Amidst the pulsing neon lights of modern-day Miami, it’s easy to forget the area’s natural past, when expansive wetlands weaved undisturbed between island forests of towering hardwoods.
So when Carlos A. Guajardo and Daniela Garza discovered a 1.67-acre site with a native hammock of 47 mature oak trees, some older than 100 years, they knew they had something truly precious. To honor this preserved haven, they commissioned architects Carlos Prio-Touzet and Jacqueline Gonzalez Touzet to create a family residence that feels cradled by the grove. “This is truly a house that was designed with the idea that the trees were here first,” Gonzalez Touzet says. “We constantly tweaked it so the home could nestle in the oak hammock and look like it has been there forever.”
The streamlined, orthogonal structure never rises above the canopy. A tree survey was a critical starting point for positioning the house on the site and establishing view corridors, requiring only one specimen to be relocated and another rotated in its place. “We staged a lot of our work carefully around the trees, avoiding any heavy equipment near the trunks and root structures,” notes general contractor Oscar Hidalgo, who worked with general contractor Jorge Garcia.
Landscape architect Vincent Filigenzi echoed the same respect. “The architecture of the residence was almost surgically inserted, with a light footprint on the land,” he says. “This approach was applied to this site as well. It was only right that the perimeter site walls become an extension of the architecture.” Long angled plant beds close to the home are neat and sleek, then transition to the oaks with sculptural islands and drifts of Fakahatchee and gamma grasses. “The majestic oak canopy is one of my favorite features of the design because it creates an awe-inspiring, cathedral-like experience,” Filigenzi says. Shade-loving plants with dramatic plants with dramatic foliage accents, like ruffled fan and gum palms, border the property, offering privacy.
Among this lushness, the architects oriented the structure “so the views from each room focus on specific trees in the landscape,” Prio-Touzet says. Aligning living spaces around the outdoors also helped them modulate how the family experiences natural light. For example, the cantilevered, second-floor master bedroom seemingly floats among the trees, so morning sunshine is diffused softly through the leaves. Spaces like the kitchen and smaller dining area were made to overlook “some of the more beautiful trees with great branch qualities, so they can enjoy nice shadow play,” Prio-Touzet says. And operable glass walls intertwine throughout the façade’s solid volumes, carving out long vistas of rich greenery. “The lights are seldom turned on all day,” he adds, “because these rooms open to the outside, picking up all the bounced light.”
Framing views of the landscape while honoring the husband’s love of gray, the architects brought the exterior walls’ smoky flame-finished granite to the inside of the house, pairing it with pale gray marble flooring and warm wood ceiling paneling. These materials accentuate the clients’ contemporary Asian and South American paintings and sculptures, which designers Michael Abrams and Gina Valenti helped the owners place throughout the home. Artwork and nature intersect in a bright, generous hallway, which boasts a gallery-like feel thanks to floor-to-ceiling glass and a pair of minimalist benches.
Abrams, an architect by training, who has known the family for 15 years and worked with them on two previous homes, says, “My first response as a designer is to embrace the architecture.” He responded to the structure’s simplicity with clean-lined furnishings and minimal window treatments to defer to the views. “We kept a lot of the major pieces in timeless neutrals and added pops of color through pillows and accents to allow the artwork to shine,” the designer says. “The rugs became our springboard as we developed palettes for each room.” Red, yellow and green pillows adorn sofas, and spaces like the soft blue-gray master bedroom impart a sense of tranquility.
This look balances elements the Touzets designed, including a jewel-box bar recessed into a wall of anthracite-stained white oak and slabs of basaltina. The feature is mirrored by a modular cabinet constructed of dark oak and thin bars of oxidized bronze that displays the husband’s extensive collection of antique chess pieces.
The accumulation of such subtle details underscores the home’s sensitive statement, delicately floating among the trees, never overwhelming the landscape. It’s why the family has fondly dubbed their new house La Escondida, or “the hidden one”—a quiet piece of Miami’s rare wilderness to call their own.