Domestic Bliss

Modern living is great! Or so they say. If some are to be believed, modern living was even better from 1945 to 1965, especially if you lived in a fabulous Florida tropical home. During the sunny post-World War II period, the United States was bursting with optimism. The future was nothing to fear but something to look forward to seeing, and booming South Florida architecture began to reflect that state of mind: wide-open plans, walls of floor-to-ceiling-length windows inviting in plenty of natural light, living spaces that led directly toward the great outdoors, and nods to nature in every way.

"The Florida Home: Modern Living, 1945-1965," an exhibition opening at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida this Friday, delves deeply into the design of our single-family abodes, many of which have stood the test of time (and hurricanes) and survive to this day.

Guest co-curators Jean-Francois Lejeune and Allan Shulman, professors at the University of Miami and authors of the stunning book The Making of Miami Beach: The Architecture of L. Murray Dixon, have a discerning eye and have chosen to showcase the work of design notables who gave shape to our local landscape with their singular vision.

Among the architects whose work will be reflected in models, drawings, photographs, film footage, and more: Russell Pancoast, a grandson of John A. Collins (as in Collins Avenue) and creator of such superior structures as the Bass Museum and the Surf Club; Rufus Nims, noted for his work on Howard Johnson restaurants and homes across South Florida; Alfred Browning Parker, whose residences exhibit a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired bent; and Norman Giller, architect of the first motel on Sunny Isles Beach and of Hallandale's original Diplomat Hotel, as well as Miami Beach's Carillon Hotel.

The highlight is sure to be the opportunity to stroll through the rooms of a fully furnished Igor Polevitsky-designed house re-created inside the museum. Polevitsky, a Russian immigrant, was the mastermind behind elegant commercial structures, such as Miami Beach's Albion and Shelborne hotels, and dazzling homes, including one seemingly lighter-than-air aerie known fondly as the "Birdcage."

The re-created house won't be just a shell. It will be stocked with period appliances and accessories, among them a television set. While postwar South Floridians were enjoying the benefits of indoor/outdoor living, they were also beginning to be seduced by the glow radiating from their TVs. According to the Florida Moving Image Archive, 90 percent of American families had their own sets by 1959. As a companion to "The Florida Home" show, the FMIA will present "Changing Styles/Changing Dials: Television Comes to Miami," looking at the boob tube's effect on us and our homes. And really, where would modern life be without all those modern conveniences? -- Nina Korman