BY LINDA MARX | PHOTOGRAPHS BY JUSTIN NAMON/RA-HAUS
Wine and food maestro Lee Brian Schrager admired this French chateau in Coral Gables for three decades before buying it and turning it into the home of his dreams.
For years, Lee Brian Schrager rode his bicycle though an area in Coral Gables that he felt resembled France. He hoped to eventually live in the charming historic neighborhood, which was an original vision of Coral Gables developer George E. Merrick. “I loved this French classic Tudor house,” says Schrager, now Senior Vice President of Communications and Corporate Responsibility at Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, and the genius behind the wildly successful Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach and New York City Wine & Food Festivals, which have raised more than $33 million for charity. “Over the years, I never talked to the people inside; I just admired the house.”
The 1924-built chateau in Coral Gables’ French Country Village was not for sale when Schrager decided to act on his dream. But the entrepreneur and author managed to change the owner’s mind. By November 2015, his magic had worked, and he moved in.
Today, Schrager and his Colombian-born husband, Dr. Ricardo Restrepo, a pediatric radiologist, live with their two dogs, Charlie, an Old English Sheepdog, and Stanley, a French Briard, in this 5,000+-square-foot, 4-bedroom, 4 -bath home, situated on a half-acre of land. The two-story house came with two extra lots and was turnkey delivered with very little structural work done inside. But the outside became a hub of renovation. “We created an outdoor kitchen and pavilion, installed a 64-foot-long Tuscan-style swimming pool, and turned the garage into a pool bathroom,” says Schrager. “We love to entertain outside—I am a trained chef—and we have a great courtyard with an antique fountain imported from France.”
Working with designer Michael Christiano, Schrager, who collects photography and likes his art to pop with vibrant colors and expressive faces, created a cozy, comfortable, livable home that is both romantic and rustically elegant with lots of original tiled floors. As much as he travels and dines in different restaurants, Schrager designed a home that he truly loves to enjoy. “When we started designing the interior, the house was a light gray and there was no overhead lighting,” says Schrager, whose passions include sitting on the board of the Perez Art Museum in Miami and working with the Food Bank for New York City, where he keeps an apartment. “So we put it all in.”
His team spiffed up the rooms with a brilliant use of art, furnishings, carpeting and paint. From the moment he closed on the house, the team members were working, planning, buying and performing the labor. For example, the living room-great room is exhilarating with a fireplace and mantel made of poured concrete. It has recessed lighting and a high ceiling painted blue, green and aqua like the ceiling in Schrager’s New York apartment.
Comfortable enough for the foodie to read in each morning, the living space is also a showcase for the couple’s eclectic art collection with works by Damien Hirst and Brazilian photographer Caio Reisewitz. Most of the furniture is custom-created with fabrics selected by the designer.
The sun room, which was born by borrowing a section of the living space and furnishing it with a custom banquette, is one of Schrager’s great escapes. “It was a side entryway when we removed the French doors,” he says. “The drapes are blue metallic and see-through, yet the room is very private. It is my favorite space in the house.”
Another favorite is the family room-den with recessed lighting and a Chinese red lacquer ceiling made of pecky cypress with grasscloth walls. The charming room is another showcase for the couple’s art, which includes a large Matthew Rolston Talking Heads photograph of a ventriloquist’s dummy.
The sitting room makes itself known with a wild zebra rug and a large print photo series which reads, “We Will No Longer Be Seen And Not Heard” by Barbara Kruger, the conceptual artist. Another standout is a stunning Barcelona chair by acclaimed German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
Naturally, for a foodie like Schrager, the kitchen and dining areas had to be exciting and furnished to his delight. Even though he loves to frequent Miami restaurants as often as possible, the couple also enjoy their meals at home.
The kitchen, which looks out into the courtyard, is beautiful with recessed and pendant lighting. Cherry wood counters and granite countertops with SubZero appliances and a vulcan range are perfect for Schrager who cooks about twice a month. “Even though we eat out and see friends, I love to cook and entertain.”
They invite about 40-50 people at a time often using the pizza oven. Guests gather both inside and outdoors for cocktails, conversation and dinner. The Culinary Institute graduate says his husband has nothing to do with the cooking except to enjoy eating it. “I do the cooking, and we have help to clean up,” says Schrager.
A colorful dining nook located just off of the kitchen is used nearly every day if the spouses are not dining outside. Highlighted with a round Knoll table and multicolored Eames empire chairs, the room is cheery, smart and sophisticated while offering the twin vibes of happy and homey. “I love the idea of eating in the kitchen,” says Schrager.
The formal dining room has walls painted celadon and curtains made of elegant Fortuny fabric. The chandelier and detailed armoire come from Paris, where Schrager and Restrepo love to spend their holiday time. A dominant red wall canvas adds another dimension to their dining experience.
Schrager’s office is another riot of color. The cool room is dominated by a large Union Jack rug from Stark Carpet under a wood ceiling with built-in shelves and storage spaces. A bright blue, green and aqua wall matching the vibrance of the living-great room ceiling adds excitement to this functional space.
Collectibles, books, antiques, art and other objects are found here and all over the house since both men like to collect and shop for unusual pieces. “We love to visit auction houses and flea markets in Miami and Paris and other places,” says Schrager.
Their art filled hallway dazzles with colorful rugs from Morocco and more than a dozen works of art, including Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf’s print of a girl swinging.
Once ensconced in their master bedroom with its vaulted ceiling, Schrager’s love for the color gray is all encompassing and gives the space the appropriate feeling of quiet repose. The bed is custom made and appointed with linens from Pratesi; the custom-patterned carpet comes from Stark. The chandelier, discovered at 1st dibs, hangs over the bed, protecting the inhabitants from the outside world.
“I am so happy in this house,” says Schrager. “No matter where we have been, we just love coming home because our house and neighborhood are like having a touch of Europe in Miami.”