After living in New York for years, designer Michael La Rocca decided to pack up his belongings and head south. Though he still has an office in Manhattan, when he’s not working or traveling, he’s likely to be found enjoying the sunny streets of South Florida. “New York is a fabulous city, but I needed a divergence,” he says. “Miami is slower and more relaxed, but also very vital; I love the cultural presence here.”
He also loves a challenge: the designer fell for a French-inspired fixer-upper in Coral Gables and jumped at the chance to make it his own. “Everything was a depressing gray color, and it needed updating,” he says. “But I was awed by the space in the living room, and the flow of the house was so wonderful that I immediately fell in love.”
Built in the early 1980s, the one-bedroom home was also unexpectedly spacious, with two master bathrooms, a loft, and a separate guesthouse that offered another bedroom and bath. It possessed a combination of modern and traditional architectural features that very much appealed to La Rocca and informed the way in which he approached the interiors. “The challenge was to blend the things I already had and have them fit into a totally different environment,” he says. “I didn’t want the house to look New York or Florida; I just wanted it to look comfortable.”
Graciela Ponce de Leon, of PDL Studio, supervised the remodel, which included renovations to the bathrooms, and she says La Rocca more than achieved his goal. “From the outside of the house, you can’t imagine what you’ll see when you open the door,” she says. “It’s glamorous but also very cozy and welcoming, so you never want to leave.” Taking his cues from the contrasting architectural elements, La Rocca furnished the house by mixing styles and centuries and treasures gathered from his world travels, as well as new pieces he selected for this space. The result is a thoughtfully collected home steeped in history.
In the living room, a two-story cathedral ceiling with exposed cypress beams commands attention, but La Rocca filled the space beneath it with an equal amount of interest and intrigue. For example, the carved walnut table he found 25 years ago in New York that follows him everywhere; the lacquered-and-gilded mirror he found in Paris for a client but eventually bought back for himself; the carved wooden Buddha he brought back from Bangkok; and the lanterns he spotted in Morocco and loved so much that he commissioned a second pair—one set flanks the fireplace, while the other hangs in the upstairs loft.
La Rocca designed the dining room—his favorite place in the house— to be an intimate, multipurpose spot where he could work, unwind and entertain. The walls were painted a warm chocolate brown and custom bookshelves were built to hold his personal library. French doors that lead out to the refurbished garden replace the original single-pane glass doors for added interest and texture. “I didn’t want a stagnant room with only a table and chairs,” La Rocca says.
The designer also incorporated cherished artwork throughout, including a pair of charcoal drawings given to La Rocca by New York artist and friend Paul Schmitt. “What excites me is the melding of all of these pieces: old and new, items found near and far, objects that have a slight patina on them,” says the designer. “Collections are personal—they offer insight into someone’s life.”
Although La Rocca’s life is now firmly planted down South, he has no plans to slow down his globe-trotting, his collecting, or his frequent visits to his former hometown. “When I go to New York now, I have these electric-charged two weeks where I see friends and family, go to the opera and the theater, and try new restaurants—I get my fix and reconnect with my roots,” he says. “Then I come back home to Miami and relax.”