Tropically Modern

Tropically Modern

Tropical Modernism is a style that melds the inside and outside

Modernism is not one style fits all. Architects often start with the fundamentals of the style and adapt them to suit their own climate and environment. Tropical modernism is one such adaptation. It takes its oversized windows, high ceilings, and clean lines from traditional modernism, while adding warm woods and emphasizing the outdoors in its designs.

Historic examples of tropical modernism can be found throughout the world, from architect Vladimir Ossipoff ’s Liljestrand House—a Honolulu home built to exacting standards in 1952 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places—to Toro Ferrer Arquitectos’ many Puerto Rican landmarks built in the 1940s and ’50s.

Not surprisingly, many of these tweaks to the style are to capitalize on the sea views in the tropics, says Jan Eric Horn, executive director of the architectural division of Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty in Del Mar, Calif.

Being able to enjoy sea views and breezes is paramount to buyers from Bora Bora to the Bahamas, he explains. Those desires led to walls of glass and spaces that bring the outside in. Details like beamed ceilings and wood floors are often added to bring more character to the home.

Some adjustments to the traditional modernism style have been out of necessity.

Tropical modernist homes, such as this one in Florida, offer a blend of indoor and outdoor living
Tropical modernist homes, such as this one in Florida, offer a blend of indoor and outdoor living.

“Many are built above ground to withstand the harsh winds and rain,” Horn notes. “Cooling is also a concern, so they have overhanging roofs that create shade.”

Sustainability is also important. Landscaping for these homes often incorporates native plants that don’t require special maintenance or gravel and rocks to save water. Ethically sourced woods and other materials are common.

On the other hand, modernism’s open-floor plans, tall ceilings, and full-story windows remain in these homes. These elements “help create more space and open up more of the home to the view.”

Many buyers appreciate the style because it offers an in-between option between modern and traditional homes, according to Michael Martinez of ONE Sotheby’s International Realty, based in Coral Gables, Fla.

“You get all the big benefits of a modern home with its light and square lines,” he says. “But it warms it up and adds a lot of personality to these houses.”

This house in Florida feels completely new and modern inside and outside.
This house in Florida feels completely new and modern inside and outside

Last year, Martinez represented a new 8,279-square-foot tropical modernist home in Pinecrest, Fla. The seven bedroom, seven-and-a-half bathroom home, with its floor to-ceiling windows, glass staircase, and limestone and wood flooring, sold in March 2019 for more than $5.3 million.

The home also features an out door fountain, which Martinez says is another common characteristic of tropical modernism. The grounds are landscaped using native plants.

“You’re seeing a little bit less color now because green is a little bit more streamlined, more modern,” he says. “That’s accompanied by beautiful palms, in all different sizes and species.”

Martinez adds that natural concrete is also commonly found in these homes. “Rather than using your typical pavers, you’re starting to see these big, large concrete slabs with some green in between or some beach pebbles,” he explains.

Martinez marketed another tropical modernist home in Pinecrest with seven bedrooms, six bathrooms, and two half bathrooms. Abaco wood, a sustainable Brazilian hardwood, can be found throughout the home, which also features plenty of windows and modern lines.

In Puerto Rico, Margaret Pena Juvelier and Oriana Juvelier of San Juan-based Puerto Rico Sotheby’s International Realty are representing a six-bedroom, four-bathroom Condado Beach estate that dates to 1956.

The 6,000-square-foot residence was designed by Toro Ferrer Arquitectos, a prominent Puerto Rican firm that was known for synthesizing modern architecture with the island’s tropical conditions. The firm was behind a number of significant buildings there, including the Puerto Rico Supreme Court and La Concha Resort, both in San Juan.

The Toro Ferrer firm completed the Condado Beach home for a prominent local family, and since then, it has only had one other owner, according to the agents. It’s currently on the market for $4.9 million.

There have been some updates to the house, which boasts a Crestron home system that controls lighting, music and security, and an electric-car charging station. The home itself is largely the same, but glass doors now enclose the central breezeway, which was originally open to the outside.

“The house was built before air conditioning, so the breezeway was to keep the house cooler,” Oriana Juvelier says.


Property ID: JMEXR3 |

Puerto Rico Sotheby’s International Realty

Go to property
Property ID: JMEXR3

A 60-foot, saltwater pool was also added, and the outside footprint was expanded, the agents say. The grounds now include a shaded entertainment area and gardens planted with local tropical fauna and orchids.

“There are over a dozen varieties of wild orchids,” Oriana Juvelier notes. High-rise condominium buildings have replaced most of the single-family homes around the Condado Beach residence, the agents say, and the home is the only one of its kind that remains. Regardless of the location, tropical modernist homes can be hard to find. “There’s high demand for them, and there’s not a lot of new tropical modern homes out there,” according to Martinez.

However, he says more contemporary architects are leaning toward the style. He’s seeing more of what he calls this “transitional architecture” throughout South Florida and beyond.

“It’s something that goes very well with our South Florida atmosphere,” Martinez notes. “And it appeals to people from all over.”

This home in Puerto Rico has gardens planted with tropical fauna and a 60-foot saltwater pool
This home in Puerto Rico has gardens planted with tropical fauna and a 60-foot saltwater pool.

<eng />

Select School Districts by State