Tony and Alina Gonzalez met as teenagers at a tiki bar in the Florida Keys, where their families both owned vacation homes. As they grew together and married, the couple dreamed of one day building a house near the water that would speak to their love of boating and the adventures they would certainly share.
During the next 20 years, the couple traveled the world—Europe, Asia, Africa—and garnered design ideas for their someday home along the way. So, when they ultimately purchased a waterfront lot in Miami, they had lots of images and ideas to show designer Michael Scigliano and architect and longtime friend Sergio R. Artigues, including 11 pages of sketches Tony had drawn up while on vacation. “The styles ranged from Mediterranean to Polynesian to contemporary,” says Artigues. “So we blended all of these styles into this residence, which gave them something very unique.”
Because the Gonzalezes wanted the interior spaces to flow into one another, the entire first floor is nearly devoid of interior walls. “Everything needed to be open,” says Artigues, who collaborated with business partner Emilio Cubero. “You can see into the family room from the library, not through the home but rather through the glass sliding doors that connect these rooms to the terraces, which wrap around the first floor in the shape of an L and are an extension of the interior spaces.” That seamless blending with the outdoors was important: “We had a little place in the Keys that we called the Love Shack,” Alina recalls. “It wasn’t super-fancy, but it was my husband’s decompression valve on the weekend. It had a kitchen outside and a big terrace, and we were always outside. We wanted that same feel in our new home.”
Tony and Alina both come from large, tight-knit Cuban families who often drop by, as do their friends. So during parties—which range from intimate gatherings to 200 guests and a live band—the glass doors can be pulled wide open, and guests can circulate inside and out. “They have the expansive terrace up above, which is divided into two distinct areas. One has a big bar, and there’s a more private seating area near the library,” Artigues explains. “Both of those spaces taper down individual stairs to opposite sides of the pool deck, where you can again entertain two different groups. You can also walk across the pool on floating steps, and another bar awaits farther down below on the lawn.”
The couple created vision boards for the interiors, as well, which Scigliano used to inspire his design plan: natural materials such as stone, glass mosaics, pebbles and woods that all followed a neutral palette. “I had a few quirky rules,” Tony says. “No gold fixtures. Nothing shiny. All the finishes would be brushed nickel, that kind of thing. I wanted everything to be earthy.” So Scigliano, with the help of his colleague Andrea Valle, set out to enhance the home’s earthy tropical vibe, taking cues from the owners’ travels, as well.
“They had vacationed in Bali and like to live an island lifestyle. We took the natural elements of that aesthetic and combined them with classic materials—the cold-rolled steel walls that conceal the pantry and powder room, for instance. They are a modern element, but the natural patina of the metal helps to keep the organic feel,” says Scigliano, who also designed the kitchen, bathrooms and millwork as part of his comprehensive interiors. For color, the couple’s art collection does the trick with pieces from South Africa and Prague, as well as paintings by the Greek artist Garsot, who has become a personal friend.
The furnishings are minimal, which allows each piece to be truly seen and provides a sense of calm. Most were custom-designed by Scigliano, acquired through local showrooms or even handmade for them by artisans across the country, including the black walnut dining table from Jeffrey Greene Design Studio in Pennsylvania. “Ochre’s Arctic Pear chandelier that hangs above complements the table nicely while also standing on its own design,” Scigliano says. The couple’s nine nephews and nieces can all bounce around on their expansive, heavy-duty sofa, which was designed by Scigliano and built by a friend. “It was important that our home felt like a place where people wouldn’t be scared to sit on the sofa because it’s too chichi,” Alina says.
Among their many parties, Tony and Alina host a cook-off, so the kitchen is outfitted with top-notch appliances and has enough space for several people to cook at once. To choose the countertop material, Scigliano flew to New Orleans with Alina, and she fell in love with Cristallo quartzite slabs they found there. “You could see the light in the warehouse shining through it, and I said, ‘Wow, that’s gorgeous,’” she remembers. “So we put LEDs under the stone, and it’s so beautiful lit up.”
Meanwhile, Tony spent more than a year-and-a-half designing the remote-controlled gas lanterns adorning the house with Solara Iron Doors & Lighting in Dallas. “They sent me prototypes, and I would change up details,” he says. “Then we decided to incorporate LEDs into them.” Solara named the fixture Maya—a nickname that the couple’s nephews and nieces use for Alina—and it’s become a top-selling lantern for the company.
Now living in their dream house on the water, the couple say that it’s everything they imagined, including the neighborhood, where Alina grew up. Her parents live just a mile away, and Tony’s parents are five houses down. “In the morning, I’ll go out to the terrace outside of our bedroom and greet the day,” Alina says. “I have my cup of coffee and enjoy the beauty of nature. You can’t ask for a better way to wake up than that.” And Tony agrees. “Every day, I feel like I’ve come home to a dream,” he says. “This house was born from our imagination and hard work, and we waited for 20 years to do it. It’s now our little slice of heaven.”