Tucked away on posh Star Island, a longtime haven for Miami Beach’s rich and famous, like music royalty Gloria and Emilio Estefan and NBA basketball great Shaquille O’Neal, sits a sprawling, Mediterranean-inspired estate befitting a star. Designed and built by architect and contractor Jorge Esteban, with interiors by interior designer Perla Lichi, the opulent property overlooks the sparkling turquoise waters of Biscayne Bay and showcases a trio of lavish living: an 18,120-square-foot main house, a two-story guest house and a wellness retreat with bragging rights to a racquetball court, gym and massage loft.
Esteban, a University of Miami graduate, started designing the home in 2004, and while the project was put on hold for several years, he broke ground in 2009 and completed the build almost four years later. “The biggest satisfaction is the rare opportunity to build what I design,” says Esteban, founding principal of Jorge L. Esteban Architecture and Planning. “Most people get to do one or the other, but I have the pleasure of seeing my vision come to life.”
The estate dramatically comes to life as you pass through the towering wrought-iron gates, under a bridge (that connects the separate guest house and wellness building) and down the intentionally long driveway to the main house. “I wanted a grand entrance,” says Esteban. “If you go back in history, my inspiration came from famed architect Andrea Palladio’s Villa ‘La Rotonda’ in Italy.” Esteban melded his inspiration with the owners’ vision for a Mediterranean-Italian villa with old-world charm and Moroccan touches—but built with a Miami mindset. “When I design a house in South Florida, I consider hurricanes. Everything in the house is solid concrete, and the windows and doors are impact resistant.”
In true Mediterranean style, arched doorways and sturdy wood-framed windows reign supreme throughout the mansion, but for Esteban, every design has a purpose. “If you have an arch, it’s there to put a spotlight on something,” he says, adding, “and each room also tells a story.”
Interior designer Perla Lichi of Perla Lichi Design in Coral Springs, Florida, worked hand in hand with Esteban in weaving together each room’s story. “The clients are well-traveled people with an eclectic art collection, so we designed each room on their needs and lifestyle,” says Perla Lichi, ASID. “What I like about the house is it’s such a fusion of styles and history.”
The home’s narrative begins in the unique foyer, fitted with inviting nooks with a Moorish flare for guests to gather. “I wanted to give depth to the walls, so when the client said he wanted benches, we came up with an arch design,” Esteban says. Lichi also gave those nooks added dimension with a “mashrabiya” architectural element, using carved mahogany wood latticework.
But you won’t linger for long when you see what’s before you. A long corridor, that seems to go on forever, leads to the showstopping centerpiece of the home: an indoor courtyard (which was originally designed to be an outdoor courtyard) touched with Moroccan accents and its pièce de résistance, an expansive glass ceiling that allows Miami’s delicious natural light to flood the space. “Depending on the time of day, everything looks different. As the sun moves, it creates shadows, and when there’s a full moon, it’s just incredible,” says Esteban. The homeowner, who loves birds, even installed an aviary and often sets the birds free to soar through the expansive room.
Also in the center of the courtyard is a beautiful fountain. “We wanted the eye to lead to the fountain, so we created geometric blue-and-white tiles that are typical in Morocco,” says Lichi.
Move through the courtyard to discover a formal living room reminiscent of a residence in aristocratic Palm Beach—with a working fireplace, piano and hand-painted frescos on the ceilings—a formal dining room, a relaxed family room, a kitchen with top-of-the-line appliances, two powder rooms and an inhome theater with cushy seats. “Every piece of furniture in the home is custom,” says Lichi. “We were careful to select custom fabrics to match the mood of each room.”
“The owner also wanted a room for entertaining, so we decked it out with a humidor, formal bar and walk-in wine cellar,” says Esteban. Another standout feature is the baroque-style, symmetrical staircase— with marble floors and stone columns—that leads to the second floor, where the master suite encompasses the entire west side and is centered on those coveted Miami vistas. “Wherever you are, the tub, the bed, you get those million-dollar views of the water and Downtown Miami,” says Esteban. On the east side there are four expansive secondary suites bathed in colors of rich lavender or powder-blue toile reminiscent of Provence and elaborately fitted with private balconies and walk-in closets. “Each bedroom has its own personality,” says Lichi. “That’s the beauty of this house, it’s a rainbow of styles, yet they all tie together.”
The designer also created intricate galleries that overlook the courtyard below. “I didn’t want to have any hallways because they are dark,” says Esteban, who devised groin vault ceilings with chandeliers in each gallery. “This breaks up the length of the gallery and creates different, interesting sections.”
While it’s tempting to never leave the sumptuous indoors, Esteban devoted just as much attention to the outdoor space, creating a large pool inspired by a Roman bath, with long steps that gradually escalate into the water, submerged benches meant for lounging with a cocktail and an infinity-edge that feels as if the pool melts into Biscayne Bay.
For more of those stunning bay views, shoot up the elevator to the rooftop terrace, which can host up to 80 people, to celebrate the end of another beautiful South Florida day. Even today, the estate never seems to leave the designer’s mind. “This house is special,” says Esteban. “I left my heart and soul in that house.”
Angela Caraway-Carlton is a Miami-based freelance writer, travel and lifestyle expert, and television producer. Her works have appeared in Indulge Magazine, Time Out, Elysian, Aventura, South Florida Luxury Guide and Modern Luxury Weddings South Florida & the Caribbean. Caraway-Carlton has covered lifestyle trends in South Florida and beyond for more than a decade