By Christine Davis
On the market: Developer Frank McKinney’s final project is a 7,850-square-foot, tropical-modern beachfront home in South Palm Beach.
A just-completed oceanfront house for sale immediately south of Palm Beach made its debut in late May amid fireworks and fanfare, with developer Frank McKinney descending from a hovering helicopter via a cable to greet guests at the grand-opening party.
Always the showman, McKinney says the house — priced with its furnishings at $17.5 million — will be his final real estate project.
“I’m retiring from real estate,” says Delray Beach-based McKinney, who for 27 years has built and remodeled beachside houses and mansions up and down the South Florida coast.
“This is the most beautiful of the 44 projects I’ve done since 1992. I have never loved what I do more, but it’s time to redirect,” McKinney says.
He says hasn’t yet pinned down his next adventure, as he is absorbed in the sales process for the five-bedroom, five-bath house at 3492 S. Ocean Blvd. in South Palm Beach. With 7,850 square feet of living space, inside and out, the property is listed through Steve Presson, an agent with The Corcoran Group.
McKinney describes the architectural style as “tropical modern,” with a geometric, modular design and a concrete exterior faced in Ipe wood punctuated by large glass windows.
Facing about 90 feet of beachfront, the house stands on a lot measuring about four-tenths of an acre, tucked into an enclave of four single-family homes in a neighborhood dotted by condominium buildings.
The design focuses on the sea. A deck runs along the entire east side, where a 50-foot-long infinity-edge pool, an outdoor shower and a summer kitchen overlook the ocean. On the top floor — 44 feet above sea level — is an open-air rooftop lounge with a bar offering dramatic water views.
On the west side of the house, the front entrance is nearly as dramatic. Visitors walk from the motor court to the front door via a series of wood platforms installed over a reflecting pool, which catches water cascading down an adjacent 14-foot wall. Next to the front door are windows looking into the glass-and-black-porcelain stair tower, which rises three stories.
For the house’s design, McKinney worked with the Miami architectural firm of Choeff, Levy and Fishman. He knew the look he was after and gave the designers diagrams and room descriptions — and the final design, with rooms seamlessly flowing from one to next, emerged from there.
“They were designing tropical stuff in Miami, and I really liked what they were doing. I asked them to scale down their much-larger designs to a usable size,” McKinney says. “I’m a believer that ultra-wealthy buyers now have houses in four or five countries and they are spending less time in them. They are empty-nesters, and they don’t need 15,000 square feet.”
Ever the salesman, he adds: “This house is the perfect size.”
But this breed of buyers, in his view, still demands fine finishes, top-of-the-line amenities and the latest in smart-house technology.
“Those are the kind of things buyers want, just like having a new piece of technology in their hand,” he says. “It’s like buying (state-of-the-art) technology, but transferred over in terms of real estate.”
As an example, he points to what he describes as one of the house’s engineering feats: The 12-foot sliding glass doors in the living area. When closed, they offer a full view of the sea. But when wide open, one sees only a single 16-inch column in the expanse.
“Every day the oceanscape is different, with changing colors and intensity. When those sliding doors are open, there’s nothing like it,” he says. “You couldn’t get that before.”
A ride in the glass-walled elevator reflects more state-of-the-art engineering. “You can watch the ocean all the way up,” he says. “There’s less concrete and more steel. It’s a huge advancement.”
The house was built by RWB Construction Management, with landscaping by Green Edge, a Delray Beach landscaping firm.
The interiors were furnished and decorated by McKinney’s wife, Nilsa, who has her own eponymous design firm. Materials throughout include reclaimed teak, distressed mahogany, high-end wallpapers and hand-painted murals.
In keeping with design preferences of today’s high-end buyers, Frank McKinney said, the idea was to create a house with Zen-like appeal and rooms that weren’t overly ornate.
But there still are plenty of look-at-me design choices. On a pedestal in the living room is a sphere-shaped aquarium filled with — surprise! — small jellyfish. Lighted from within, the jellyfish undulate to and fro as water cascades down the exterior of the sphere into a rectangular trough filled with shimmering pieces of glass.
Also in the living room, the ribbon-style fireplace is set in mother of pearl. On the opposite side of the space, a wine-room wall fronts the elevator.
The kitchen, meanwhile, has 11,000-year-old lava countertops of brilliant blue imported from France and Neff cabinetry so painstakingly varnished, McKinney says, that it reflects the ocean. The shower in the marble master bathroom is enclosed in glass, with the ocean clearly in view.
To maximize space, the front door opens directly into the living area. To the north are the dining room, the staircase, the elevator, a media room, the kitchen and a bedroom suite. There’s also a three-car garage.
On the second floor, the master suite is in the north wing near the oceanfront gym and office. The master suite includes a room-size closet-and-dressing area and a bathroom with a glass shower that offers views through the bedroom to the ocean, 31 feet below. The bedroom opens to an oceanfront balcony.
South of the staircase and elevator on the second floor are two guest-bedroom suites that also open to a seaside balcony.
Step out of the elevator on the third floor and you’ll see walls decorated with images of rose-like flames because “heat rises,” McKinney says. “I wanted it to look like flames burning up to heaven.”
The elevator itself, by the way, pays tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon this month. The interior mimics the controls of the spaceship, along with a “black-hole” floor and a mural of McKinney as an astronaut, with his outstretched hand ready to push a button labeled “buy.”
But such over-the-top design choices are also grounded by real-world materials. Most of the floors, for instance, are covered in porcelain tile or marble, but the master bedroom floor is carpeted in a wool that’s free of dye and chemicals, McKinney says.
“Even the glue is made out of tree sap. No matter how sensitive or allergic you are, you are not going to sneeze. No toxins in my house; I’m big on keeping it clean.”