The Water Will Come, but Not to This Miami Home

Miami artists also feature prominently. In the dining room, a massive sculpture by Sinisa Kukec resembles two golden raindrops plinking into puddles. One guest bedroom displays an abstract painting by Lynne Golob Gelfman, the other a drawing by Michele Oka Doner. Separate control panels allow guests to access these rooms and come and go on their own, even if other parts of the home remain locked.

While Mr. Gonzalez praised Miami Beach officials for tackling sea-level rise with a $500 million street-raising and pumping project (one that is being re-evaluated amid concerns that plans for further elevated roads may actually worsen flooding of adjoining homes and businesses in the short term), he said he was frustrated with many in the real estate community. Some architects seem happy to take their wedding cake-style McMansions and jack them up on stilts, he noted, regardless of what he calls the poor aesthetics. And some developers still seem to be in denial.

That much was clear in Jeff Goodell’s 2017 book “The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World.” Mr. Goodell wrote of cornering Jorge Pérez at an event honoring Ms. Oka Doner inside his namesake Pérez Art Museum Miami.


The house is raised on stilts over a garden and carport. The house was designed by the architect Rene Gonzalez to allow up to a 10-foot storm surge to safely flow underneath it. Credit Michael Stavaridis

Ms. Oka Doner had already sold her Miami Beach home, convinced that it would soon be underwater. Mr. Pérez, one of South Florida’s largest condo developers, was more skeptical. Asked by Mr. Goodell if sea-level rise had altered his business thinking, he replied curtly that it hadn’t. Pressed, Mr. Pérez said, “In 20 or 30 years, someone is going to find a solution for this.” He added, “Besides, by that time, I’ll be dead, so what does it matter?”

For his part, Mr. Boutros said the rising sea wasn’t his only concern. Raised in Lebanon before he moved to Detroit to attend college, Mr. Boutros said he practically lived on Beirut’s shoreline. Sun-dappled Miami Beach was a homecoming of sorts, but he was aware of security issues. Hence the retractable staircase. “I’m not here 24/7,” he said. “How do we make sure there’s no access to the house?” With a chuckle, he added, “Plus, I wanted something out of James Bond, something sexy.”

The same playfully louche theme carries through to his master bedroom, where a large doorless shower with transparent glass walls occupies the center of the room. This is not a home for anyone, or their overnight guests, who is bashful about disrobing.

“If someone is with you in this room and you’re not comfortable being naked with them, they shouldn’t be in this room,” Mr. Boutros said. “What’s the difference between standing naked in the middle of the room and being naked in bed?”

Mr. Boutros wasn’t waiting for a reply. He was already bounding up a staircase that led from his bedroom to a roof deck. Open on one side except for a barely there railing, it too was not for the cautious. Or anyone less than sure footed in high heels. Or anyone who’d had a drink or two. Or children. Or … but Mr. Boutros waved off those concerns as well. “It’s my space. If I invite you up to the roof, I already know what you’re capable of handling.” His guests seem to have to pass an awful lot of tests just to get past the front door. “In a good way!” he said, laughing.

The roof setting made Mr. Boutros’ brazen enthusiasm more understandable. Partially shrouded by a tropical canopy, it admitted no sound but the chirping of birds. In Michigan, Mr. Boutros works from 8:30 a.m. until 1 or 2 in the morning, so he can board a plane to Florida on Friday and remain through the weekend.

“When I wake up in Miami, my biggest worry is where I’m going to eat that night,” he said. That and, “Can I spend two hours at the beach?”

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