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Moroccan Style in a Miami Home

A Miami house gets a Moroccan feel with this fresh, fun, and fantastic design by Gene Meyer and Frank De Biasi.

By Christine Pittel

CHRISTINE PITTEL: I've never seen anyone have this much fun with paint. Who's the madman for color?
FRANK DE BIASI: Gene, my partner. He'll buy a million little pint sizes of different paints and just start to play. He'll take chances on color combinations I would never think of. I like color, I appreciate color, but a lot of the houses I design for clients are not so colorful. People like beige. Gene is creative director of a rug company, and he's also good at the beige part. Just not for ourselves.
The living room is painted a languid 1940s face-powder pink. With the vintage chintz and the scalloped bookshelves, it feels very Oliver Messel in Mustique.
GENE MEYER: We know all his work. We got to walk through the house he did for Princess Margaret when Frank did a project in Mustique. It's a British Colonial Caribbean fantasy. We wanted that same kind of fun and color for this little 1940s Miami bungalow — actually two houses, small and unattached.

DE BIASI: You walk through the front door right into the living room. I found that floral chintz that's now on the chairs at the Paris flea market, and we took the colors from that. Pink on the walls, a chartreuse on the old Jansen love seats, and a bit of baby blue on the Chinese porcelain lamps. The scalloping is the kind of carved wood detail you see all over the Caribbean, and we used it on cornices and valances throughout the house.
The colors may be wild, but then there's something very grandmotherly about pieces like that mahogany secretary.
MEYER: Whenever a friend walks in for the first time, he'll look at me or Frank and ask, 'Was this your parents' house?' All of the brown furniture did belong to my parents, and we had to build it into the equation. I know it wasn't Frank's favorite thing.
DE BIASI: I like a challenge. Everything here is very personal to us. That jungle-green wallpaper in the hallway may not be anyone else's taste, but we love it. When I found it at a stall on Lincoln Road, they told me it was left over from the Boom Boom Room at the Fontainebleau hotel.
Who glued all those seashells onto the walls?
MEYER: I did. It started as a rainy-day project that went on for months. It's a lot of shells, on four walls plus the ceiling in the library. I think I ruined my back. Halfway through, I thought, I've lost my mind. But when you're in the middle, you can't stop. Then after I had them up, I thought,Hmmm, it looks too much like shells. I wanted more of an Adam-style plasterwork effect. So I went back and painted each shell with white matte primer.
DE BIASI: I'm glad I wasn't there for that process. Did you see the tiny starfishes he painted blue and glued to each scallop on the dining room cornice?
Amazing, and speaking of that room, are you born knowing that chartreuse and red go together?
MEYER: I must have repainted it five times until I got it right. I was inspired by that John Fowler book. He'd have this 18th-century la-di-da furniture and then these wild colors. People must have gone crazy when they walked into his rooms.
Listen, he's got nothing on you. Look at that sitting room with olive and citron and aquamarine.
MEYER: I like to find colors that are sort of odd together. They set up a kind of vibration. You don't know if that stripe is mint or turquoise. It keeps changing. And there are more stripes under the painted chair rail. Did you see?
DE BIASI: We go to Morocco every year and there's such freedom of color there. This is Gene's version of the decorative painting you see on old buildings in the medina.
MEYER: Originally, that chair rail was just a stripe, but I thought it looked too uptight, so I went back and added the zigzags.
Where did you find that tiger painting?
DE BIASI: Paris flea market. You usually see Indian realist painting only in miniatures, but this must be six feet long. It really makes the room. And then I brought in the tattered 1940s Florida bamboo furniture. We love that mix of cultures.
What's that bed that looks almost like a birdcage in the bedroom?
DE BIASI: It's a type of carving they do all over Morocco, usually for windows. We designed the headboard and then Gene painted it bubblegum pink.
MEYER: Frank did something brilliant. He came back from Paris with these cheap plastic African floor mats he bought at Monoprix and just stapled them to the wall as a dado. It looks like tilework.
Who loves Legos? I'm referring to that chest by your bed.
DE BIASI: It's Italian 1960s, made of white Plexi with a chrome swivel base. This room didn't come with a closet, and I forgot to put one in.
MEYER: I know why. It's more perfectly shaped without it. This is a weekend house. We live in New York, and waking up in this room feels like we've gone on a vacation. You're definitely someplace else.
Color is transporting. What do you say to clients who are afraid of it?
DE BIASI: I don't fight it. Instead I push richer and more luxurious materials, so it's not plain old beige but fabulous beige.
MEYER: He sets up all these contrasting textures. Then there's something to look at. Otherwise, I get bored. I wish I had a magic wand to change the colors of things. Sometimes I'll play this game. I'll start eyeing people on the street and I'll change the color of their clothes. Suddenly that man in drab khakis is wearing DayGlo orange pants. And he looks so much better!

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