Inside starchitect Chad Oppenheim’s Miami hideout

After years of undertaking projects around the globe, acclaimed architect Chad Oppenheim fell in love with Miami and built an Italian-influenced base for his family

Villa Allegra, designed by Chad Oppenheim. Photos by Laziz Hamani and Eric Laignel

Many designers have created beautiful houses, but not everyone can say that they built a happy home. One who certainly has is Chad Oppenheim, whose Miami bolthole, entitled Villa Allegra, is the epitome of domestic paradise. Oppenheim hasn’t always been tied to one spot. An international presence, the architect has spent years moving from continent to continent while garnering global recognition for his eco-conscious designs for private residences, office buildings and large-scale urban resorts.

After a career defined by transience, Oppenheim is now settled in his base in the balmy climes of Florida. Villa Allegra is located on Miami Beach, occupying 836 metres of living space designed to be open, comfortable and flexible.

From Italian, the word allegra translates as “happiness” and the name is an apt descriptor for Oppenheim’s home.

“I lived in Italy for some time and I wanted a villa that exuded the kind of good vibes I found there,” says the New York native, who also lived in Japan for a short period after receiving his KUME Fellowship.

Family is central to the architect’s idea of happiness. He shares the two-story, minimalist villa with his wife Ilona Oppenheim, author of popular cookbooks, and their two young children, Hendrix and Liloo.

“When we built this house around 13 years ago, it was just my wife and me, but since then we welcomed our two kids,” he says. “Many guests and clients also come over once in a while. The house is actually used quite a bit to entertain.”

Reflecting Miami’s tropical climate, Villa Allegra’s exteriors and interiors are airy and luminous. Oversized windows are scattered around the house and there are several rooms with skylights to take advantage of the Florida sunshine.

The incredible weather is also a factor in Oppenheim’s choice of the swimming pool area as his favourite part of the villa.

“The pool creates an incredible experience for me,” he enthuses. “I love to just sit there, relax and look at the house.”

A garden located right next to the master bedroom is another refuge where he can enjoy the peaceful, natural beauty of his surroundings.

Oppenheim has a reputation for merging several elements in his design while showing a deep respect for nature and the environment. Since founding his global practice, Oppenheim Architecture + Design, in 1999, he has always incorporated these themes in his works.

“Our concepts are simple,” he explains. “We believe strongly in building architecture in the spirit of the place, so it’s very important for us to capture the essence of a building. For us it is all about what we can do as architects to create a visceral connection to the environment in which we build.”

A professor in architecture at Florida International University, Oppenheim educates his students about the importance of sustainability and green architecture, just as his homebuilder parents inspired him to appreciate functional design while he was growing up.

His international projects encompass a range of acclaimed properties including Wadi Rum Resort in Jordan and the Net Metropolis commercial complex in Manila, a Highly Commended development at the Philippines Property Awards 2014.

“We also dream of other projects in Asia – we’re just finishing a hotel for Disney in Shanghai – and we’ve been helping with some projects in Indonesia,” enthuses Oppenheim of his globetrotting workload. “It is an honour to be able to apply our philosophies and create some of the world’s most beautiful projects in Asia.”

Although his job has taken him everywhere – he was just about to jump onto a flight during this interview – his priority is spending time with his family as much as he can, whether it’s at Villa Allegra, their mountain cabin in Aspen, Colorado or their holiday home in the Bahamas.

With two growing children and frequent houseguests, he acknowledges that his various properties, including Villa Allegra, cannot always look picture-perfect.

“Even though our house looks pristine in photos it is a functional house,” he says. “We don’t believe in something being too precious. A house is supposed to be enjoyed and that’s very important for us. At home we ride bicycles, scooters, skateboards and hover-boards and we do a lot of art projects with the children.”

“We recommend the same for all our clients. A house is not an object to be admired by others in photographs – it’s your home and it should be a comfortable environment in which to live.”

Oppenheim has not only built a happy base, but a real one that his family can enjoy for a lifetime. After years of globetrotting there truly is no place like home.

This article originally appeared in Property Report magazine’s issue no. 135.

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