The Real Deal New York

Day in the Life of: Chad Oppenheim

The high-design architect on searching for manatees, designing for director Michael Bay
and NYC expansion

December 01, 2015
By Mark Maurer

Chad Oppenheim

Chad Oppenheim

Chad Oppenheim runs Oppenheim Architecture, a Miami-based firm with a global slate of projects. In addition to the U.S., he has designed in places like Australia, the Philippines and Jordan. Since its 1999 launch, the firm has grown to 40 employees, with additional offices in NYC and Switzerland. Oppenheim, a 44-year-old Miami Beach resident who grew up in New Jersey, serves as the creative lead. He specializes in nature-inspired architecture, interior design and planning for hotel-condo towers, private homes and office buildings. The firm’s latest office, a WeWork space in Soho, opened in July and represents a push toward tackling more NYC projects. When Oppenheim is here, he meets with top developers and scopes out development sites in the Hudson Yards area. The firm has submitted designs for Silverstein Properties’ off-and-on development at 514 11th Avenue  and Juan Figueroa’s long-delayed Williamsburg hotel on the former Williamsburgh Savings Bank site at 175 Broadway.

6 a.m. The alarm goes off [at my home in Miami.] Beep beep. I try to meditate for five to 10 minutes. I check my emails after I do my morning things. Otherwise, you get sucked into the vortex of responding. It definitely ruins your meditation, for sure.

6:30 a.m. I go out paddleboarding with my son, who just got a new paddleboard for his seventh birthday. We go into the bay and look for manatees and dolphins. I once thought a manatee was a great white shark. It kind of startled me.

7:30 a.m. We come back inside for breakfast with my wife and daughter, who’s 4. Every meal is a bit of a spectacle. My wife is putting together a cookbook called “Savor the Mountains.” She’s milling the flour. There are cereals, yogurts, butters and cheeses, all homemade.

8 a.m. I drive the kids to school. I take my wife’s Tesla because it has kid seats.

9 a.m. I get to the office. The first thing I do is catch up with the Switzerland office. From Switzerland, they run the work in the Middle East and Europe. We are working on very high-end terrace villas on the lake in the Italian part of Switzerland. We are nearing completion on a water treatment facility in Basel that purifies the river water into drinking water.

A rendering of Hudson Yards New York.

A rendering of Hudson Yards New York.

11 a.m. I check in with the guys in New York. One of them is Juan Lopez, who was one of my best employees for seven years right out of Columbia University. He left [Miami] and moved to New York and now he runs the office. We talk about projects we’re doing in the city — and in Asbury Park, N.J. We’re helping iStar Residential revitalize that area with new condos. We talk about studies we’re doing for Silverstein on some projects. The New York office is a design studio that works on stuff all over the world, like a Six Senses resort in Utah owned by Pegasus Capital. Both the New York and Switzerland teams are working on the expansion of the SushiSamba brand, with a new restaurant-nightclub in Dubai. We’re very cross-pollinated.

1 p.m. I try to have a lunch meeting at my home, which is only 10 minutes away. I also go to Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink. Recently I spoke on a lunchtime panel of developers at an Urban Land Institute event about creating communities and residential projects in Latin America.

2 p.m. I catch up with the office in Miami, where most of our work is being managed. We review construction details. People call to meet and talk about new projects, like an office condo building we’re going to be doing in Aventura.

3 p.m. Sometimes I run out to a construction site. We just had a groundbreaking on the first tower of an eight-tower project in Sunrise, Fla. We did the master plan and the architecture. I race there while on the phone. Hopefully I’m driving in the right direction. I may end up missing exits.

4 p.m. I run over to check out a 13,000-square-foot Bal Harbor spec house for developer and broker Oren Alexander [of Douglas Elliman] and his father, Shlomi, that’s going on the market soon.

Michael Bay

Michael Bay

5 p.m. My team and I talk about design of other private residences. A year ago, I finished director Michael Bay’s house in Los Angeles after four years. Before that, in 2007, we worked with him to modify a house we had built on spec. Hulk Hogan initially bought it and made some crazy Hulk Hogan moves. Like 10-foot-wide beds and really weird stuff. Michael bought it from Hulk [for $17 million].

6 p.m. I quickly go by the desks of everyone. I’m the design incubator; I watch over design at every level.

7:30 p.m. I leave the office and try to have dinner with the family.  They have probably finished eating. Every meal is an incredible celebration of seasonal, local cuisine. We eat homemade chocolate for dessert.

8:30 p.m. We read a book to the kids. My son loves “Roberto: The Insect Architect.” It’s about a termite who’s an architect. It’s a really cool book.

9 p.m. If my wife and I have an event or want to walk around, we sneak out of the house after the kids are asleep. The nanny will tend to them if they need anything after that. Hopefully we’re back before they wake up and jump on our bed, which is usually about 2 a.m.

10:30 p.m. Some nights, I have a WebEx about our multi-tower project in Australia developed by the Dalian Wanda Group. I review things with the local architect. It might get a little heated. It’s hard to communicate fully on WebEx, even though you can see people and look at the drawings.

1 a.m. It’s been a frantic day. Everything is a means to creating beautiful things that enhance the way people live.