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Smith, James Merrick (1919-2013) | University of Miami Finding Aids

Name: Smith, James Merrick (1919-2013)

Historical Note:

Interior designer James Merrick Smith was born in St. Joseph, Louisiana in 1919. He moved to Miami in 1947. From the outset he conceived design tableaus in a pavilion adjacent to his Coconut Grove studio to showcase to the public what modern design was all about. Throughout the years, he helped Miami shed its Spanish Colonial style for a more modern image. Over that time of involvement, he gained the trust of hundreds of clients and high-profile individuals who welcomed him into their homes, corporate establishments and lives.

James Merrick Smith was well-known for his contributions to the restoration and preservation of  Vizcaya – a now century old Italian villa on Biscayne Bay created for James Deering by Paul Chalfin, Francis Burrall Hoffman, Jr. and Diego Suarez - which is now open to the public as a decorative arts museum. He was a charter member and past president of the Vizcayans.

James Merrick Smith was also a consultant for The Florida Governor’s mansion and The  White House. His contribution to Miami extended beyond just the scope of design. From his passion for the arts and education, to being a founding member of the Vizcayans, the Museum of Science, Grove House and charter member of the Metropolitan Dade County Council of Arts and Sciences, he has had an unforgettable impact on the culture of Miami. Hal Birchfield would share in many of these civic and professional ventures.

On August 28th 1970, James Merrick Smith and Hal Birchfield would meet at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco at the national conference of the American Institute of Interior Designers (A.I.D.). Hal Birchfield had a degree in architecture and was in graduate school working on a degree in design, when asked by the Florida Chapter of the American Institute of Interior Designers (A.I.D.) to serve on the first National Student Council of A.I.D. James Merrick Smith was the past national president of A.I.D. and the founder of the Student Council. And thus would begin a long and poignant relationship both professional and personal for the ensuing forty-four years. James Merrick Smith and Hal Birchfield were married in Rye, Westchester County, New York on October 11th, 2012 by Reverend Donald Whitman Poole.

James Merrick Smith was one of the founders and a Fellow of the American Society of Interior Designers, (A.S.I.D.) and he served as president of the predecessor organization American Institute of Interior Designers (A.I.D.) from 1966 to 1969. In 1987 James Merrick Smith was named “Designer of Distinction” by the A.S.I.D. during the summer conference in Toronto. The firm’s long list of accolades include winning residential and contract design competitions, the AID/V’Soske competition, the ASID/Diller competition, and the ASID/National Association of Mirror Manufacturers competition among many other others.

The profession would bestow fellowship on James Merrick Smith in 1962 and Hal Birchfield would receive fellowship in 1986. Both were in their early 40’s at the time of achieving this highest honor of their profession. Their office was thought to be the only design firm in the country where both principles were fellows of the American Society of Interior Designers.

One spring evening in 1986, after speaking with a friend who had just returned from China, there came the remark “sometime, we have to do that” and then the realization, with the vast difference in our ages (26 years) that “sometime” is now! And now, it would be. We in the ensuing days of our lives would include odysseys that only dreams are made of. We would travel around the world two times. Go to all seven continents and have the exciting experience of visiting over ninety countries. Yes, the time to live life, is now!

The design firm of James Merrick Smith and Hal Birchfield was always located in Coconut Grove for its  60 year history in the residential and commercial sectors of work. Geographic locations for projects would range from Beverly Hills, the Gold Coast of Chicago, New York, Boston, both coasts of Florida, the Caribbean and Costa Rica. The office had a most notable residential client roster and corporate clients that included Chase Manhattan Bank, City National Bank, Bacardi, The Miami Herald and Playboy. It was a company policy to never solicit work. All endeavors walked through the door from endorsement!

Upon the announcement of the closing of the office a longtime friend and professor at the University of Miami stated, “it was one hell of a run”. Yes, in fact “it was one hell of a run” and we are very grateful for that run. We/I certainly hope you find points of interest in our lives, work and accomplishments within the files of this collection here at the University of Miami. And we/I hope you enjoy the “run” as much as we did.


James Merrick Smith, F.A.S.I.D.                                         Hal F.B. Birchfield, F.A.S.I.D.

1919 – 2013                                                                     1945 -

A post script - - And the struggle for a richer life for all would go on. There would be efforts by governmental powers to discriminate against the marriage of James Merrick Smith and Hal Birchfield with regard to Social Security survival benefits, the rights of marriage and homestead of our domicile and even the right of the survivor to be named as “spouse” on the death certificate of the person who has passed away. There will never be a way to properly thank the efforts of our dear friends Elaine and St Julien Rosemond, Ruth Shack,   Tara Borelli of Lambda Legal (Atlanta), Karen Loewy of Lambda Legal (New York), and David Draigh of White & Case (Miami) and all the other fine cohorts for their efforts to correct these injustices for not only us, but for all Americans!

A post, post script - - - On October 22, 2015, Miami-Dade County reversed its stand and regranted homestead to Hal Birchfield. A matter that would have been given to any other married couple automatically.

The above remarks scripted by Hal Birchfield.

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