Chad Oppenheim

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A Conversation with Chad Oppenheim

The architecture of Chad Oppenheim is simultaneously daring and sensible, romantic and reductive; evocative and essential. An alchemist of atmosphere, Oppenheim transforms the prosaic into the poetic-- eliciting a site’s inherent power through minimal gesture and sincere means. Spaces and structures, optimized for pleasure and performance, establish aesthetic delight with passioned sensitivity towards man and nature.

During a week when one needs 30 hours in the day to get to all the Art related events, I had a chance to have brunch with Chad Oppenheim at his home and architectural showpiece on Sunset Island. We were there to meet the man who has had a major impact on the Miami skyline and to talk about his new green initiative, a project called the Ecoist Oppenheim purse.


245 NE 37th Street
Suite 102
Miami, FL 33137

Phone: 305-576-8404

Click for Directions

Chad Oppenheim is a man that practices what he preaches, from his mammoth corporate projects, to his home, to the Ecoist Purse, the emphasis is on maximizing architecture and design to the zenith of satisfaction while maintaining respect for mother earth.


Like every other event during Art Basel, I was running 15 minutes late, like the proverbial Mad Hatter. Once behind the 15′ hedges we entered the tranquil enclave which is fitting for the home named Villa Allegra. Like Alice through the looking glass, Oppenheim’s home transports you away from the all too familiar meretricious style synonymous with many South Beach homes. The home is a perfect blend of understated opulence meticulous attention to detail, in short; it doesn’t try to be cool…it defines it.


Everything about the home is strategically thought out to the most exacting detail. Oppenheim shared that the Miami lifestyle is about pleasure and he wanted to design a home to maximize the best that Miami has to offer. He had initially transformed a nondescript one story home into a stately modern manor for a special family. However once his lovely wife Illona saw the finished project, it was a fait-a-compli and the Oppenheim’s made Villa Allegra their home. I was able to see their precocious young son Hendrix make the most of the home as he enjoyed some pool time with his grandmother while we toured the property.

The 9000 foot study in contemporary living is designed to comfortably blend the outdoors with indoors. From the 30′ ceilings and expansive entrance with the oculus above, to tranquility of the koi pond, one transitions from the out-of-doors to indoors seamlessly. I immediately noticed the special details that give the home so much of its character, such as the suspended staircase and the floor to ceiling windows at the back of the home that bathed the interior in natural light. One also notices that there isn’t a lot of art on the walls. The home and space is the art. The home does have several pieces of whimsical furniture and other accent pieces. Oppenheim shares that he’s picked up several pieces from Design Miami such as the teddy bear chair by Fernando and Humberto Campana and the croquet patterned seat.

The back garden is a perfect private haven with charcoal tiled infinity pool complete with sunken jacuzzi. The alfresco dining space and lounge areas are perfect for catching some sun during the day or candlelit dinners at night. Just behind the thick foliage enclosing the back yard, hidden from view, one finds the private dock area as this home is after all on an island.

Over a healthy breakfast of muesli, locally grown fresh fruits, fresh breads and guava Bellinis I sat down with Oppenheim to talk about his new pet project, the Ecoist Oppenheim purse. He began by telling us about the history of his firm, Oppenheim Architecture + Design. The firm is an architecture and interior design firm with offices in Miami, New York, and Basel. Oppenheim Architecture + Design’s marketing materials speak to the importance of incorporating environmental focus into designs: “The green aspects of our design establish a perfect equilibrium of design, sustainability, and economic viability that emphasizes constructablity over architectural bravado.” This vision manifests itself throughout their projects from private residences to corporate offices to hospitality projects. In fact their design of the DC 1 hotel in the nations capital won an international sustainability competition and will serve as the flagship for the 1 hotel chain which is the first sustainable hotel chain in the world.

It is this passion for sustainability and the environment that lead Oppenheim to get behind the Ecoist Oppenheim handbag. Ecoist makes handmade high fashion handbags from recycled candy wrappers, soda labels, and other materials. In addition to upcycling other waste materials, Ecoist plants a tree for every bag sold thus preserving the environment and reducing global warming.

Oppenheim recycles architectural plans to create these hand make one-of-a-kind handbags. Not many people can boast that the purse they are wearing is made from the plans of some of the most respected architectural projects in the world, what a great conversation starter. These limited edition purses will be available on line at in January 2011 for about $275. 100% of the proceeds from the sale of the purses go to replanting trees through the Trees for the Future project.

We spoke to Oppenheim about this concept of upcycling. Oppenheim is not only an expert but a student of this movement and talks about William McDonough’s book, Cradle to Cradle, which heralds the importance of not only recycling but taking obsolete products and making them into something better. Oppenheim’s home is the manifestation of this concept as it is masterpiece of renovation.

This belief is evident in his projects and personal life. The DC 1 hotel project used re-purposed bricks and a renovation in Colorado used old barn wood and local stones. In his home life he shares that his family composts waste and also sources their meals from local farms.

Oppenheim is a man that practices what he preaches, from his mammoth corporate projects, to his home, to the Ecoist Purse, the emphasis is on maximizing architecture and design to the zenith of satisfaction while maintaining respect for mother earth.