The Founder of the Wolfsonian has Another Museum in His Apartment

Gridics Staff December 18, 2015 Architecture & Design, Arts & Culture
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When Micky Wolfson, Jr. still lived at "his parents house” in Miami Beach, at the family manor on 5030 North Bay Road, I spent a day shopping with him, starting with an early Cuban breakfast at a greasy spoon in Little Haiti and ending at John “Jakey” Astor V’s vast estate sale on Pinetree Drive. It was on the Miami River, at Micky’s favorite hunting ground, Stone Age Antiques, an outpost of nautical treasure one might call a junkyard, that he turned to me and said in his distinct sing-songy storyteller voice: "Nobody gets it. This is what I want the museum to look like!", meaning the museum he was currently in the midst of creating, the Wolfsonian.

Good thing he didn't get his way. Good thing his architect Mark Hampton did. And, therein lies the rub, the wacky dynamic of the galloping decorative propaganda collector and his modest modernist architect, the tug of war between The Serial Supershopper vs. The Minimalist Perfectionist. Yet, it seemed to work. Mark's sensible yang tempered Micky's excessive yin. A visit to Hampton’s masterwork, Wolfson's FIU-Wolfsonian Museum, is testament to his keen attention to detail -- the intricate symmetry and placement of every plug, air vent and light fixture so as not to interfere with the beauty of the room.

Not so much at the iconic Palm Bay Tower, where Micky has kept a bachelor pad since 1972. There’s more evidence of Micky here than Mark, though the architect’s interior transformation of the original three bedroom into a lofty home for his favorite client and his favorite things is perfect -- a princely perch for the merry magnate to look out on his turf -- Miami Beach to the east; Miami to the west.

You’d expect the lair of a man who’s constantly collecting historical eclectica all over the world to come home to a staid private museum, but, no, Micky’s pied a terre  (he has three -- one in New York, one in Paris) is more like an antiquarium filled with fond objects from his past --  Mother's Thirties cabinets, a geometric glass table designed by nephew Michael, a ceramic platter fired by childhood friend, artist Michele Oka Doner, a nomadic secret cabinet of keepsakes, and the key to Micky’s madness, his first collection as a boy -- a wall of hotel key souvenirs brought home by globetrotting mom and dad, Colonel Mitchell & Frances Wolfson, Sr.

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