Courtesy of Netflix
TV viewers in the 1980s were treated to two visions of Miami architecture: The Art Deco and neon grit in the cop drama Miami Vice and the midcentury-modern ranch situated amid the palm trees in the sunny sitcom The Golden Girls. But when production designer Knut Loewe set out to recreate the Florida homes of that era for the limited series Griselda, he decided to aim for a different aesthetic. “We didn’t want to use the stereotypical Florida elements like all the pink and rose,” he tells Architectural Digest. “We wanted to create our own look.”
Griselda Blanco, after all, was singular. As played with ferocious intensity by Modern Family Emmy nominee Sofía Vergara, the Colombian mother of three used her tenacity and savvy to create one of the most profitable drug cartels in history. (Even kingpin Pablo Escobar once said he feared her.) The six-part Netflix drama chronicles her story, from escaping an abusive husband in Medellin and landing in Miami in the late 1970s to growing her business into such an empire that she was known as “The Queen of Cocaine.”
Her rise to the top is charted through three incrementally sized homes. “We need to showcase a progression of power and wealth. As the story unfolds, it becomes evident that she’s experienced financial success and has the ability to hire interior designers to reflect what she feels she deserves,” explains set decorator Kimberly Leonard.
The production team referenced homes in Coral Gables and other Miami suburbs, although the series was actually filmed in Southern California. “There are a lot of family dwellings built in the 1920s and ’30s [there],” he says. Loewe also looked to his personal stack of vintage Architectural Digest magazines. “I brought a bag of 1970s and ’80s American issues with me because we wanted to recreate the interiors in those styles,” he says. “They were very helpful!”
Start with house number one: After Blanco settles in the US, she and her young kids uproot from a cramped guest bedroom in a friend’s place into a friendly white-stucco two-story home in Miami. Its interiors include archways and it boasts a modest backyard patio. “She’s a single mom and realizes that she needs to make money,” Loewe explains.
Next, as Blanco begins to build her army, she impulsively moves to a furnished old-money estate on the water in Palm Beach and puts up barbed fencing. “It’s a hideout,” Leonard explains. “So the furniture is not a representation of Griselda herself but of what once was in Palm Beach.”
The living room features silk and gold filigree framed floral furniture flanked by lamps under a tapestry wall. (Leonard received the pieces from a local woman living in South Central Los Angeles.) To continue with the French motif in the living room, late-’60s items such as the tables, console television and rug were sourced from various vendors such as the Warner Bros. property department and Urban Americana. There’s also a sitting room with vintage rattan furniture with floral-printed cushions because, as Leonard notes, “Florida and rattan go hand-in-hand!”
Blanco’s final stop is a de facto castle in Miami Beach known as the Miami Mega-Mansion. Drawing inspiration from ’80s Asian influences combined with American artist Tony Duquette, Goodfellas, and a bit of the Amy Arbus’s 1986 book, No Place Like Home, “I aimed to illustrated that she was living in the utmost excess so it had to be a ridiculously over-the-top environment,” Leonard says.
Naturally, Blanco’s bedroom—complete with a red, black and gold motif — exuded this opulence, glamour, and power. “These colors are more devilish in comparison to the first two houses, where we see turquoise and blue,” Loewe says. Leonard stumbled upon the furniture from @modscience during a late-night scroll on Craigslist in San Francisco. “It was such an unusual set that I had to have it,” she says.” The Asian theme continues in her study, where Blanco holds court behind a desk and flanked by two foo dog statues that symbolize protection and have a historical association with guarding palaces. “This shows the height of her success,” Loewe says, adding that the room is adjacent to her boudoir lair.
Though Blanco’s kingdom ultimately comes crashing down—she was arrested in 1985—her legend lives on. “Griselda really invented a way to bring the product into the country and how you can distribute it,” Loewe says. “That’s why her houses represent her back story.”
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest
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