Juan Montoya's International Design Center is as warm and welcoming as the Florida sun
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 2/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
Designing houses everywhere from the Hamptons to the Seychelles, Juan Montoya has become well acquainted with showrooms around the globe. The native Colombian probably spends as much time sourcing product as he does setting pencil to sketchbook. "I've always had opinions on how to improve upon design centers," he says. "They should be alluring places for people to congregate, but often they're not." Juan Montoya Design was thus an easy choice for the job of overseeing interiors for the International Design Center in Estero, Florida, near Naples. It helped that he also had a personal in: The property is the brainchild of Miromar Development Corporation president Margaret Miller, for whom Montoya designed a house in the late 1980's. "Margaret thought I'd give the I.D.C. a special twist," he notes. "She's very open to new ideas, ones that other clients pooh-pooh because of budget or perceived practicality."
Since the center is a bellwether of a friendlier approach to the genre, with all 45 showrooms intended to serve both the consumer and the trade, Montoya set out to make the three-story, 250,000-square-foot space friendly and embracing—as well as an advertisement for high style. "Most design centers feel so utilitarian, not welcoming," he says. "You go. You conduct your business. You leave." The project also presented a good excuse to up the design ante, since, unlike urban showroom buildings, the I.D.C. is in a resort area, where the pace is relatively leisurely. "Clients have an hour or two to really take in the environment and look at things," Montoya continues. "That provides more opportunities for the building itself to educate, demonstrate, offer ideas and inspiration, like how to treat floors and walls."
Montoya's sensibility is evident from the moment you arrive. Although the base building was overseen by Miromar, he contributed to various aspects of the entry sequence, from the gray tint of the plaster facade to the landscaping. Verdant lawns are punctuated by an enfilade of palm trees, which mimic the building's succession of classical columns, and a swooping abstract sculpture by a Swiss artist. "We put a great deal of thought into the approach and into how the gardens are kept, since they're visible from inside," he explains. He also designed the double entry doors. As he sees it, "An entry should be not just a portal but something that makes you feel awed." These doors are sculptural patchworks of patinated-copper panels—some canted, all with nail-head detailing.
Visitors are greeted at reception by a curved tiger-maple podium that seems to be levitating—it's actually set on a mirrored base. Walls are veneered in figured maple, while an archway lined in padded suede leads to a lounge capped by a coffered maple ceiling. "We incorporated a number of areas for people to relax and discuss projects, with big tables for looking over floor plans. That's an element missing from most design centers," Montoya says. Here, clients relax on languorous leather-upholstered armchairs that pull up to glass-topped tables. On showroom floors, he included plenty of break-out spaces for powwows in between visits to the likes of Ann Sacks, Kravet, and Stark Carpet Corp., which carries Montoya's designs.
In the triple-height skylit atrium at the heart of the building, leather-upholstered benches dot a floor emboldened by oversize geometrics in three colors of marble: black, white, and gold. The circle-in-a-square pattern, Montoya explains, is a stylized abstraction of one he saw in a British castle. "When I travel, I take photographs of floors for inspiration," he says. "It's one of my little quirks." Anchoring opposite ends of the atrium are the elevator core and a folding staircase in stainless steel and glass. The stair is supported by a pair of rectangular columns surfaced in alternating horizontal bands of rough and smooth limestone, lending contrast and grandeur in equal measure. Maple, the final element of the materials palette, clads the balconies of the atrium's two upper levels.
"The space is modern but with a human scale," Montoya notes. Indeed, while many Florida interiors favor blinding whites and sleek surfaces to imbue coolness, Montoya's rich palette seems a more effective way to beat the heat.