Off the Page: ‘Designing Paradise’

Juan Montoya’s Colombian origins are revealed in everything he touches. The world-renowned interior designer spent much of his childhood on a hacienda with thatched-roof palapas not far from the South Pacific before decamping to New York City to launch his company in 1978. So it’s no wonder that some of his most inspiring design work resides on oceanfront properties—whether in Mexico or Miami Beach or far beyond. 

“As much as these homes are escapist fantasias, they are also inextricably rooted to their geographic location and their regional culture,” writes author Jorge S. Arango in the introduction to Designing Paradise, Rizzoli’s newly published homage to Montoya’s tropical interiors. “And while their sense of luxury is palpable, so is their lack of pretension.”

Indeed, the homes on these pages seem to welcome all visitors to climb their coral-hued stone steps or enter through their open bamboo passageways. Each room makes a statement, but it doesn’t shout so much as it sings. 

On the Punta Cana peninsula of the Dominican Republic, a home’s living room palapa—the open-air structure depicted on the book’s cover—is a sleek version of the traditional spaces Montoya knew as a boy, projecting out over a pool with the Caribbean Sea in the distance. A Philadelphia couple’s second home on Fisher Island off the southeastern coast of Florida blends their refined urban style with French-inspired Art Deco influences that give a subtle nod to Miami’s Deco aesthetic. A getaway on Mexico’s Pacific coast evokes the elements of the ocean with features like an allée of palm trees and stylized depictions of sea creatures. No matter the map point, each of these destinations is a slice of sunny heaven.

“You have to interpret cultures, not copy them,” the designer explains. “A room has to smile at you, give you a sense of pleasure.”