What better scenario for an architect to meet a client? Rene Gonzalez and Karla Dascal bonded over design when, fortuitously, she visited the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, at the precise moment Gonzalez was leading a tour of an exhibition that he had designed and curated. “It was everything from product design to fashion to cars,” he recalls. This was in 2000.
“She’s a patron who loves, appreciates, and values design,” he continues. She’s also savvy. Way before an industrial wasteland in Miami transformed into the trendy Wynwood Arts District, she purchased a warehouse on an acre plot as the headquarters for her floral and events business, Karla Conceptual Event Experiences, which is known for high-style arrangements and boldface customers. Naturally, she entrusted the renovation to Gonzalez, by this time a close friend—their shared Cuban heritage cementing the relationship. Now we’re in 2003.
Fast-forward another decade. Dascal, always in tune with the zeitgeist, envisioned expanding her operation to encompass current interests in food, wellness, and education, branding everything as an ensemble called the Sacred Space Miami. A restaurant would be the anchor, but that’s not nearly all. The property, including the gardens, was slated to become a premier venue for weddings, luxury brand events, corporate retreats, a proprietary movement program called Prayerdanse, you name it. And there would be a boutique selling movement apparel, housewares, art, books, jewelry, and aromatherapy and homeopathy elixirs.
Could Gonzalez design the restaurant component in what had been the Karla office’s storage area? And could his commission extend to collaborating with a landscaping consultant for an indoor-outdoor venue that takes advantage of the subtropical climate? You bet. So he and Dascal flew to Los Angeles, where they wined, dined, and met with renowned vegan chef Matthew Kenney of Plant Food + Wine. He signed on as a partner to open the restaurant’s second location at the Sacred Space Miami, furthermore integrating his school, Matthew Kenney Culinary.
Gonzalez says he focused on “a seamless interface between indoor and outdoor.” Here’s how he made the connection. Figuratively, it comes courtesy of the ambiguity created by the gardens’ reflections in the bronzed mirror strips on the accordion-pleated sidewalls. On a more literal level, the front wall disappears entirely when its glass panels fold away.
Another challenge he faced was how to accommodate both casual and formal. A group of coworkers toting laptops, for a lunchtime meeting, or a solo guest reading a magazine—all should feel right at home. “At the same time,” he says, “people should feel like getting dressed up to come on a Saturday night.” Consider, therefore, the delicate balance struck by the warm and welcoming bamboo plywood, which lines the main dining area, and the drama of the spiky chandeliers. “They’re painted the reddish color of the Cuban mammee fruit,” he adds.
He shifted into neutral for the zones beyond the main dining area. Flawless polished white marble, for example, tops the bar, fronted in more bamboo plywood. From here, pale gray epoxy flooring sweeps back through the open prep kitchen, a “clinical white environment,” he notes, that’s visible through a scrim of woven gold vinyl. Last comes the culinary school.
Walk in the opposite direction, and you find yourself on an ipe dining deck that overlooks a gold-tiled reflecting pool, a guava grove, a meditation garden, and an outdoor lounge. “Each is its own ‘room,’ different from the others,” he says. Look up instead, and be awed by a 40-foot-high palm. He transported it here from his father’s property in Fort Lauderdale, where the tree grew from a seed planted decades ago. Talk about sacred.
Project Team: Monica Vazquez; Alexandra Pagliery; Sabah Corso: Rene Gonzalez Architect. Collaborative Independent: Landscaping Consultant. U.S. Structures: Structural Engineer. Ross Engineering: Civil Engineer. H. Vidal & Associates: MEP. Creative Home by Design: Woodwork. Solisky: Upholstery Workshop. Brodson Construction: General Contractor.