Mies van der Rohe, the architect who proclaimed “God is in the details,” would have adored Bea Pila.
Pila is the doyenne of details — in her Coconut Grove home and in the homes of clients through her B. Pila Design Studio.
Unlike rooms some designers create that have the “nobody lives here” look, she designs spaces that reflect the personality and interests of their owners.
“She is extremely detail-oriented and that’s what you want in a designer,” said Ivonne Pino, lead designer at Mia Cucina, a distributor of Italian kitchens, doors, closets and furniture with showrooms in Aventura and Coral Gables.
“She is able to work with your space. She knows how to make it look right. Anybody can pick out furniture and make it look OK. She has an eye for architecture. Her eye is amazing. She sees details. That is what makes a house special.”
The eye for detail is evident throughout Pila’s Coconut Grove home, which she and Carlos Gonzales, her architect/builder husband, created to resemble a Tuscan villa.
“I lived all my life in homes that were not brand new and was terrified of living in a brand new home,” she said.
Pila was inspired to install Noce travertine tile flooring from Italy after a trip to Tuscany. She installed it inside the house and outside on the loggia and patio to “age” her new home.
Her design also reflects her family’s Cuban heritage. She applied colorful stained glass, popular in homes of the wealthy in 19th century Cuba, to the inside of fan-shaped hurricane windows in the family room.
Furnishings reflect her desire to make a home look as if it came together over time. She scoured thrift shops, antique stores and garage sales as well as designer showrooms. Her art collection comes from Cuba, Honduras and her artist grandmother. Crosses, including one her grandmother made out of 33 clothespins, frame a doorway on the second floor. Colorful art glass from mid-century to the 1970s sits atop a vintage bar from the 1950s. McCoy pottery is arranged in a breakfront from the 1940s. And Chinese foo dogs fill a cabinet from the 1940s that she found in a thrift store.
“I guess I’m an old soul,” she said, sitting on a sofa under a gallery wall of paintings. She may consider herself an old soul, but her personal style is au courant. She was wearing a Diane von Furstenberg classic wrap dress and Christian Louboutin platform stilettos.
Pila’s style has earned her several Design Excellence and Designer of the Year awards from the American Society of Interior Designers and the International Design Guild. Her work has been published in several magazines including Luxe, City & Shore, Casa & Estilo, Florida Design and Design Times, and she has appeared on HGTV and the DIY networks.
Recently she introduced the Suzani Collection to her clients and to her 5,000-square-foot Artistic Lifestyle showroom in Coconut Grove. Suzanis, which have been experiencing a revival in design the past few years, are colorful, hand-embroidered textiles created by mother and daughter teams in Uzbekistan. Pila has taken these fabrics and used them to upholster vintage finds — ranging from a Chippendale wingback chair from the early 1900s to a mid-century swivel chair.
“These vibrant colorful textiles really spoke to me and inspired a unique furniture collection that remains a passionate, creative adventure for me,” she said. “Each piece is like art in that it is not meant to be matched, but spotlighted within a space. They really work with any style — modern, transitional or even traditional.”
Pila repurposed a mid-century swivel chair and ottoman with Suzanis in her living room. She mixed it with a black leather Eames daybed draped with a fabric throw to soften the hard edges, and vintage chairs were recovered with a chenille seat and 1940s print fabric from Josef Frank on the backs. She added a new table lamp with a base of silver branches.
In the great room, she hung a bright pink feather hat from the Amazon over the flat screen TV, which sits on a campaign-style chest made in Vietnam. A round African table carved from one piece of wood serves a side table. On either side of the chest are mid-century bar stools covered with 1950s bark fabric she found while bicycling in Key West.
“I found a way to strap the roll of fabric on my bike,” she said. “I had to have it. It was perfect.”
It is her ability to mix and to listen that has attracted clients such as Carleen and Brian Smith. Pila and her architect/builder husband worked together to recreate the Smiths’ 1950s South Gables waterfront home, taking it down to the four walls. The look is Zen-like with warm wood, stone and water elements.
“The two of them working together was amazing,” Carleen Smith says. “She influenced his design to create a functional and beautiful space. It was customized to our personal tastes. She works a lot with your vision and takes it to another level. She doesn’t tell you what it should be. She works with you so that what you like is brought out. I am in real estate and I can’t stand it when homes look like they have been staged. She can layer a home in a way that it makes it look very comfortable.”
Another client, Maria Machado, said she hired Pila to decorate her newly constructed Coral Gables home that is classic French outside and modern with a classic feel inside. The color palette is soft colors and the house has a restful, spa feeling. Nothing is too trendy.
“No joke — from the first moment I sat with them she understood me,” she said. “She was able to put forth what I was envisioning. She is an excellent designer and a fun person. We have gone to dinner and become friends through it all.”
Fellow designer Magita Rojas of Magita Designs in Miami, who has known Pila for 12 years, called Pila’s designs the polar opposite of a furniture showroom.
“Her designs are always inspiring and always pushing forward,” she said. “She is always coming up with something new. She is never stale. She has an ability to pull a myriad of styles together. No matter what style she does, she has flair and a mixture of things that is unique.”
Pila, a member of the American Society of Interior Designers, has an associate degree in interior design from Miami-Dade Community College. She gets her inspiration from architects such as Robert Stern and Andrea Palladio and designers such as Barbara Barry, Philippe Starck and Dorothy Draper.
“Timeless is the word that defines me most,” she said. “The work I did 20 years ago still stands the test of time. My ultimate goal is to create a classic piece of furniture.” (One of her designs, a vanity with interchangeable fronts may be that classic. It has lasted a decade thus far.)
Her daughter, Gabby, is following her design path and is studying at Parsons New School of Design in New York City so she can learn a different point of view than what Pila described as “copycat design” found in Miami.
“I told her that I want her to follow the path I was not able to follow,” she said. “I fell in love and married at 18, had a son at 19, opened a business at 20 and remarried at 22. I was in survival mode and did what I needed to do. My daughter is not going to suffer. I want her to find her own voice. It has taken me 47 years to speak my own voice through my store. She shouldn’t have to wait that long.”
Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub can be reached at email@example.com.