The Modern Mediterranean Home

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Mediterranean Home Designed and Built by Florida Custom Builder Jorge Ulibarri

Integrating Old World Exteriors with the 21st Century Interiors

Mediterranean architecture endures in Florida as a style perfectly in sync with its surroundings and history but exterior curb appeal doesn’t have to dictate interior decor. Florida Custom Builder Jorge Ulibarri says most of his clients prefer some variation of Mediterranean architecture but their interior preferences often merge Old-World and 21st Century styles.  “I have clients who want a home that looks from the outside like it has endured for generations, yet on the inside, the style is sleek and modern-a look commonly defined as contemporary.” 

Jorge is currently building two homes featuring Tuscan architecture with contemporary interiors. It’s a trend that Winter Park-based Wolfe-Rizor Interiors is seeing as well. Design Principals Hattie Wolfe and Abigail Rizor say clients no longer want heavy furniture, fabrics, and décor. “There is a formality to that look and the younger generations are very informal. Mediterranean is here to stay but clients now want contemporary interiors,” explains Hattie, who co-founded the interior design firm 17 years ago.   The mother-daughter design team of Wolfe-Rizor Interiors says interiors are becoming more casual in feel. “People want less fuss, a sleeker, easier look to match their lifestyle,” says Abigail.

Contemporary Interior designed by Wolfe-Rizor Interiors in Winter Park. The style is popular with Mediterranean homes and homeowners seek to mix Old World Exteriors with 21st Century Interiors

This modern twist on the Mediterranean is gaining traction in Central Florida and has several interpretations. Jorge calls it a fusion of Old World and Modern Expression. “I craft every detail of the home to feel like it has been there for a century but with modern amenities,” says Jorge, who is currently building a 4,600-square-foot residence on Park Avenue in Winter Park. The home features a tower entry with Mediterranean flourishes throughout.

Wolfe-Rizor calls the popular look Italian-Modern. “Americans have fallen in love with that Tuscan look, which used to mean heavy, ornate detailing. But truthfully, Italians are known for great contemporary,” says Abigail. She cites the kitchen as an example. “Contemporary kitchens are big now and go well with Mediterranean architecture. Instead of heavy, stained cabinetry with corbels and mosaics, cabinets are now flat paneled. Countertops are sleeker with contemporary hardware. Terrazzo flooring can complete the look.”

Whatever the interpretation, Jorge doesn’t foresee Mediterranean architecture falling out of favor. “There are many practical reasons for Mediterranean exteriors in Florida. Stucco finishes protect the walls of a home from rain, sunlight and Florida’s hot, humid climate,” explains Jorge. Many of his homes are inspired by the Haciendas Jorge grew up with in his native Mexico. “The tile roofs seen on many Florida homes actually help cool the home and protect it from water intrusion and fire,” says Jorge, who points to its storied engineering.  “Spanish and Mexican missions used tile made of out clay pots and bricks to shed water easily. The air pocket in the barrel tile helped cool the home.”

Kitchen with a contemporary edge designed and built by Florida Custom Builder Jorge Ulibarri. The home is Mediterranean/Tuscan on the Exterior

The floorplan of today’s Mediterranean home also has evolved over the last 20 years.  Jorge says many clients are opting to forgo the formal living room.  “I’m building for two clients who both decided not to have formal living rooms to optimize their square footage. Most people nowadays entertain in the kitchen and family room as a large open, connected social space,” says Jorge.

Wolfe-Rizor is seeing the same preferences with their clients. “For a while the ceilings couldn’t get high enough and rooms couldn’t get big enough. People didn’t know what to do with all that space. The trend now is to get cozier, more realistic about space rather than have all this empty volume you have to fill up,” explains Hattie.

Contemporary Interiors Designed by Wolfe-Rizor Interiors in Winter Park successfully integrates modern, sleek elements with Old World architecture

With tastes trending towards a mixture of the Old Word and 21st Century, here are a few tips to successfully integrate two different styles:

Use color to bring the outside inside even though the styles are different. Abigail cites an example: “Use a great color on the shutters outside and then incorporate the color with great accent pillows or even using cabinetry in that color.”

Choose contemporary light fixtures for the interior to mix rustic elements with modern accents.

Furnish the room with monochromatic pieces and accent with color. Wolfe-Rizor Interiors says elements like a traditional velvet sofa and a contemporary coffee table relate to Mediterranean architecture but are more today.

Incorporate stainless steel kitchen appliances to give it a clean, utilitarian look and instant gourmet status. The sleek appliances can compliment a timeworn ambiance.

Accent with personal affects such as a great piece of art, family photos or a family heirloom to make a home look “lived in.” Contemporary architecture can be cold without warming it up with objects that make a house a home.

Mediterranean architecture remains the gold standard of Florida home design. Whether it’s Spanish Mission, Tuscan, Spanish Colonial, Italian Renaissance or another variation, successfully integrating Old World architecture with 21st Century interiors can create a signature style for the homeowner. For more design tips and ideas to add affordable luxury to your living space, check out the series Trade Secrets by Jorge available on YouTube. For more information, go to or call 407-733-5500