Entering Joseph Fava’s apartment on the 12th floor of the Flamingo in South Beach is like stepping into the pages of Architectural Digest. His choices reflect impeccable taste, a respect for family treasures and a penchant for mixing old and new.
“I wanted this apartment to be easy on the eye,” he says. “I work with clients and contractors all day, and I needed a restful place.”
He succeeded. The gray walls support the design, and the color is repeated in the contemporary sofa bed and a pair of vintage Saporiti chairs. These contemporary pieces mix perfectly with two of his grandmother’s antique chairs (one in a cream and brown animal print and one in plain brown velvet), two lamps he found at the Salon de Mobile in Paris, a new striped carpet from Stark and a Hollywood Glam mirrored console.
It’s no wonder Fava received the Rising Star of Design Award from the Design Center of the Americas in Dania Beach and the Ornare Miami Taste Maker Award. This former Baltimorean also has earned the respect of clients as well as design trade sources for his creativity and attention to detail.
“He is very talented and has a lot of energy,” says Jill Sauer, manager of the Jerry Pair showroom in Hollywood. “He is not afraid to think outside the box. He really listens to his clients, and comes up with very sophisticated but livable interiors. They love his work. He is a joy to work with.”
Fava designed a new home in Ruxton, Maryland, and one in Vero Beach for Mary Carol Alderman and her husband, Phil Hoag. He is working on the design of Nalley Fresh, their salad and wrap restaurant franchise in Maryland.
“Joe has been the most professional, artistic, talented designer that I know,” Alderman says. “He is not pretentious. He is not exhausting. He is always a pleasure to be around.”
Alderman gave him a request that could baffle a lesser designer: Design the home around two Jay Strongwater frames decorated with corals and turquoise.
“I told him I wanted my home on the water to look like them,” she says. “All I did was give him the frames, and he made everything in my home full of love and full of life. He is brilliant. He created the most awesome feeling. I love coming home.”
Although Fava is known to respect a client’s taste, he also knows when to keep them from making a mistake. Just ask Lily Saenz, who moved from Miami to Jupiter Island with her husband, Pierre Rogers. She asked Fava to design her new home with inspiration from a movie set. He fulfilled her wish, but he also restrained her from a purchase.
Saenz was shopping in St. Augustine when she found what she thought was the perfect art for her balcony. It featured a large glass alligator with a shell of oxidized bronze. She emailed him the picture to get this opinion.
Fava’s answer: “NO!”
She repeated her plea. “You bring that alligator into the house and I will make shoes and a belt out of it,” he wrote back.
“I answered, ‘Yes, whatever you say,’ ” Saenz says. “That was the relationship. Thanks to Joe, the apartment was featured in Florida Design magazine.”
Creativity is not his only asset. He credits his dad, who owned the G. Fava Fruit Co. and Savia restaurant in Baltimore, for his business acumen.
Fava always had design in his DNA. As a boy, he was constantly redecorating his room and commenting on furniture and art. He had to take a few detours on his way to owning his own firm, getting his Florida designer license and becoming a member of the American Society of Interior Designers.
Although he wanted to study architecture at the University of Miami, his dad talked him into studying accounting because, he said, it was a more reliable business when the economy tanks. Fava’s heart and aptitude weren’t in accounting, and he changed his major to marketing.
He returned to Baltimore and worked for the fruit company for five years from 11 p.m. to noon the next day, receiving produce and selling to supermarkets and restaurants. He says the hours made him a walking zombie and the weather was too cold, so in 1996 he moved to Florida to study design at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. After working with Steve Hefner at Design Works for five years, he opened his own firm, Fava Design Group, in Miami. His brother-in-law hired him for his first solo project — the design of a 40,000-square-foot corporate office for Radiant Oil in Tampa.
“One of the difficulties in running a design firm is you have to wear many hats,” Fava says. “You have to land projects, meet with clients, shop, run the office, manage projects, staff, payroll and rent. One of the reasons I have succeeded in business is because of my four-year business degree and working for my dad, where I learned logistics.”
His business savvy is not lost on vendors such as Joy Eber, owner of Inside/Out, with showrooms in the Miami Design District and DCOTA in Dania Beach.
“Joe actually has the gift of knowing more about business than most designers do,” Eber says. “When he issues a purchase order, he is very detailed, very precise and very exact. He is not your average designer. He wants to know exactly how the furniture is made, put together and what maintenance is required. He listens and leads. He doesn’t dictate.”
Contractor Alain Garreaud of AFG Construction in Boca Raton agrees.
“I like working with Joe because he is very detailed and his drawings are very specific,” he says. “His jobs are always fresh and different. They are challenging with new materials and new ideas that make it fun.”
Shepard and Sally Bosch Osherow hired Fava to design an 11,000-square-foot oceanfront penthouse in Highland Beach in Palm Beach County.
“He walked me through it every step of the way,” she says. “We wanted to surround ourselves with views of the Atlantic and Intracoastal. Joe didn’t want anything to obstruct the view. He was great working with our architect in preconstruction. He made it a residence in the sky down to every detail. I wouldn’t hesitate to use him again. Joe cares and wants the client to be happy. I would not mind recommending him to anyone. He can do any look.”
Fava agrees that he can design from classic to contemporary. He has learned to appreciate each style, and sees merit in them all. Each home he creates is different. His inspiration comes from design icons such as Dorothy Draper, Carleton Varney and Mario Buatta.
“I don’t know what my style is,” he says. “My mood changes. Your life changes and your needs change. Everything evolves.”
Fava does more than work for clients with high-end projects. He is the design chair for Kid Sanctuary Campus, a charity that is building homes for abused, neglected and abandoned children on five acres in West Palm Beach. He has recruited 15 designers to donate their time and gather free furnishings from their contacts such as Stark, Roma Fabrics and Kravet.
This is the second year Fava is helping the charity, according to Connie Frankino, president of Kid Sanctuary Campus. He designed the living room and the patio for the first home last year. Six girls live in the home with house parents.
“Joe is extremely generous with us, and is a very fine man,” she says. “The patio he designed is one of their favorite places to be. This house looks like the day they moved in. It gives the girls self-worth and self-esteem.”
Fava says the project is rewarding because the positive effects can be seen immediately.
“All the children came from a horrible situation,” he says. “What is amazing to us is not only are they resilient but they put their best foot forward. The designers used their skills and talents to help people who never realistically would hire a designer. Imagine the changes that could be made in our society if everyone did something like this.”
Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.