Juan Carlos Arcila-Duque does not need to look far for inspiration. The 49-year-old Colombian-born interior designer finds his muse in the turquoise waters, the white sandy shoreline and the crisp, white light of Miami — a place he has called home since 2001.
He does not discount the colorful threads of multiculturalism running through the city either. Global influences now span from Latin America to Europe and the Middle East. “You always feel the wave of new people in Miami,” he says. “Yet there is still this sense of community.”
It’s just the sort of atmosphere where a global designer like Arcila-Duque thrives. With aesthetic leanings taking him from Bohemian to modernist and back again, he applies a breezy, artistic approach to his clients’ interiors, saying, “I like the house to talk to me.” Inspiration may strike him at any moment—perhaps it’s a view, a client’s personal furniture collection or a piece of art he encounters in one of the many new galleries and antique shops popping up along Biscayne Boulevard or in the Design District. Art is always close at hand too. He travels frequently, moving among Miami, Los Angeles, New York, Colombia and the Caribbean, on the hunt for unique pieces that capture emotion. An avid collector of photography, he will be organizing and curating bi-monthly exhibitions of local emerging and established artists at specific city locations starting in December. He also maintains a presence at Art Basel, having served as the co-chair of the Junior Host Committee for Art Basel Miami since 2002.
As Miami fires up for another Art Basel this month, we recently caught up with Arcila-Duque to ask him about his city’s explosive art scene and why it’s one of the most inspirational design destinations in the world.
Previews Inside Out What do you love most about designing in Miami?
Juan Carlos Arcila-Duque What I appreciate about Miami – and really, the opportunity in general that I had to live in this country – is the sense of community. I am a self-taught designer, and I came here with nothing. When I first came to America, I originally settled in New York City, which was like the university of my life! The city taught me structure and organization. But everyone is so stressed. Here in Miami, how can you be stressed when you have the beautiful ocean to look at all day? I tell my clients who are stressed about this or that, “Take a look at your view. Relax.” In design, you have to be a friend, psychologist, confidante. Relationships develop over time, even in a place like Miami where people may come and go with time. But many people — like me — stay and make their lives here. I’ve carved out a space in this city.
Previews Inside Out One of the “communities” you’ve been involved in for years is the Junior Host Committee for Art Basel Miami. Is that your idea of giving back?
Juan Carlos Arcila-Duque Our goal is to inspire the younger generations of collectors. I think by having young collectors, we are helping to grow a young community of artists. We are saying to people: “Not everyone has to go to New York in order to make it.” We need to encourage these collectors and museums to buy art from these artists, so they stay in the city and don’t starve to death!
Previews Inside Out How else are you involved with the local art scene?
Juan Carlos Arcila-Duque I’ve been involved in many boards and museums over the years. I owned a design and photography gallery and was a pioneer of photography in the Design District, where I brought big shows from Horst P. Horst, Peter Beard, Araki, Helmut Newton and many other well-known artists, as well as the young and local artists that no one will support. I help them to secure a career. I’m proud of that. And I do continually attend fairs around the world. There is a mix of art and design that keeps me going.
Previews Inside Out Tell us a little bit more about the Art Design Project.
Juan Carlos Arcila-Duque This year I have established the Art Design Project. Recently, I have invited two great professionals to join our team: the art dealer Adriana Vergara and Soledad Picón, an art communications and PR specialist. With their support, we will be organizing and curating bi-monthly exhibitions of local emerging and established artists at specific city locations. Last May, we presented a pop-up show, paying homage to MAISON&OBJET in its first Miami edition at the Rudolf Budja Gallery with great success.
We are currently working along with Soho Beach House in Miami Beach, transforming specific areas in the club to convert them into exhibitions spaces offering the members a beautiful art environment. The concept aligns with the club’s mission of assembling communities of members that have something in common: a creative soul. Many current members work already in creative industries, such as the film, fashion, advertising, music, art and media sectors, among others. Along with the art installations, Soho Beach House will also present panel discussions, art studio visits, workshops with artists and other activities.
Art and photography are great passions of mine, so I am absolutely thrilled to be a part of this project. I am always looking for new ways to raise awareness about emerging local artists. For me, this represents the new generation of Miami.
Previews Inside Out How do you typically design a space with art?
Juan Carlos Arcila-Duque Many of the houses, apartments and commercial spaces that I design already come furnished with art from my clients’ own collections. Whether these pieces are valuable or not to my eye, it does not matter. They are valuable to my clients’ eye. So I usually design around those pieces or elements. I will find a piece that complements something they already own.
To find the right art pieces for clients, I explain that it’s an investment for them, because they will live in their house for many years. I encourage them to make that investment in a responsible way. I have a large collection of photography and some knowledge of art, and I can help advise them. When I incorporate art pieces in houses, I am very serious about it. It takes a lot of time. I will mix art that costs $2,000 or $70,000 — or even millions. It’s not about the price. The piece must be right.
Previews Inside Out Do you ever take clients to galleries?
Juan Carlos Arcila-Duque Yes! I’m like a pilgrim. I will go to the galleries myself two and three times. I will walk them around galleries, too, or take shopping trips to New York, Europe, Asia and Latin America. On one recent trip, I had a client who went crazy for a piece by a photographer in a well-known restaurant in Manhattan. We were able to get in touch with him, and we went to his studio. I consider myself an “editor of ideas.” I help my clients mold their interior spaces to how they want to live. We design their spaces and start their collection together. I’m always there for my clients.
Previews Inside Out What’s your one rule for buying art?
Juan Carlos Arcila-Duque There are no rules. But I will say that you must love it! It must be unique to you.
Previews Inside Out You designed a room for the Elle Decor Showhouse at Art Basel in 2011. Tell us a little about the space you designed.
Juan Carlos Arcila-Duque It was a guest room. I took design cues from the wallpaper, which featured these light blue, aqua ropes. From that wallpaper, I turned to the bed by a French designer. I built the design from there. I wanted it to be a crisp, fresh, sophisticated Iceland style.
Previews Inside Out In general, how would you describe your design process?
Juan Carlos Arcila-Duque I don’t like to do fantasies. I think a house must relate to who and what my clients are. There are elements of modernism, of course. But I like to respect the home’s original design. My spaces are not always showroom quality. For me, a space has to have the right feeling, which is something my client and I decide.
Previews Inside Out Why do you think Miami is such a hotbed for art, design and architecture?
Juan Carlos Arcila-Duque New York doesn’t have anywhere to grow. It’s growing up, not out. Miami has the space. It’s sunny all year-round. And I also think the city’s multiculturalism has made it an inspiring place to live for many people. It’s not just Latins and New Yorkers coming here anymore. It’s a truly global city.
Previews Inside Out Where do you see Miami design going in the future?
Juan Carlos Arcila-Duque Miami is going to expand north. The new South Beach is going to be on the Surfside and Bal Harbor. South Beach is fun, but congested. All the top new luxury housing developments are going north of Miami Beach — the 18-story Faena House condominium tower, where Miami’s most expensive penthouse sold in Miami this year, the Fendi Residence, the Four Seasons, Edition, Armani, Porsche Towers and the St. Regis are going to head north. Bal Harbor is going to be the new thing. There are more starchitects building in Miami than in Dubai 10 years ago, when I worked on a couple of projects. The new Wynwood Arts District will be huge. It’s a new generation of Miami.