By: Editor, Dr. Francesca Vazquez
Niraya Méndez-Gordils is an interior architect from Puerto Rico, currently based in Miami, FL. She lives an exquisitely balanced life in anybody's dream 1-bedroom apartment in Coconut Grove. She recently quit her full-time (60+ hours a week) job to work on her own architecture firm: ReForma. Here at Ease to Wellness, we're all about going with our gut and choosing the path less traveled! It can be disgruntling at times but launching your own business and building a platform is worth the scare!
Niraya has been in the design business for 8 years and has worked in projects ranging from commercial to residential designs. She has lived in Puerto Rico, Brazil, Spain, New York City, Pennsylvania, and now Miami. While in Brazil, she worked for a non-profit organization aimed at re-building the favelas. She has traveled all over the world and incorporates different aspects of her travels into her style and design. She is currently planning a trip to Greece, where she will travel the Greek isles in a sail boat.
Her home is a fixer-upper and will be featured on Ease to Wellness in the upcoming months. She is an architect and her husband is an engineer so renovating their home from the ground up was in their nature, a process she describes as "my most exciting project to date". They designed everything from the bar stools to the closets and the results are nothing less than perfect.
We got up close and personal with Niraya and are giving you a glimpse into her daily life while sharing her advice for achieving the perfectly balanced home below:
Tell us a little bit about your background in architecture.
I've always had a strong connection with design and architecture. When I was around 13 years old, we received a catalogue from Design Within Reach (the furniture store). I became obsessed with that catalogue and kept it for years, so studying design was always a given. I completed my bachelors in fine arts at University of Puerto Rico and later completed my masters degree in architecture at Pratt Institute in New York City.
How did you end up working in interiors?
When I moved to Miami, my first job offer was to work in an interior design firm. I accepted the position and within a couple of months, I knew this was my real passion. I always liked residential design; there is more heart put into it. Commercial interiors are fun because you can go a bit crazy and you move fast between jobs, but in residential design, you really need to have a connection with your clients and the project.
What has been one of your most exciting projects to date?
It's very hard to pick one, every project has had its challenges and you learn a lot from each and every one. There are projects that take 3 years and become your baby. There are also those very small projects that take less time but you develop an amazing connection with the client and build long term relationships. I guess the most difficult but most rewarding project has been my own house. You second guess more; you are your most difficult client.
Above: Glimpse into Niraya's Living Room
Above: Guest Bathroom Details
Above: Outdoor dining area
What is your current line of work? Tell us a bit about ReForma.
ReForma was born at the end of 2015, but it wasn't until this past month that we really put everything together to see it grow. After been a senior designer and project manager for high end interior design firms for the past 5 years in Miami, I decided I wanted to find and develop my own path.
ReForma focuses on renovation: recreating what is already there and working with different budgets (not only high end design). We focus on turn key projects. From schematic design and concept to the construction, furnishing and decor. Renovating can be a very overwhelming experience and having a professional guide you through each process is what ReForma is all about.
How would you describe the style you identify the most with.
Modern and contemporary, without a doubt. I really enjoy different styles but there is always a modern touch to it. I always like to blend modern into the mix. I love modern revivals like Art Deco, MidCentury and I enjoy doing transitional design as well, making a traditional design more contemporary. I'm craving to do a renovation on a Victorian house and keep all of the distinctive elements of the architecture of this period but with minimalist modern furniture. This style is very common in Parisian apartments.
When do you feel your best?
I feel my best when my life is balanced. I truly believe design should always come from a happy place. Having a balance between my job, my family and time for myself not only makes me a better designer but makes me more aware of my surroundings, that is a key ingredient in design. I love organic architecture, designing thinking of the place and space, like Frank Lloyd Wright said. I like the balance achieved in Japanese architecture but I'm not big on Feng Shui. Furniture placement should be effective in its space.
What helps you keep your balance?
Love, Design & Pilates.
Any top pilates studio that you would recommend in Miami?
My one and only is Pilathon, located in Wynwood. This is where I find balance, work on my core and de-stress after a long day of construction. Highly recommended.
Above: Practicing Pilates at Pilathon in Wynwood, Miami.
We asked her what advice she could give us on achieving a perfectly balanced home, what her advice is for renovating on a budget and her favorite spots in Miami for design & home decor!
Now going into interior design, what general advice would you give to someone thinking about remodeling or redecorating their first home but having to work within a budget?
Be realistic about your goals and budget. Construction is expensive and many surprises might pop up. It's better to do it one step at a time. Start to tackle one area or stage at a time instead of trying to cover more than you can handle. Pick where you want to splurge and where you want to save.
What part of the home would you start with?
Usually I'd start with the kitchen and bathrooms, but it all depends on the condition of the home. Maybe the kitchen and bathrooms can wait but the outdoors need some help.
We're all about balance and feeling our best here at EaseToWellness. How do you achieve a sense of balance and serenity in a home?
There is a lot of analysis that goes into every detail of the design process and this may sometimes go unnoticed. However, the feeling you get in a home, that sense of balance, will always be felt by guests and clients. When I start a design, I establish some guidelines for myself. You need harmony between the materials, forms, and colors. In order to achieve a sense of serenity and ease, you don't want to be so "matchy matchy". That can become repetitive, boring or even overwhelming. When blending materials and colors, you have to be creative. They should not match but rather complement each other. Design is not something you can study from a book and memorize. It's all about trial and error.
When trying to establish a sense of balance (using forms and colors), you have to think about where your eye falls when entering a space. Where is the eye taking me? When entering an environment, you want the eye to take an unintentional guided tour without having to jump from one space to the next, in distress.
What design elements do you find to be calming ?
Wood, especially White Oak. It gives warmth to a space. Of course, de-cluttered spaces. When it comes to designing a space with the intention of creating mind-body balance, less is always more.
What items would you splurge on?
Art, it will be with you forever. The artwork never has to match your palette and you can always change the framing.
I usually splurge on plumbing. I'm obsessed with good plumbing, a nice rain shower, a free standing tub. An amazing sofa will not raise the value of your home, good plumbing will.
In furniture, the biggest splurge is usually the sofa. It is a big ticket item and where you want to be the most comfortable.
What if you are renting a home?
If you are a renter, I would say lighting. Having a pendant in the dining room will take the room to a new level. Renters sometimes think that since they are renting, furniture is all they can use to make the space their own. Installing a new pendant will cost you $110 for the installment and when you leave, you can take it with you. If you are a "hands-on" girl like me, it will take you 30 minutes to install. Just remember to turn off the circuit and to save the existing one, so you can put it back again when you leave.
What elements in a home would you recommend to be budget friendly?
I'm a firm believer of the high and low (mixing high end pieces with budget friendly ones) in design. Dress up your budget friendly pieces (the same way you would wear a pair of Valentino Pumps with jeans and a T-shirt). You can buy an IKEA vanity for your bathroom and have the doors be custom-made. A great company that does this is California based: Semi Handmade Doors. Buy vintage furniture at a flea market, Craigslist, etc. then splurge on a really nice fabric to get it reupholstered.
Decorative Pillows & throws are also items I would make budget friendly. You may get tired of them in a couple of years so don't break the bank and feel free to spice it up from time to time.
What are the top stores for good prices yet beautiful home decor pieces?
CB2 has great finds and the prices are reasonable. I love West Elm and Blu Dot Furniture as well. Multi brand stores like AllModern are also great because you can find pieces at all price points. I won't buy furniture at Target but I love their decorative accessories ( they are trendy at a good price point)
The Canadian "IKEA" Structube is also great.
When buying budget friendly pieces, always read about the material composition. Laminated wood will always read as laminated wood and look cheap, solid wood can be expensive but wood veneer is a good choice.
What are your favorite stores for furniture in Miami?
For plumbing: Decorators Plumbing in the Design District.
Above:Details from Decorators Plumbing, Design District, Miami
For furniture (Mid Century Classics): Design Within Reach in the Design District and Coral Gables.
For wallpaper and accessories: One of a Kind in the Design District.
Above: Details from One of a Kind, Design District Miami
For kitchens and bathrooms, Florense in DCOTA, Ft. Lauderdale.
Above: Details from Florense in DCOTA, Ft. Lauderdale
To work with Niraya or learn more about ReForma, you may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org