Not too long ago, an abandoned parking lot on Hibiscus Island commanded spectacular views of Miami’s downtown skyline and Biscayne Bay, which struck builder Todd M. Glaser as a rare find—an opportunity, if you will—rather than a waste of space. Convincing his client Cynthia Rodriguez to build her family home there wasn’t a hard sell. “He said if I didn’t move forward, he was going to!” says Cynthia of Glaser’s real estate ultimatum.
Cynthia commissioned designers Carola Pimentel and Andrea Maenz and architect Ralph Choeff, whose firm was then known as Ralph Choeff Architect P.A., to create the Spanish Colonial home of her dreams: The classic Mediterranean style triggered memories of rustic seaside dwellings in Greece, where she spent childhood summers, and the homeowner sought to recreate that nostalgic experience—this time with a contemporary West Coast spin—for her young daughters, Natasha and Ella.
“Cynthia wanted a modern residence, but not too modern,” says Choeff, who was also guided by his client’s fondness for what she describes as “the flawless feel of a California-modern home”—think crisp lines and lots of glass to capture sunlight—when he was drawing up blueprints for the waterfront property.
White stucco walls and dark window mullions, doorframes and roof tiles satisfy the Mediterranean aesthetic while expansive glass at the rear of the house not only capitalizes on the aforementioned vistas, but also fulfills Cynthia’s requirements. To prevent the architecture from reading too contemporary, the homeowner made a seemingly random request of Choeff. “I wanted him to design pitched roofs because, to me, they add a bit of traditional character and coziness,” she says. Lush greenery, thanks to landscape designer Nick Dietel, helps too, cradling the home in tropical warmth.
Inside, Pimentel and Maenz worked with Choeff to configure the spaces with the axioms of nesting in mind: functionality and comfort. “As a mother, these were her primary motives,” says Pimentel. “Cynthia wanted the security of knowing that she wasn’t far from the girls, no matter where they were in the house.”
For instance, the family room—bedecked with a vibrantly kaleidoscopic double-pile rug, glass coffee table-turned-crafts depot for pint-sized artists, and an oversize sectional for maximum comfort while watching movies—shares a large space with the sleek kitchen, which exhibits a more grown-up, contemporary vibe with quartz countertops, melamine cabinets and a stove centrally positioned on the island. “The openness of my home truly gives me the ability to relax,” says Cynthia. “I can cook, work, entertain and still keep an eye on the kids.”
Togetherness is also an easy feat in the heart of the home, a double-height great room that radiates sophistication in part because of its simple black-and-white color palette, standout geometrical motifs and statement-making galvanized-steel fireplace, an architectural feature that doubles as a partial divider between the living and dining rooms. Additionally, the lofty space’s south-facing wall of glass overlooks the pool area and takes advantage of Florida’s abundant sunshine. In lieu of a traditional foyer, Cynthia’s treasured white-lacquered grand piano acts as the unofficial welcoming committee, setting the tone for the cosmopolitan décor as soon as the front doors open.
Creating a truly individualized tableau with a client’s personal pieces is in full effect here. Besides the piano, Pimentel and Maenz layered in the homeowner’s existing furniture (the guest bedroom trappings, for example) and prized objects of the shiny, pretty variety (glass decanters and gemlike Venetian mirrors). “They add more depth to the design by alluding to Cynthia’s heritage,” says Maenz of a technique that at first characterized the architecture but now distinguishes the entire residence. “The house wants to be modern,” says Pimentel. “But it feels much too personal.”