The skies may be cloudy, but the vibe couldn’t be sunnier at Villa Allegra, the modernist Miami home of architect Chad Oppenheim and his young family.
Ilona, Oppenheim’s Swiss-born wife, prepares homemade granola in the flower-filled kitchen while 6-year-old son Hendrix and 3-year-old daughter Liloo shriek with delight in the backyard.
Despite looming rain, the kids teeter atop surfboards in the 60-foot swimming pool as towering coconut palms sway in a tropical breeze.
“It’s hard to believe that you can actually live in this kind of tranquility in such an urban setting,” says Cornell-trained Oppenheim, the founder of Oppenheim Architecture + Design and a professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. For the Oppenheims, however, living is clearly believing.
Known for designing Miami luxury condos and swank projects for celebs like Pharrell Williams and director Michael Bay, Oppenheim has found in Villa Allegra an ideal repository for his range of influences and interests. The loftlike space is elegant enough to display pricey works of blue-chip art, yet its relaxed air invites its occupants “to skateboard and ride bikes through the home,” Oppenheim confides.
“One year we even rode ponies in the living room for Liloo’s birthday when it was raining outside.”
Set behind a cypress wood gate and spread over 5,700 square feet, Villa Allegra has been a work in progress since Ilona, 37, discovered a plain, ’50s-style ranch house while rollerblading in 2002.
Impressed by the lot, the couple initially planned to revamp the house and sell it for a profit.
After Oppenheim spent two years laboring over planning and building the home, they found the perfect owners: themselves.
The architect describes his split-level creation (which entirely envelops the old house) as “modest by the standards of Sunset Islands,” the edenic, boldface neighborhood that’s been home to the likes of rocker Lenny Kravitz and tennis ace Anna Kournikova.
But with 22-foot ceilings and a walled-in “sky deck” for yoga, Villa Allegra feels anything but snug. In fact, the house was cast as a location for the 2006 film version of TV’s legendary “Miami Vice.”
“Director Michael Mann felt that our home reflected a new side of Miami,” enthuses New Jersey-bred Oppenheim. “This was a real thrill,” he adds, “since the show was one of the reasons I moved to Miami in the first place.”
Crafted primarily from stucco, coral stone and hardwoods, Villa Allegra conforms with Miami’s tropical aesthetic without resorting to cliché. Oppenheim, 43, skipped the Spanish Revival-styled flourishes common across South Florida and instead borrowed influences from his extensive global travels.
He devised a modern take on the classic impluvium — open-air courtyards used by the Romans to illuminate interiors — building his from coral stone and capping it with a clever square skylight.
The house’s star pieces include large-scale teak tables and beds handcrafted in Indonesia, plus art from Brazil’s Campana Brothers and Dutch wonder Marcel Wanders.
Although Villa Allegra (which translates to “Happy House”) wasn’t designed with children in mind, it’s surprisingly kid-friendly.
Much of Hendrix and Liloo’s time is spent in the pool, which is set in a field of grass, lined in dark lava stone and shrouded in dense palms, oleander and sea grapes.
Upstairs, their bedrooms reflect their young spirits, with massive maps and classic model cars in Hendrix’s room, and Liloo’s lair decked out with a toy-filled tent brilliantly hued in pink and red.
It’s a perfect complement to the “Pink Compoit 3/4” photograph by artists Daniel & Geo Fuchs that hangs above.
The family discovers many of their pieces locally, during annual excursions to Art Basel Miami Beach and Design Miami. Oppenheim describes his taste as a “bit more radical” than his wife’s.
“We usually agree on most things, but she occasionally has to rein me in,” he notes. “Typically, we buy a new piece every six months or so.”
At that pace, it’s not surprising that the architect is already planning more updates, mulling an upstairs addition.
But for now, the family is enjoying a happy balance between location, luxury and plenty of youthful laughter. “My goal was to build this home with the land, not on the land,” says Oppenheim. “The Sunset Islands may be manmade, but we wanted the house completely native.”
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