, loved it all!

  6. Pat
    September 13, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    Such a gorgeous place! It is like touringa dreamy Merman and Mermaid’s palace. I love the stone work and the gardens, and dock. I would ahve also taken a million photos of it all!

  7. September 14, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    Spectacular garden! Thank you for sharing your photos.

  8. Riet
    September 14, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    What a beautiful series of photo’s and what a beautiful place. I have been to Miami many times and I am sorry I didn’t know about. Maybe we go one more time and then I know what to visit. Thank you for sharing

  9. September 14, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    I’ve been there several times! It’s absolutely wonderful…

    Lovely shots!!

  10. September 14, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    Beautiful photos! So much amazing details…I love all the architectural details and the waterfall by the steps. Thank you for sharing this!

    Blessings & Aloha!

  11. Ellen
    September 14, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    Oh my! This place is just gorgeous. Thank you for showing us all your beautiful shots!!

  12. September 14, 2011 at 7:09 pm

    This looks like it would be a wonderful place to wander!

  13. Jo
    September 14, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    Awesome photo’s I would love to visit there!..Your photo’s makes me want to go.

  14. September 14, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    refreshing, boats are cute in sight here,

  15. September 14, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    Awesome photos.

  16. September 14, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    What a wonderful place…and fabulous photos too!!

  17. September 14, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    I have visited both Villa Vizcaya and the Deering Estate (Carles Deering, brother of James) out near Old Cutler Rd near Mathieson Hammock right on the bay. Completely different from Vizcaya (homier even when the stone mansion was in all its glory) but also a gorgeous property.
    Your photos are gorgeous!

  18. September 14, 2011 at 11:57 pm

    What a beautiful villa! Your photographs are excellent. Thanks for such an interesting post!!

  19. Pondside
    September 15, 2011 at 2:19 am

    Imagine the vision it took to design this and bring it to reality!

  20. September 15, 2011 at 5:32 am

    Beautiful! Love the photo of the pots lining the stairs!

  21. September 15, 2011 at 10:43 am

    Beautiful photos, structures and art. Loved this. Thanks!


  22. September 16, 2011 at 9:19 am

    Beautiful photos and lots of history too. I especially liked the stepped waterfall.

  23. September 18, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    Wow. What an amazing place. I love the feeling of history in all the photos. The entire estate is really a work of art!

    I’d love to see this ‘in person’ sometime. Really gorgeous.

    Thanks for sharing some of your photos.


  24. September 22, 2011 at 8:31 am

    This villa is quite beautiful and very impressive! If you hadn’t mentioned that it was in Miami, I would have thought it was located in Europe! I just love that Miami-Dade is working on conserving this place because it would be a shame if this place went into ruins…

  25. Dennis Cory
    October 23, 2011 at 5:48 am

    Your photos and notes are great interpretations of Vizcaya. This place is endlessly imaginative, the decorative arts of centuries past were combined fabulously and just to live with. Now preserved they inspire beyond the mediocrity of today’s world. It’s a treasure we are so fortunate to have, and it is public forever. Viva Vizcaya !

  26. January 18, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    I’m preparing an informational brochure on our church to be placed in our local library. It will be part of the All About Ashford display. In researching our church history I found that Paul Chalpin who was a summer resident in the area was the architect for our Baroque style building. He drew up the plans in two weeks and gave them free of charge to our first Pastor, Father William J. Dunn who rolled up his sleeves right alongside parishioners and townspeople and actually built the church. Today, people often come camera in hand to photograph our beautiful little St. Philip the Apostle Church because of its unique old world style, complete with onion dome!
    Your photographs of the Villa are beautiful.

  27. June 26, 2012 at 12:28 am

    These are best photos I have seen of Vizcaya. This glorious villa and gardens is familiar to me, I first visited the place as a 9 year old child in 1963, and have re-visited it at least a dozen times in the following years. I think you have captured the elegance, artistry, and beauty of Mr. Deering’s wonderful home. The photos are well framed and thoughtfully composed. Thank you!

  28. May 2, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    Incredible, Mary!

  29. May 2, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    I am so glad that you shared this. It will be a must see if we find ourselves back in that neck of the woods again. Your photos are so lovely! xo marlis

  30. May 2, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    Mary, glad you shared this amazing place again. I must have missed it the first time round. Would love to visit Villa Vizcaya. I’ve never been to Miami.

  31. May 2, 2013 at 10:33 pm

    Oh Mary, the memories you invoke. I was there about 16 years ago and this winter when I was in Florida I wanted to go again. I so remember being there when my son was little. They would not allow strollers, but I was determined to see it so I carried him throughout. Now that he’s getting ready to go to college, I thought it would be wonderful to visit sans stroller, but alas, it didn’t happen this trip. Maybe next?

    – The Tablescaper

  32. May 3, 2013 at 9:35 pm

    This looks like a beautiful place. I have never heard of it but will put it on our list of to see’s next time we are in Miami. Thanks for sharing. Blessings, Debbie

  33. May 4, 2013 at 8:11 am

    I so enjoyed reading of all the “modern” conveniences put in place… unheard of for that time and very forward thinking! I love the electric switchboard … surely impressive to those who watched it being built!

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