International Harvester Vice President James Deering was not unusual in building a Florida winter home in the early 1900s. Like many “snowbirds” today, he was attracted to the warm weather and hoped it would improve his health. Deering’s choice of Miami—rather than the more established Palm Beach—was, however, uncommon and based in part on the fact that his father had already built a house in Coconut Grove.
Deering was also unusual among his wealthy peers in hiring not an established, architecture firm but, instead, three young and relatively inexperienced men to design his estate: Paul Chalfin provided artistic oversight, Francis Burrall Hoffman, Jr. brought professional knowledge of architecture, and Diego Suarez provided landscape architecture expertise. Together these men created a unique subtropical estate.
The planning and construction of Vizcaya lasted over a decade, from 1910 to 1922. Deering modeled his estate after a centuries’-old Italian country villa. This involved the large-scale purchase of European antiques and the design of buildings and landscapes to accommodate them. At the same time, Deering a modern businessman, incorporated twentieth-century building methods and technologies at Vizcaya, and established agricultural facilities relevant to his background as a manufacturer of farm equipment.
Deering planned the estate slightly south of Miami’s historic (and current) downtown business district. Vizcaya originally consisted of 180 acres. The design included a reconfiguration of roads to create the strip of South Miami Avenue that bisects the estate. Deering would build the large Main House and the expansive gardens on the east, or waterfront side, of the property, while reserving the western portion for the Village to house staff, grow crops, keep animals and otherwise support his lifestyle.
Visit the House, Gardens and Collections section of this site to learn more about Vizcaya’s special design.