Art is a medium of expression, like a second heart beating inside of us. It entertains, challenges us to think and feel, and gives voice to our emotions and opinions. For Valentina and Jeff Gutchess of Miami Shores, art also offers the opportunity for life and work to meet love.
In 2000, after a sun-soaked vacation, Valentina moved to Miami because the city was cosmopolitan and diverse, filled with Europeans and South Americans. She could see business was booming, and culture was heating up. In 2005, she met Jeff, a Cornell University-educated lawyer, who was raised in the leafy Finger Lakes town of Groton, New York. With his job defending multinational companies, he had moved to Miami in 2000 for work on a Bacardi case.
“We were introduced at Casa Tua,” says Valentina of the romantic South Beach restaurant. “Jeff and I hit it off because we are both positive people who enjoy life. We take risks and push each other to be our very best. Our first date was a two-mile run because we both love being outside with nature.”
Jeff, 53, who spent a few years adapting to Miami and its openness after spending his childhood in a small rural town, was impressed with Valentina’s moxie and spirit. “Valentina is entrepreneurial, a business person who seizes the moment, where I am more cautious as a lawyer,” he says. “We discovered immediately that we have many of the same interests like loving the beach, the sun, biking, boating, and the many interesting people in this growing city.”
They were married in 2006, had daughter Arabella, now 13, and a student at Miami Country Day school, and began collecting contemporary art. Born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela, Valentina developed an interest in art during her years traveling internationally. In Miami, she partnered in a retail store with the Peruvian born fashion designer Julian Chang, who has dressed Gloria Estefan, Paris Hilton, and Madonna. “I like new challenges, fashion, clothes, and marketing,” she says of the experience. “I helped Julian expand his brand.”
About two years ago, Valentina encouraged Jeff to open his own law practice. He had shifted toward the plaintiff side, and was eager to go out on his own but had concerns about the costs. “Valentina was so inspirational that I finally felt confident to start with a new concept and no system in place,” says Jeff of his AXS Law in Wynwood. “She got all of the ducks in a row, streamlined us and helped implement our ideas to promote the talents of young lawyers, treat them fairly and equitably in their compensation, and encourage them to enjoy life to the fullest, including the pursuit of extensive travel and outside interests.” Valentina now manages the law firm.
When they’re not busy with work pursuits, the couple looks forward to relaxing at home, with its pure white living spaces, sleek contemporary furniture, splashy art, sculptures, and collectibles, all facing a magnificent and unblemished view of the Intracoastal Waterway. “I love design and wanted our personality reflected in the house,” says Valentina. “I mix and match our colorful art. It’s eclectic and fun and makes us happy.”
They love to entertain, hosting guests in their home with its relaxed vibe and chill waterfront location. Although they love dining out, too, they admit that they find it easier to have in-depth conversations at home rather than in a restaurant.
Valentina says she learned how to organize and entertain from her mother’s regular Sunday parties of 12-14 guests who gathered in their Caracas home for darts, dominoes, and dinner. “I learned from my mother that it is a host’s job to be sure everyone has fun,” she says. “We have hosted dinner parties for years because we have lots of friends and enjoy mixing them up,” Jeff adds. “We like to tell stories about the past, learn new things, and compare notes about life, law, and business.”
The couple recently invited a group of guests for an art-themed outdoor dinner party. Things started hopping inside around the open living spaces with a welcome drink of gin with basil, lime, lemon, and syrup. When Miami artist Typoe arrived, he walked past his own intriguing canvas of a large smiley face created with gunpowder, which dominates the foyer. (The artist also works with fire, plastic, spray paint, and found objects to create his message laden works and installations.) Typoe has become friends with the hosts and enjoys their parties because he feels welcome and relaxed. “Valentina and Jeff are awesome people, and I love their serene living room that is so inviting with colorful couches scattered around,” he says of the bold decor.
As guests were introduced, they munched on passed appetizers of custom created beef with beets tartare, and light salmon cheesecake with special Italian made Calvisius Caviar created by chef Andrea Marchesin of Toscana Divino Hospitality. They also spent time admiring the art, including works by photographers Ryan Schude and Terry O’Neill and painter Santiago Rubino.
After a passing thunderstorm that produced a stunning rainbow, guests headed for the backyard, where the open tented tablescape next to the swimming pool dazzled with color, flowers, and floating candles atop mirrored squares.
Created by Judy Sun of Divine Creations, the long table showcased a creative runner made of branches from queen palm seed pod branches. They were dried, painted, and arranged artfully to accessorize the Born Blue orchids between each colorful arrangement. Hot pink roses, blue hydrangeas, and other florals repeated the colors of the art. “My floral design is touche´,” laughs Sun. “I get to use art to create art.”
Each place setting included gold-rimmed white china from Bavaria atop gold chargers, water glasses from Valentina’s family, clean lined Italian wine goblets, and Christofle flatware. The cloth napkins in lime green and fuchsia were artfully selected to match the theme and the flowers.
Chef Marchesin’s dinner started with a French green bean salad with red wine vinaigrette, shallot, and Sicilian almonds. It was followed by Spanish octopus “puttanesca” with Florida heirloom tomatoes and capers, risotto with green asparagus, cured egg yolk, and Grana Padano cheese from northern Italy, and freshly caught grouper with confit leeks and fumet sauce. For dessert, guests indulged in tiramisu served in bone china cups and saucers with a delicate rose pattern.
Guests chatted about food and art, their children, work, how to deal with COVID-19, travel plans (Valentina and Jeff are skipping Europe to explore Aspen, and hope to go to Israel and take a South African safari next year), and the many reasons Miami is such a great place to live.
As Valentina and Jeff know, one of those factors is the Miami art scene. In fact, Valentina’s passion for art has transformed the couple’s life. “Even though I have a strong marketing and business background, I loved the art galleries and museums in Europe, so I enrolled in an art history program at the Louvre,” says Valentina, who lived in both Paris and London after graduating from college. “I really like artists and enjoy encouraging their work.”
Valentina and Jeff play active roles in broadening the reach of Miami arts, including the contemporary Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM). Valentina supports the museum, and they both donate and volunteer. Several years ago, the couple partnered with a watch brand to host a PAMM fundraiser in their Miami Shores home. The couple has also has inaugurated art into the family law practice. “Access Art” is a continuing art exhibition where AXS hosts from eight to 10 annual art events in the office showcased with works from local Miami artists. “We help organize the shows and encourage our clients to view the art lining the walls,” says Valentina. “I love working on this, yet prefer being behind the scenes.”
As the party drew to a close, Valentina says that being surrounded by a diverse group of people who love art made the evening a success—enhanced by the creative hand of mother nature herself. “The rain made it more interesting,” she said. “It was beautiful to watch out of the windows amid our backdrop of art.”