Design — 28 February 2015
How three South Florida interior designers make their own dreams come true at home

By Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub

Many of us envy designers. We wish we could have their access to beautiful home furnishings from around the world and cash in on their trade discount. How do they decorate their own homes with these great finds? Are they collectors or minimalists? Do they love color or prefer neutrals?

We talked with three South Florida designers to learn what goes on inside their minds. Come along with us and dream.



Marc Thee’s main design business is in Winter Park near Orlando, but he wanted to have a residence closer to the work he does in South Florida.

“I feel Miami has a pulse of Florida that is like no other,” he says. “I chose the Venetian Isles location because it felt like a quiet neighborhood that was close to everything fun and fabulous.”

The contemporary-style home, built in 1947, has plenty of windows and a well-decorated outdoors with a pool and sculptures. Inside Thee surrounds himself with what he calls “curious unique things” such as a pair of large Balinese griffins that he found on Park Avenue in Winter Park. At that time, he had no idea where he was going to put them.

“I tell clients, if you love something don’t worry about where it is going to go,” he says. “If you come across something you love, buy it.”

His home features global accents from Asia and Bali mixed with tribal and religious artifacts. The carved wall of birds in the living room, which resembles Egyptian hieroglyphics, was kept and painted in platinum leaf to add glamour. The wall makes a perfect focal point flocked by the griffins.

Thee’s favorite room is the sitting area off the master bedroom, which features a comfortable chaise and an armless Buddha. It’s a relaxing place to watch television, read or have a glass of wine.

Decorating his home wasn’t difficult. He tells clients there is always going to be a more perfect fabric or a better object. His answer is the funnel effect: Make a few correct decisions, narrow them down, and the choice becomes obvious.

His best advice? “Surround yourself with the things you love. Your house should be a personal expression of you, not bought from a decorative accessories store. Almost everything in my house was truly found.”




Katia Bates is one of those lucky people with two homes – a main residence in Fort Lauderdale and a vacation getaway in Vail, Colo., for her family of avid skiers.

When a guest enters her home on the Las Olas Isles, it is like being transported into a palazzo in her native Venice, Italy. The furniture and windows are covered in lush fabrics with European flair. The glass chandeliers come from Murano, Italy. Walls glow with the distinctive sheen of Venetian plaster. The elaborate woodwork on the ceiling is inspired by Venice’s luxurious Hotel Danieli.

“Being from Venice, I wanted to bring some of that logic into my design,” Bates says. “It is a way to educate my two children from an early age about Venetian lifestyle.”

The Fort Lauderdale residence is more formal than Vail because Bates and her husband, Tom, love to give dinner parties for 50 or more and they host at least two charity events a year in their home.

Bates says deciding on her home design is never difficult because she has a clear idea of what she wants.

“I fluctuate between fashionable and more classical,” she says. “When I know we are going to buy something for us as a family I start my thinking process in advance. Maybe I modify the colors of what is fashionable.”

One of the more exotic pieces is the Maserati coffee table in the den. While driving in Miami she got caught in a deluge, flooding the engine. The engine could not be repaired.

“I told them I wanted to keep my engine,” Bates says. “My husband had given me that car for our anniversary. The engine was stored in a mechanic’s warehouse for five or six years. When I was doing my last remodel, I was looking for unique furniture and wanted something conversational. I was frustrated because I couldn’t find anything. My husband suggested turning the engine into a coffee table.”

Since then, her husband has made several engine coffee tables for clients, including a Lamborghini, and now is looking for a Rolls-Royce engine.

Because her Fort Lauderdale home reminds Bates of Venice, she wanted to pay tribute to the water. Large windows with no mullions enhance the waterfront view. The chandeliers are clear glass rather than heavy metal because she wanted lighting that made a statement but did not distract from outside. She selected dark colors for the furnishings so they would absorb the bright noonday sun rather than appear washed out.

Katia and Tom didn’t have challenges in the Fort Lauderdale home because they built it, but Vail building codes were different, so they had to rely on a Denver company to be project manager for the renovation.

“We bought the place because we fell in love with the roof,” she says. “The roof is frosted and you can see the snow falling. It is a magnificent experience. It was very romantic. It reminded me of an old Paris train station or the Galleria in Milan, a shopping center with similar features. For me it was very European.”

They wanted a large open floor plan to take advantage of the roof and satisfy their entertainment needs. The plan worked for a party of 60 as well as just family.

“As a family, we are all in the same room,” Bates says. “Our purpose when on vacation is to be together doing nothing.”




Marta Cecila wanted a home with a courtyard to remind her of her homeland in Colombia. When guests enter her front door in Miami Shores, they find themselves in a foyer that opens up to a hallway leading to the courtyard and facing the pool.

“All the rooms face the courtyard,” she says. “I love that feeling. It is very welcoming, very open and very fresh.”

Cecila wanted her interior décor to be simple, so she would feel like she was vacationing in a spa when she came home from work. Her favorite part of the open plan bedroom is the CTI whirlpool spa with chromotherapy, where she can relax and enjoy the view of the pool. She calls it her sanctuary.

For a gourmet cook, the kitchen is another favorite spot. Cecila calls cooking “one of my pleasures in life.” Friends and clients are entertained with recipes she learned in cooking classes attended during her world travels. Her appliances are all high end, including a Kuppersbusch cooktop and built-in coffee maker, a Dacor double convection oven, a Viking microwave/oven and Sub-Zero refrigerator. The air-conditioned garage has an extra refrigerator and a wine cooler.

Everything in Cecila’s home has meaning. One of her prize possessions is her collection of Super 8 cameras, which she has collected for 25 years.

“I like to mix elements,” she says. “I don’t have any coordinating items. Furnishings are something to have fun with. If you have great architecture, gorgeous flooring and especially good lighting, the rest is for you to have fun with.”

Cecila’s decorating is never finished. It’s like a laboratory for her design work.

“One day I like one thing, another day I like another,” she says. “My garage is my warehouse. Friends ask what is new, because I’m always changing the design. I like to try different things in my home, and later I may try them with clients.” λ



Katia Bates
Innovative Creations, 1437 NE Fourth Ave., Fort Lauderdale, 954-565-4333,

Marta Cecila
Marta Cecila Design Group, 35 NE 40th St., Miami,

Marc Thee
Marc-Michaels Interior Design, 720 W. Morse Blvd., Winter Park, 407-629-2124,





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