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  • Writer's pictureStuart Sheldon

Living In a Magic Box




We all endeavor to pad our nests with the feathers of our desires ... then fall backward after long days into these sumptuous sanctuaries, where we can be exactly who we are. We aim to make places, build bases, create spaces and infuse graces into the landscapes of our being. To find magic ... or let it find us.





“Home is where one starts from,” said T.S. Eliot. We just sold the home where our boys started. Where they slept atop one another in IKEA bunk beds that took me six hours to assemble. Where we read them Knufflebunny and The Bear Wants More and Caps For Sale over and over and over. Where they both learned to ride bikes on their very first tries. Where I mastered the Green Egg BBQ and Jodi her bolognese. Where the kids went door to door with a little red wagon collecting canned food. Where Jodi left her thriving advertising career. And I savored my fifteen minutes of fame as an artist. Where thunderous tropical rain assaulted hurricane windows and lobster claw heliconia bestowed eight seasons of immeasurable beauty. The magic within those walls pulsed so powerfully that we felt it from the street and agreed to buy the place before going inside. We just knew. That was 2011. But, the magic trick began twenty years earlier, circa 1990, at the iconic News Cafe on South Beach.


Long before South Beach was glam/sexy/fabulous it was sad/seedy/decrepit, a collection of decaying Art Deco buildings, where lonely, old Jewish grandmas stared out to sea in rockers beside Marielitos fresh out of Castro’s jails. A few visionaries recognized the golden bones in these Deco buildings, and an architectural renaissance began. The News Cafe opened in one of the first low-profile Deco gems to be renovated and instantly became a magnet for locals and tourists alike. Expats would stop in daily to purchase a newspaper from their home country and read it over breakfast in a legit European café. Gianni Versace lived down the street and visited each morning, including the day he was gunned down in front of his iconic mansion.



Fresh off my own pivot from a five-year stock broker gig to the MFA Film program at UM, I'd sit at a News Cafe table for hours drinking bottomless iced teas and doing my homework while, inexplicably, beautiful male and female models walked past, portfolios under lithe arms. I did not know at the the time that another critical factor in S. Beach’s renaissance was the large, European textile companies’ decision to find a single, year-round location where the light stayed consistent 365 days. This allowed them to shoot their catalogues in one place, as opposed to moving their entire operations seasonally throughout Europe, at great expense. South Beach's great light mixed with seedy affordability, made it a profitable alternative. So, the modeling agencies set up shop, and I'm at The News ordering the $7 Mediterranean platter and reading about screenplay structure, as intellectuals enjoyed animated conversations and packs of perfect German tens strolled past, all cheekbones and fuck-off.



Out of nowhere, my sprawling suburban hometown, sorely lacking any cosmopolitan/bohemian bona fides, had this wood-lined, spit-shined, casual-yet-sophisticated place to sit and chat and read periodicals from the world's capitals. To smell the sea and dream dreams of what you wished to be when and if you grew up. Think Berlin or Paris with palm trees. The News Cafe brought sun-soaked, old world charm, patinaed mirrors, marble-topped tables, where every server, man and woman, rocked white oxfords with ties. It was a place where creativity found oxygen at a moment when I was hyperventilating to find my creative space in the world.


Mark Soyka

I went so often and was so taken by the aesthetic, that I actually blurted out to some friends one blue sky day circa 1991, “I want this Soyka guy to design the interiors of my life.” Mark Soyka and his wife opened The News together. Over the coming years, they made enchanted spaces throughout Miami, amassing an empire of seven beloved restaurants. Their next spot, The VanDyke, beacame another instant classic, anchored by a bustling downstairs cafe on Lincoln Road Mall with a dark jazz club upstairs. Vast red velvet curtains and dark wooden banisters on the staircase made this place even sexier than The News and again I said the words out loud, “I WANT THIS SOYKA GUY TO DESIGN THE INTERIORS OF MY LIFE.”


The Van Dyke Cafe



Fast forward to 2009. Jodi and I moved from our Sausalito houseboat into a rental Miami home in the lush historic neighborhood of Morningside. Serendipitously, Mark Soyka lived directly across the street in a 1938 Deco Mediterranean he’d fully renovated to raise his own children. His home was barely visible behind an epic oak tree and dense tropical foliage. Along with two adorable babies, Jodi and I had a fluffy designer dog, Oliver, that I’d walk daily, an occupied Baby Bjorn typically strapped to my chest. Soyka, an avid dog lover, would often be out front with his dog. Short, bald and roundish, he never wore a shirt, just long white linen pants that came to his navel and revealed a burly chest full of graying hair. Not much of a talker, Soyka had a soft spot for our growing family/dog/artist vibe, and we slowly began to learn about each others lives.



For over a year, we shared a few occasional words out front but, basically, minded our own business. Then one day, he mentions that he’s going to build his dream house down the street, the “home I’ll die in,” he told me. Only half kidding, I said to him, “When you do that, please let me know, because I want to buy your house.” To that he said simply, OK. Fast forward six months, and he tells me he got permits to start building. “Well then, I’d like to buy your house,” I said. “Ok, it’s yours,” he said. “May I go inside?”



The moment I entered affirmed what I already knew. An eclectic masterpiece. Filled with light and vintage treasures and surprising interior choices at every turn. Utterly singular. All curated by a mad genius with 900 employees who used neither email nor voicemail. Each room resembled one of his seven restaurants, eclectic, industrial, warm and sensual. Every inch livable. I ran across the street and Jodi returned with me; she felt the same. We bought it. Soyka had, in fact, designed the interiors of my life. Designed them better than I ever could have.



Mother Teresa said, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” Soyka went home and loved his family in that home before us, filling it with all the feels. Then, we spent eight amazing years wrapped in his technicolor dreamcoat, loving up our family as hard as we could through the good, the bad and the ugly. Snuggle parties, family holiday feasts, mosquito killing contests, art salons, Halloween shenanigans, Taco Tuesdays, even an all-night vintage swimsuit fiesta.



We wouldn't trade those barbarian days of ABCs and Art Basel, beaches and "broccamoli," playgrounds and pinworms, soccer trips and sunrises for anything. Yet, to everything there is a season.


Barbarian Days, Acrylic and Inkjet Book Covers of Pulitzer Prize Winning "Barbarian Days" on canvas, 57.5x83" 2024 commission

The lovely couple who bought it told me they too felt the energy from the street. Knew they had to have it, knew it was magic. Soyka will design the interiors of their lives too. As they splash in the grotto out back. Soak in the clawfoot tub. Bask in the shade of the great oak out front. And start a delicious family of their own. One of my all-time favorite albums is Kenny Loggins, Celebrate Me Home. Soyka’s house was, and is, a celebration, a gift from the universe. A tree-wrapped book containing our personal mythology. The landscape of our children’s youth.


Then

Someone recently told me that “Even when it’s easy, life is hard.” I agree. Still, the entire 35-year Soyka arc proved to me that magic is real. Reminded me to say my wishes out loud. To listen to the signs. In the early years in that house I bought this magnificent gunpowder painting from my soul brother and former studio mate, Typoe, whose career has exploded in the years since. It hung in the entrance of our Miami home, welcoming all who entered with a hint at the outcome of their visit. It now graces our walls in Costa Rica and is no longer an aspiration but an affirmation of the choices we have made to find our bliss. To prioritize physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellness. To feel "fine and blessed" in the words of our latest, incredibly inspiring Swan Dive Podcast guest, Dr. Scott Morris. Talk about prioritizing wellness. Morris earned a Masters in Divinity from Yale and an MD from Emory and has dedicated his entire life to providing quality, affordable health care for working, uninsured people and their families, helping hundreds of thousands of hard-working folks have their own happy endings!


Magic is real, my people! And we are the magicians.


Now


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Mar 27
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

I absolutely loved reading this! What a powerful message to all of us about what is truly Important! Xoxoxoxox

Judi Jacobs

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Mar 27
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Wonderful to read this and remember News Cafe in 1990. - I remember it well. You guys have had a magical life so far. Keep going! xoxo - Kate

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Mar 27
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Lovely!!!!

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Mar 27
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Stuart, You have expressed Your devotion to family and all the important things in life so beautifully.

I love you,

Mom

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Guest
Mar 26
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Dear Stuart Many years have past. You are in a class of very special people. Thank you for making my days so beautiful at the age of 91 plus. Ed Sirkin

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