By: JEAN NAYAR
A lovingly restored and originally designed by a noted Miami architect a century ago this property blends old-world Mediterranean charisma with contemporary amenities in a coveted neighborhood in Coral Gables.
Nothing ignites the imagination like the character and charm of a well-built historic home. And this landmark Mediterranean Revival-style domain in Coral Gables serves up old-world allure in spades. Located at 2616 Granada Boulevard and originally designed and built in 1925 by notable Miami architect L. R. Patterson as his own home, the dwelling, and all its original materials and details remained completely intact when its current owner, Manuel Schiappa Pietra, and his wife, Debra, purchased it in 1995. “We immediately fell in love with it,” says Schiappa Pietra of their reaction to the house when they first set eyes on it. A businessman of Italian descent who was born and raised in Portugal, Schiappa Pietra was especially drawn to the Mediterranean character of the home. “The old Spanish look and architecture reminded us of our European heritage, and we could visualize it as our family home,” he explains. So even though the roughly 2,000-square-foot abode was quite a bit smaller than the husband and wife were seeking, they purchased it on the spot, and later, as their family grew, they set about meticulously restoring and expanding it over the next few years with the same passionate attention to detail that was paid to the original. Known for his work with E.L. Robertson in the early 20th century, when the pair’s firm, Robertson & Patterson Architects, created some of Miami’s most notable structures, including Temple Israel in Miami and what’s now known as the Wolfsonian Museum in Miami Beach, Patterson created a home that was completely in keeping with the spirit of other dwellings in the area constructed by developer George E. Merrick shortly after he founded the enclave of Coral Gables on a vast swath of his family’s citrus farmland in the early 1920s. “Merrick sent a team of architects on a junket to Europe to seek out ideas and help him plan his residential city,” says Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices EWM Realty broker Laura Mullaney, who holds the listing for the $6.2 million property with her daughter Jane Gomez-Mena. “They came back with salvaged architectural remnants, such as centuries-old timbers and tiles found in old monasteries and other notable structures in Spain, Italy, and Portugal. And these set the tone for the Mediterranean Revival style that would come to define the homes in the area.”
Recognizing the inherent architectural significance of their home, the Schiappa Pietras brought their plans to enlarge it to the attention of both the City of Coral Gables and the Miami-Dade County Historic Preservation Boards, which designated the structure as a Coral Gables Landmark in 1997 and granted the couple permission to rehabilitate and expand it with additions in keeping with its original Mediterranean Revival style. While the pair had no formal training in architecture or historic preservation, they did have a keen eye for detail and an infatuation with historic design. So, with Debra leading the way, they relied on their intuition and research to guide them as they pressed on with their efforts to more than double the size of their home with roughly 3,300 square feet of additional living space along with expansive covered loggias for outdoor entertaining. They approached the restoration of the home’s original details as well as the expansion in much the same way that architects did under the auspices of Merrick in the 1920s. “We traveled all around Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Greece to find materials similar to those used in the original structure-some of the pieces are more than 200 years old,” says Schiappa Pietra. “The owners are self-described perfectionists, so they didn’t compromise on any decision that didn’t fit with this intent,” adds Mullaney.
With the typical formality of the Italian Mediterranean Revival style, the courtyard entry of the original home leads to an inviting foyer adorned with imported stained glass. This part of the house also includes a gracious living room topped by a timber-clad cathedral ceiling and warmed with a working corner fireplace, a cozy den, and three bedrooms-one on the main level and two upstairs. The expansive addition features an extra-large new kitchen, a family room, a billiards room, an office, a maid’s room, and some covered outdoor loggias, including dining space and a summer kitchen around a new oversize 37-foot-long pool. It also houses a large master suite and two new bedrooms on the upper level-all executed with some of the same master craftsmen-woodworkers, plasterers, and muralists-who worked on the restoration of the famed Biltmore Hotel nearby. “The owners were obsessed with replicating the 1920s spirit of the house in the new addition so the transition from one part to the other is imperceptible and seamless,” says Mullaney. “Even the roof of the new addition was covered in handmade terracotta barrel tiles imported from Cuba and formed on the thighs of the craftsmen who made them.” So superbly executed was the work that, after the home was completed, the Dade Heritage Trust honored the property with an outstanding residential restoration award in May 2000.
Set amid a lushly landscaped 15,750-square-foot lot, the 5,055-square-foot home’s old-world appeal also deftly integrates modern technologies, as all its windows and doors were upgraded to meet contemporary impact standards, its infrastructure was completely rewired and replumbed, and its interiors were retrofitted with four-zone central air systems. The home’s coveted location is another plus. “It’s situated at the epicenter of Coral Gables, making everything you’d want to see in the area easily accessible by foot along sidewalks flanked by 100-year-old banyan trees,” adds Mullaney. “The Venetian Pool, also built in the 1920s, is across the street, the legendary Biltmore Hotel is a short stroll away, as are the famed Desoto Fountain, Salvadore Park, tennis and pickleball courts, a youth center, and the Coral Gables Country Club.”
With plenty of additional covered outdoor living space and multiple patios and terraces, the enchanting restored and expanded estate, including a two-car garage, offers history lovers and architecture buffs alike much to appreciate. “The feeling of the home is contagious,” says Schiappa Pietra. “Every time we had a social gathering people would stay forever, feeling relaxed.” Given the infusion of good vibes and TLC over the years, if its original owner/architect R.L. Patterson were alive to see the current incarnation of the home today, no doubt he’d smile and want to stay awhile, too.