ARTIST IN RESIDENCE
Text Betty Cortina-Weiss | Photography Felipe Cuevas | Hair & Makeup Jorge Penn
At her spectacular waterfront Surfside home, designer Deborah Wecselman blends the then with the now and carves out her eclectic vision of the good life.
Driving to Deborah Wecselman’s home in Surfside is like taking a detour from everything we know to be oh-so Miami. There are no busy shopping strips no brightly lit boulevards no towers of luxury reaching for the sky. Rather, it’s a small meandering road that leads you all the way back to her magnificent two-story tucked away In the tranquil Isle of Biscaya, a small private community along the shore of a breathtaking stretch of lntracoastal Waterway.
It’s fitting that walking through the home’s majestic red double doors is as transporting an experience as getting here . The great room that greets every guest with its impossibly high and bright white cathedral ceiling is filled with vintage furnishings, dotted with family heirlooms and photos – put together with the kind of bold flair the acclaimed interior designers is famous for.
Indeed layering the then with the now the serious with the spirited, the classic with the unexpected is hallmark Wecselman. “ I like vintage I like history. I like for architecture and furniture to tell me a story – and everything in here has a story,” said the Lima native. Above all, “ I love when it seems nothing works together but it actually kind of does.”
Consider her Miami’s version of Kelly Wearstler. A 12-year veteran of Ralph Lauren in New York City – she headed the company’s international division, working with “Mr. Ralph” to open stores worldwide – she moved south in 2000, her husband and two young sons in tow looking for lifestyle. “We wanted a place where we could be outdoors most of the year” said Wecselman, a graduate of the prestigious Parsons Design School in New York. “My husband played tennis and the kids were small. It was just that time in life when you have to make a decision about how you want to live and we love it here.”
It turns out Miami has loved her right back. Within a year of arriving “my husband gave me a $2,000 check and said, start your business. I did and I haven’t stopped since.“
Today she runs Deborah Wecselman Design from a small office near midtown, has an architect and four designers on staff and is busy working on a long list of homes from two story penthouses in Aventura to Island mansions at the super exclusive Cat Cay in the Bahamas. During a rare break on a recent morning she invited INDULGE to come in and talk about life, design and the home that, more than a project, is the best example of her spirit.
How did you wind up in Surfside?
When we first moved here, everybody told us. “You have to live in Golden Beach. Or you have to live in Aventura.” And the thing about me is, I don’t like to just do what everyone else is doing. I like my own individual space. This house was out of the way, and from the moment I saw it I knew it was special.
What did the house look like when you first bought It?
Let’s put it this way: a friend of mine who saw it told me I was out of my mind. It was all dark brown, red bricks, low ceilings, and very few windows. Everyone told me I should demolish it and start new. But I didn’t want to demo. It had a good structure and I wanted to work with that. Little by little, that’s what we did.
So you have a thing for repurposing?
Yes. I grew up in a family where we didn’t throw things away, even though we could have afforded to. My mother had the same blender for 40 years -because it worked! She had the same iron forever – because it was great! Today, people want to throw things out and there’s so much waste. That’s one of the reasons I love vintage. It may be more expensive to buy something valuable, but it will hold its value in the long run and it’s the responsible thing to do.
And that’s what you buy, right?
Exactly. Every piece in here has a story. I know where we were when we bought it. And it’s a tremendous source of pleasure because, when we look at something, we have all the memories about how and where we got it. The dining room came from a flea market in Paris. The art on the wall above the drawer chest is from an important Peruvian artist whose home we visited. I even have an owl collection that I started because my mother used to collect them too.
Your mother was a huge influence on you.
She came to Peru from Romania when she married my father. He died when I was 13, and my mother raised my sister, my brother and me on her own. I know it tool an incredible amount of strength, but she kept things going for us. And to her, school was the most important thing, along with learning to love beautiful things. She took us to the philharmonic and to the museum. At the time we thought she was weird – we wanted a TV instead! – but now I am so grateful.
When did design enter your life?
My sister and I shared a bedroom when we were girls. It was a perfect pink little world, and floral wallpaper. But when she and I would argue, I’d rearrange the furniture so I wouldn’t have to talk to her! Kidding aside, a few years later I’d been taking design classes at school, and I design a coffee table for our living room. It was brass, bronze and nickel, and we had it made. When my mother passed a few years ago, it was one of the only things we kept from her house because it was still pretty cool.
How did you make your way to the United States?
I applied to Parsons behind my mother’s back, actually. She and I had travelled to New York for a wedding and I even went to meet with the dean at the school. A couple of months later, I heard they’d accepted e, and my mother brought me back to New York. She was very supportive, even though I was scared. She said, “Take the opportunity and if you hate it, home will always be there for you.” I cried and lived on milk and cereal for three months – but I made it!
What’s been your most challenging design moment?
Years ago, when I was working for Ralph Lauren, we were opening a store in London. It was the day before opening, the press was all lined up and we were waiting for “ Mr. Ralph” to come by for final approval. He came, saw the artwork we had over a staircase and said, “This is wrong. Change it” We had 24 hours to fix it because one way or another, the store was opening the next day. So, I ran all over London for the entire next day and change it all. When he came back, he said, “I don’t know what you did, but it’s perfect.” That was when I learned to never say no, and that nothing is impossible.
What do you love most about Miami?
First, of course, is the weather. Even though I don’t love it in the summer. Still, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. It’s a really easy place to live and I think it’s becoming more sophisticated by the day. It’s improved quite a bit.
What do you wish was different about Miami?
I wish there was more education about what really works here historically speaking. There are some great houses from the 50s.60 and 70s and all too often they’re torn down and replaced with something new. I wish there was more of an incentive to preserve those kinds of places.
Let’s talk about your house. It’s beautiful but it has a nice lived-in feel too.
We’re not formal at all. My kids grew up with very little rules in a home that was filled with beautiful objects but where comfort was also important. The best thing for me is that my kids have always loved being at home. Very frequently, when they had a choice to go out with friends or stay over at other people’s houses, they preferred to stay here. It’s their little world and I feel very proud to have created it for them.
Where do you spend the most time?
I sit in the kitchen and work on my computer there quite a bit. We cook a lot too. But, in truth, we use every room. Just because there is vintage furniture doesn’t mean we don’t sit in it. The dining room chairs are upholstered in Hermes leather, and even the dog jumps on them.
Switching topics, you’ll be an empty nester soon.
Yes, my two boys are off to college. The older one is already at Babson College, and the younger one leaves for NYU this summer. So, from now on, it’ll be my husband and me here with Spike, our 11-year-old, chubby beagle.
So what’s next for you?
We have several projects we’re finishing of course, and them I’m sure more residential opportunities will present themselves. Part of me would also like to work on a commercial project, maybe a hotel. But my philosophy is to just stay open because, if there is anything I’ve learned along the way, it’s that life always brings terrific surprises.