It started as a simple decorate and paint job. The new owners of a Coral Gables house just steps from the water wanted to freshen things up, so they brought in interior designer Vincenzo F. Avanzato for a meeting. He walked through the Mediterranean-style residence, chatted with the couple in French and Italian, asked questions—and listened. Striking a chord with the homeowners, they were off and running with an extensive renovation instead.
Bringing light into the interiors topped the early to-do list. “The windows were covered in wrought iron, and no light penetrated the house,” explains Avanzato. “Our first objective was to get rid of it. That enabled us to see more clearly.” An antique Neapolitan door he discovered inspired both the home’s entry door and the plan for the redesigned balustrade, keeping an element of decorative ironwork to respect the traditional architecture but lightening up its effect to make it feel more modern.
Then there were the interiors themselves. Avanzato rethought some spaces, including the voluminous foyer. To bring it down to a human scale, he devised a cozy seating area in one corner. He opened the archway into the adjacent living room (extending the columns and straightening the curve) to enhance the flow between the spaces. The same creamy-hued plaster appears in both—on one living room wall and as wainscoting in the foyer—further cementing their connection.
For the furnishings, Avanzato says, “I took them on a tour to see what they liked, and it actually exposed what they didn’t like.” He discovered that a strictly contemporary look was out—but so too were spaces dominated by antiques. Instead, in keeping with the clients’ Continental heritage, the interiors reflect, he says, “European tendencies but done with a very young and vibrant taste.” In practice, it means clean-lined tables and case pieces that mix comfortably with the softer profiles of upholstered chairs and sofas. Nothing is stuffy nor is it harsh.
Color, too, tempers the balance between contemporary and traditional. “They wanted the house to be happy, welcoming. It was not meant to be drab and certainly not meant to be dark,” Avanzato says. “I selected Mediterranean colors like pinks and lavenders. They’re not supposed to be strong and saturated.” The hues, in the fabrics and in the painted touches, such as the soft blue on the library’s cabinetry, liven things up rather than overpower and recall Florida sunsets.
Avanzato, who worked with architect Adan Fons to execute permits and construction documents, brought in contractor Lawrence P. Cook to implement what were initially cosmetic changes. As the scope of the project grew, Cook’s role expanded along with it. “One thing led to another,” the builder explains. “It was a matter of seeing how the home would be used.” For example, it became clear that extra guest space would be needed, so Cook and his team executed a second-floor addition under Avanzato’s direction. Another unforeseen wrinkle was the master bathroom floor, which Cook had to shore up to support the weight of the freestanding stone tub.
Avanzato also turned his attention to the gardens—or, more accurately, what would become the gardens since, he says, “they were nonexistent,” not to mention paved in concrete. With the help of landscape designer Enrique Gomez from Ego Growers, he kept things simple, conjuring up areas of interest throughout using plantings and hardscape, rather than making one vast open space. From the rear terrace, Avanzato designed a low-profile stair that now leads to a sunken garden with seating. There’s a gazebo, and the couple’s children have their own outdoor dining area, covered with pampas grass and dotted with shells.
For Avanzato, the Coral Gables house followed a similar trajectory as many of his other projects. “I don’t have a preconceived idea when I walk in,” he says. “It starts as a seed that is planted. As it’s growing, you make changes accordingly. You prune the plant, and new buds grow. If you take the time to nurture it, then it blooms.”