Each week, design doyenne Daniella Ohad talks with an industry-defining legend of interior design
Each week, Daniella Ohad hosts Interior Design: The Legends, a virtual program presented in partnership with Christie’s Education, comprising one-on-one interviews with the world’s most admired interior designers. For the Design Miami/ Forum, Ohad recaps the highlights from each conversation. This week her subject is Juan Montoya.
“My friendship with Juan Montoya started with our mutual interest in Art Deco and our shared a taste for creating interior ‘atmospheres.’ A perfect example is his home in the Hudson Valley, La Formentera, where I’ve spent many wonderful moments. Mixing art from various cultures along with furniture, sculptures, and objects of different styles and eras, the atmosphere he created there is very personal, representative of his exceptional lifestyle and talent.”—gallerist Jean-Jacques Dutko
With decades of experience working across the globe at the vanguard of interior design, Juan Montoya is a master of his craft, creating projects that are enormous in scale, complicated to produce, and composed of innumerable details. And the results always look completely effortless. As a citizen of the world—a poet-explorer of planet Earth—his residential designs feel larger than life, telling stories filled with surprise and wonder. For last week’s Interior Design: The Legends program, he generously took us on a whirlwind tour through his portfolio.
I first met Montoya in 2018 at Kips Bay Decorator Show House, where he presented his unforgettable Moonlight Room. Inspired by the forces of the cosmos rendered in a rich palette of blue, white, and gold, the space featured furniture and lighting by Josef Hoffmann of the Wiener Werkstätte and evoked the spirit of turn-of-the-century Austria at the dawn of the modernist era. Moonlight Room exceeded the mission statement of the prestigious Show House to advance original, illuminating thinking about interior design past, present, and future.
Montoya’s signature work harnesses a virtuosic array of geographical and historical references to imbue spaces with strong identities and deep narratives. His New York City apartments always celebrate the city and its distinct urban flavor; his tropical houses appear to sprout from the landscapes that surround them; and his mountain retreats are earthy, iterating on the archetype of the cabin. For a double apartment at Miami’s iconic Surf Club, Montoya recreated the atmosphere of sailing a yacht, fulfilling his client’s dream of living everyday on the water. Every project is a one-of-a-kind universe unto itself, a sanctuary, each in its own way. Montoya’s command of style, as French dealer Alexandre Biaggi told me, arises from his “fantastic sense of architecture and volumes, combined with a sensual choice of materials and a sophisticated selection of furniture.”
Montoya’s design process considers every detail, from door handles and furniture to architectural elements, all bespoke and personalized. He is known for shopping in local antiques shops and commissioning local artisans—cabinetmakers, ceramicists, weavers—as he believes that interior designers must play a role in the preservation of craft traditions. At the same time, he loves to punctuate his interiors with collection-worthy masterpieces of modern and contemporary design and encourages his clients to invest in original, authentic pieces. His favorite New York galleries include Maison Gerard, Donzella, Cristina Grajales, and Hostler Burrows.
While Montoya regularly works on urban and country residences as well as commercial projects, he has become an industry-leading voice in the design of tropical homes. Active especially in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Florida, he has developed a fresh, contemporary design vocabulary for living in paradise. For a private compound on the peninsular north of Puerto Vallarta, he embraced the unique locality by collaborating with artisans from regional villages. Every detail—hand carved doors, vibrant textiles, exquisite furniture—was locally crafted, highlighting the richness of Mexican craftsmanship and aesthetics through a contemporary lens.
Montoya was born in Bogotá to a family of intellectuals. His great grandfather was the renowned 19th-century writer Jorge Isaacs, whose novel Maria is considered one of the most important works of Spanish-language literature. He still spends time with family at his Bogotá apartment and is immensely proud of his hometown; he spoke admiringly of the city’s brick architecture and lively art scene, noting that Bogotá has become more and more cosmopolitan over the years. He also splits his time between his home and office in Manhattan and his country retreat in the Hudson Valley, Le Formentera (named for the Spanish Island he fell in love with while visiting). At Le Formentera, Montoya indulges his passion for gardening, cultivating an environment that is informal, natural, and wild. The landscape, he told us, is “an extension of the architecture.”
Montoya concluded our talk with a look at a mountain house in Dearborn, Montana, set amid a breathtaking landscape—the majestic Rocky Mountains, crystalline waters, and fragrant pine trees. To make the most of the extraordinary vistas and promoting outdoor recreations and casual family time, he designed interiors that are beautifully rough and raw, devoid of precious materials, and easy to maintain. Wood, leather, suede, horsehair, and textiles dominate the scheme, with practical and simple furnishings sourced locally.
How different each one of Montoya’s projects is. The common thread is carefully constructed storytelling about the specificity of place and the diversity of expressions found around the world. When I asked how he sees his work in the context of contemporary design, he answered: “My interiors are always about wonder, something that is unexpected.” ◆
You can attend live Interior Design: The Legends webinars by registering here.