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.