The history of Vizcaya Museum and Gardens began in 1916 when industrialist James Deering chose this site in Miami to have a winter home built. Deering hired Paul Chalfin, a New York painter, to supervise the Vizcaya Villa project. Deering and Chalfin traveled extensively throughout Europe gleaning architectural ideas and acquiring fixtures for the home including wall panels, mantles, and doors.
Deering also engaged architect F. Burrall Hoffman and a landscape specialist named Diego Suarez to work on the overall design and gardens. Vizcaya Villa was to have the distressed look of a 400-year old Italian home that had weathered the centuries, while being fitted with the modern features and fixtures. The 34-room mansion consists of two main floors and a middle level containing twelve rooms that were used as servant's quarters. Plans to renovate and open these rooms to the public are underway.
The original design of Miami Vizcaya Museum was to promote an open-air feeling with breezes blowing through the house, courtyard, and gardens. However, because of the Florida climate, humidity, and salt air, the house requires constant upkeep and renovation to avoid damage from the elements. To help maintain the home's structural integrity and its contents, the open courtyard was enclosed in glass and a climate-control system was installed.
The furnishings at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens represent many periods and include antiques, furniture, and other objects from the fifteenth through the nineteenth centuries that were collected around the world. Each room denotes a specific period and style, such as Renaissance, baroque, neoclassic, and rococo.
Decorative elements and furnishings include Italian wood paneling, French silk walls and marbled walls, massive furniture pieces from the Napoleonic French empire period, Sheffield silver, and a French Savonnerie rug from the nineteenth century. The main house and its contents are listed as a National Historic Landmark, making it one of the best museums in Miami for history buffs, as well as those interested in the architectural history of the area and looking for attractions in addition to the Art Deco district.
The design of the gardens at Miami Vizcaya Museum is based on French and Italian influences. The gardens provide an array of subtropical trees, native plants and flowers, and a variety of orchids on display in the A. Klein Orchidarium. The gardens include a central pool, multiple fountains, and statuary, and they provide visitors with excellent views of Biscayne Bay.
Vizcaya remained in the family until 1952, when the Deering heirs sold the main house and gardens to Dade County. In 1955, the Deering heirs, with the provision that Vizcaya remain a public museum, donated the estate's furnishings and art collections. A visit to the museum is a must for any visitors interested in Miami history, highlighted by unique events at the house. One of the ongoing events at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is the music played from noon until 12:30 pm, Monday through Friday, on the vintage 1917 pipe organ.
The Miami Vizcaya Museum is open from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm every day except Christmas, with general guided tours of the gardens and main house available throughout the week by appointment and lasting approximately 45 minutes. Self-guided tours of this popular attraction that include all levels of the house and garden will take approximately two hours. Guidebooks to the Vizcaya Villa are available for purchase at the gift shop and the café serves breakfast and lunch.