Earth to Miami: Spotlight on Sustainable Design at CASACOR with Local Designer Michelle Haim

BELatina Miami Carlos Domenech Photographer Haim Earth Lounge
Photo Credit Carlos Domenech

Walking into CASACOR’s third annual design show in downtown Miami, a person is immediately met with the furnishings and stylings that channel the glam and extra of the city, exactly what one probably hoped to find at this pop-up design hub. Bold colors and a maximalist’s aesthetic run throughout CASACOR’s dozen or so installations, rooms that have been transformed by designers who were given carte blanche to do their thing with just one theme to guide their work: Sustainability.

But turn a corner on the first floor toward the champagne bar in the courtyard, and you’ll pass through what is by far the most meditative installation of the show, a softly lit room called Earth Lounge designed by Colombian-American, longtime Miami resident Michelle Haim, the CEO and Creative Director of Fanny Haim & Associates, Inc. After the sh*tshow of what is a week of insanity — CASACOR kicked off its opening week to coincide with Miami Art Week, but will run through December 21st — Haim’s room feels like a cool, tall drink of water for a parched soul.

Haim Carlos Domenech Photographer Haim Earth Lounge BELatina
Photo Credit Carlos Domenech

Subtle geometries of the universe shine through her subdued approach to design, with the utilitarian squares and rectangles of our earthly creations — in this case, a treatment of terra-cotta tiles sustainably produced by a company called Seneca, covering nearly the entire room in a muted warmth — complemented by the otherworldly shape of the full moon that appears in the form of a cozy den, amply pillowed in natural tones. The room is anchored by a 40-year-old yucca rising up out of a large, circular well, looking so rooted and at home that it’s hard to believe it hasn’t been living here all along. “That’s what I was going for,” shared Haim, who dove headfirst into embracing a coexistence of woman and nature for this ecologically-minded project, channeling a poetic vibe that is simultaneously ancient as well as forward-looking. She described the installation as temple-like, from the way that it transports its inhabitants to a place of total zen to the monumental black terrazzo island, made of recycled stone and marble, that practically invites you to prepare something on its astral countertop, an obsidian sky flecked with starry bits of earth rock, to the way that the whole thing came together to channel divine coincidence.

Earth Room Michelle Haim
Photo Credit Carlos Domenech

For instance, Haim shared that some elements of her final design had initially been shrouded in mystery to her, like the series of ceramics she commissioned from Toronto-based artist Ken Gangbar, whose work was displayed within a floor-to-ceiling wall of terra-cotta niches. Not only did she not know what exactly she was going to get from the artist — sand-toned objects that seem both ancient and futuristic, indigenous and alien at the same time — but she also initially had no idea what she would end up putting into this wall. To have had the freedom to let these ideas coalesce so organically shines through in the earthiness and harmony within the room, which feels as if it has only undergone the most human minimal intervention. 

Even the fragrance of the room is divine. Haim reached into one of the niches, pulling out a bag of plant matter from behind a ceramic. “It’s not herb,” she reassured me, revealing the smudge stick she had been burning throughout the day to keep the space and its mood grounded.

It’s this narrative of minimal intervention that set Haim’s work apart from so many of her peers at CASACOR, one that generously honored this year’s theme of sustainability. “I really wanted to stick to the theme,” she said, explaining that she had constructed her room with its inevitable demolition in mind. For example, the terra-cotta lining the walls were designed so that much of the panels of tiles can be salvaged and reused for another project. The yucca, sourced from nature-inspired design firm Plant the Future, will find a happy home elsewhere after this year’s CASACOR is dismantled; in fact, Plant the Future loved Haim’s design so much that they suggested she recreate the yucca part her installation within their own space.

“I feel like it’s a really good time for me to shine,” said Haim. While she’s always been there behind the scenes at Fanny Haim & Associates, Inc., her installation at CASACOR could very well be a takeoff point for her career. “People should give me more freedom!” Haim declared with an easy laugh. You would normally find Haim in the working alongside founder Fanny, whose reputation and experience as a designer precedes her in the design world. But this worldly and yet so otherworldly installation at CASACOR is entirely the younger Haim’s own vision, something that she gets to showcase on one of the busiest and most important weeks of the year for Miami designers. Working on this project independently, without the input from the elder designer Haim, was a huge opportunity for her to bring her own process and sensibilities to the final installation. 

This is clear to me as I walk through the rest of CASACOR’s show with her, examining the curiosities and diversity of vision that mark each designer’s space, none, to me, matching the transcendence of Haim’s installation. Along the way, we encountered a few other designers who were floating around the building — and each one, unprompted, confessed to her, “Your space was my favorite.” It’s hard not to agree.

CASACOR runs from now through December 21st at 700 Brickell Avenue in downtown Miami. Purchase tickets ahead of your visit for guaranteed entry.