Vizcaya, one of Miami’s most-renowned domiciles with stunning gardens, presides over Biscayne Bay like a stately Venetian palazzo. It was there that designer Paul Chalfin rose to prominence in the early 20th century with his deft melding of European furniture styles from various centuries with ornate antiques and modern Renaissance pieces. It is no accident that Villa Louise, the Palm Island residence of designer Anil Kakar and his partner, Don Lawson, emulates Chalfin’s penchant for the eclectic. Albeit smaller than Vizcaya, the rooms are layered with an equally mindful mix of pieces like 18th-century French chandeliers, Swedish antiques, and Moroccan rugs, and the walls feature the same rich saturated colors that define the venerable Miami landmark. “I love Vizcaya,” says Kakar, who credits the building for his home’s inspiration. “It looks like it could be centuries-old, and has a sense of history that I tried to evoke in my own house.”
But while his predecessor started from the ground up creating a new structure, Kakar was faced with the daunting task of transforming a dilapidated 1930s house, yet, fortunately, it had “absolutely gorgeous bones.” To help reshape the space the owners turned to architect Jan Stanbury, who added a sun room next to the living room and upper-level master suite, extended the dining room by 8 feet to create a stronger connection with the water, and reworked the former maid quarters into an office/sitting room. Employing local artisans, the exterior stucco walls were repainted a more appropriate tone of salmon, the roof was topped with authentic Spanish tiles, Corinthian pillars were inserted in the loggia, and two fountains were covered in Tunisian tiles.
At this juncture, landscape designer Stanley Matz was tasked with creating gardens to match the old-world architecture. “The property was pretty run-down. After cleaning it up, we added sculpted podocarpus in the front to mimic Italian cypress trees, which don’t do well in humidity,” says Matz, who also introduced picnic roses and cone-shaped garcinia for a formal touch. In the courtyard, silver buttonwoods with gnarly twisted trunks give the illusion of Tuscan olive trees, and glazed terra-cotta pots overflow with ornamental citrus plants for a more relaxed look.
Inside, the arduous yet extremely rewarding undertaking of covering the walls with lime-based paint began. “It’s been used for centuries in Europe and you apply so many layers the walls never need to be repainted,” says Kakar of the process that yields the rich hues long associated with Italian buildings. “There’s an uneven look to the color that adds a sense of age.”
In the living room, where a mottled tawny backdrop meets French terra-cotta tiles, great care was taken to preserve the Dade County pine ceiling. “You can’t even get that kind of wood anymore and we must have sandblasted off 10 coats of paint,” says Kakar who suspended an 18th-century French chandelier from the rafters, and saved the existing fireplace with its original copper embellishments. Like many items throughout the house, the furnishings and antiques were unearthed during travels to often-exotic locales. “Everyone told us we would buy rugs in Morocco, so even though we had bare floors we promised we wouldn’t do what everyone else had done,” recalls Kakar of their attempt to avoid purchasing anything while visiting. “Of course, by the end of the trip we had bought several, including the one on the living room floor.”
Beams meant to mimic the wood of the living room ceiling were added to the expanded dining room, where Swedish antique side chairs and a settee covered in Belgian linen provide seating around a carved-wood table. “Sitting on a sofa at the table creates a more intimate dining experience,” says Kakar noting that the addition of an adjacent cabana also helped extend the entertaining space.
The ocher-toned walls shift to green in the office/sitting room where Kakar blended a 19th-century Belgian cabinet, contemporary mirrored cube tables, and a hide rug at one end of the long rectangular space, and an old French day bed and a chandelier fashioned from French wine barrels on the other. Meanwhile orange walls with a stenciled border permeate one of the guest rooms where the swag-printed drapes and gilded screen are meant to be reminiscent of a mini palazzo in the Floating City. “It’s Venice all the way,” Kakar says.
In the master bedroom, the robin’s-egg blue walls tie back to the water views, the antique bergÃ¨re chair is dressed in a “Chanel suit-style fabric,” and the Syrian mother-of-pearl chest is piled high with Murano glass. About his graceful Italian hideaway Kakar says, “When we get home at the end of the day, we want to be transported to another time and place. And when we are here, that’s just how it feels.”