There is, without doubt, a bit of an old soul in interior designer Bea Pila. How else would you explain a passion for vintage, timeworn patinas and a fancy for acrylic and midcentury modern; an understanding and equal reverence for Andrea Palladio and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe; and a love of such formidable designers as Sister Parish, Dorothy Draper and Mark Hampton? Add to that a penchant for vibrant palettes that feed off her Cuban heritage and one can see how new and trendy are definitely not on the designer’s go-to style list.
It’s no surprise, then, that all the homes in which Pila has lived have had some age—a fact that caused some trepidation when she and her architect-builder husband, Carlos Gonzalez-Ochoa, decided to build a new home from the ground up in Coconut Grove. “I have never lived in a brand-new home,” Pila says. “I grew up with thick cement and terrazzo floors, and my husband and I lived in an old gabled Spanish bungalow from 1926 and then a midcentury ranch.”
A trip to Tuscany with friends cemented the design of their home. “It’s very easy to be seduced by the beauty of Tuscany,” Pila says. “Walking through the olive groves and vineyards and then seeing all these original materials and elements really made a deep impression on us and primed our inspiration.” So, she took mental notes of the Venetian plaster, graceful arches and terra-cotta floors as examples for the type of ambience she and her husband wanted to recreate in their own home: a mix of architecture and materials that evoked the old yet with all the conveniences of present day.
Despite its nearly 5,000 square feet, the house has an intimacy that is apparent from the entry courtyard. “The lot is long and narrow,” says Gonzalez-Ochoa, who cites the home’s footprint situated on a north-south axis as an opportunity to maximize the side and backyards with landscaping for privacy. “The front garden is super charming and lush,” Pila adds. “When you walk into the space, with its stone fountain and brick paving, you are transported into another world.”
Inside is a surprisingly open plan, deftly defined by classical columns punctuating a central corridor that spills into adjacent spaces. “The extra square footage from the hallways is gathered and becomes part of the rooms,” says Gonzalez-Ochoa. Eleven-foot ceilings allow the rooms to breathe and live large, while Italian Noce travertine, which was purposely left unfilled with a distressed chiseled edge, covers the floors and continues to the outdoors, where Palladian arches frame a dreamy loggia.
When it came time for the furnishings, Pila, who proselytizes Mies’ “God in the details,” chose to forgo the architect’s less-is-more mantra. For the designer, more is more, and that means an evolving canvas, one packed with treasured acquisitions from travels, flea markets and thrift shops in an array of disparate collections. For example, an assemblage of porcelain Foo dogs that she has been collecting for 15 years, some of which are 70 years old, fill a cabinet in the living room, while an assortment of colorful handblown glass vessels take residence in the dining room. Also in the living room is a massive gallery wall that dominates a space behind the sofa. “It’s a hodgepodge,” Pila admits. “There’s a painting by my grandmother, etchings from an artist in the Keys, watercolors from Florence and pieces from thrift stores.”
For Pila, it’s all about layering—and celebrating the handcrafted. “I love things made by hand,” she says. “There is so much beauty in the artisanal, where things aren’t perfect—and yet they are.” She and her husband recently switched out their dining table, for instance, for one that pairs a simple but sizable 80-inch-square glass top over a rugged tree trunk from Costa Rica, and in the family room, the eye is drawn to the bold geometry on the half-circle stained-glass windows, an homage to the stained glass prevalent in homes in Cuba’s 19th century. The designer even snapped up an entire lot of 100 vintage suzanis from a local dealer in one of those impulse buys she rarely regrets—the richly patterned textiles now appear on upholstery, bedding and pillows throughout.
Indeed, color touches almost every room—from the bright malachite design in the dining room and Tuscan red frescoed walls in the master bedroom to furnishings of Pila’s own design, such as the family room’s modern acrylic lounge chair with a canary yellow cushion. In a recent kitchen update, however, the designer quieted cherry cabinets by painting them white with a satin sheen. A touch of modern lighting hung from stainless-steel cables is juxtaposed with the room’s rustic cedar timbers.
Pila credits growing up in a talented household as the stimulus that paved the path to her creativity: Her grandmother was an artist, her father and grandfather owned a glass, glazing and framing company, and her mother, she says, “just had amazingly good taste.” Even daughter Gabi is an accomplished designer who has collaborated on furniture collections with her mom. Fortunately, the whole family is on the same design page, with Gonzalez-Ochoa approving and admiring his wife’s eclectic, albeit sometimes flamboyant, touches. “Some people say I’m ahead of the trends, but I call it being connected to the design universe,” Pila says. “Design has the ability to influence the soul and elevate us to another level, and that’s what I wanted to do for my own home.”