It wasn’t so much the house itself that caught a Miami couple’s eye when they purchased it but rather the property’s enormous oak trees, staghorn plants and lush foliage. As it turns out, it’s a good thing they were more attached to the greenery. When interior designer Bea Pila presented the couple with her plan for the home’s redesign, she and the rest of the team made a particularly bold suggestion: Tear the 1960s residence down to its foundation.
“At first I thought, ‘Oh no, this is not going to work out,’ ” the wife admits. “But what came out of her mouth next was an incredible vision she got just from listening to us and getting to know how our family dynamics worked. It took about an hour for us to call her back and hire her.”
Pila’s approach to interior design is somewhat unorthodox. Following a self-developed method she calls Design Enlightenment, she begins each project with something akin to a therapy session with the clients. Using seven core tenets, the interior designer then delves far beyond a person’s aesthetic preferences. “I ask them what they love besides just a certain style, because I believe style is a different approach,” she explains. “We want to get down first into the feeling of what we’re talking about. Tell me how you want to feel, and then we’ll create from there.”
Once she had an understanding of how this couple and their three teenaged children live, Pila knew the house’s original floor plan wouldn’t work for them. The living, dining and family rooms and kitchen were all disconnected to the point that many of the spaces wouldn’t get much use. “My philosophy is there shouldn’t be spaces we abandon or neglect,” the interior designer says. “They should all be activated by the people who live in them.” And so general contractor Emilio Mascaro knocked most of the structure down, retaining the home’s footprint. “Even though it was technically a remodeling,” he says, “what was left of the house after we did the demolition was very little—just three or four walls.”
To create more usable space within the existing foundation, the team—which included architect Mike Sardinas, who has since joined Bermello Ajamil & Partners—raised the ceilings by 2 feet and connected the living and dining areas. In the original home, a fireplace divided the kitchen from the living room. The group switched the fireplace to the opposite side, then mimicked the existing painted brick for the dining area, outfitted with a banquette, to anchor the room. And by removing the walls to the family room, Pila created a piano lounge and bar—a longtime dream of the husband—with a library that opens to the living-dining area.
Using the set of French doors from the original home, the interior designer connected the new living area with the terrace, extending the transoms upward to account for the higher ceilings and to let in more sunlight. Additional windows allow for views of the oak trees from within the home. “It’s almost as if they’re part of the inside of the house,” the wife says.
For the reworked interiors, the owners favored a breezy, Hamptons vibe. Pila combined exposed beams in spaces such as the lounge, a tongue-and-groove pitched ceiling in the living area and detailed millwork, informal finishes and approachable textures throughout to bring a relaxed, coastal ambience. “I didn’t want anything to feel untouchable,” she says, emphasizing the use of more organic materials such as the living area’s sisal rug and the kitchen’s wicker barstools. “For example, the living area coffee table is distressed already. So if you put your feet up, you’re not going to worry you’ve damaged it.”
The seaside aesthetic also meant a lot of blue, seen on elements such as the foyer rug, living area armchairs and window shades in the master bedroom. “It’s such a beautiful, tonal, livable color, and we definitely wanted different variations of it,” Pila says. “I used the darker navy blue silk wallpaper in the library to give it that more masculine feel. I love colors like that—they make a space feel very cozy, even though it’s very open and big.”
Outside, the majestic oak trees dictated much of the exterior spaces, which posed a creative challenge for landscape architect Orlando Comas. “We had to work around the existing large trees in order to protect and save them,” he explains. Comas focused on injecting the rest of the garden with a more tropical vibe through plants such as monstera, bird of paradise and wild coffee.
A year and a half after moving into the home, the wife says the first thing she still does each morning is open all the windows to admire the garden. And she has not a single regret about trusting Pila’s vision from the beginning. “Bea took what we saw as potential in this house and expanded beyond our expectation,” she says. “She’s really in tune. I’ve seen other homes she has worked on, and they’re not like mine at all—she really does pick up on what the owner envisions.”