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Tampa interior designer talks about life, career and current projects

Franco Pasquale learned to appreciate design at a young age, traveling the world with his parents and visiting historic homes and palaces. His mother, Lucia, worked as an executive assistant in the Rome office of Life magazine, and his father, Antonio, was an Italian cabinetmaker.

When his mother transferred to the magazine’s New York office, the family emigrated to the United States. While his parents were busy building a new life in America, Pasquale said they sent him back to Italy often. There, he was continuously inspired by historical architecture.

He moved to Florida in the early 1990s and launched his own interior design firm in Tampa in 1994. Channeling the castles he toured in his youth, Pasquale, 59, now designs multimillion-dollar homes along the west coast of Florida. He shared the trends he has observed in the past 30 years and predictions on what our homes will look like in the future.

Franco Pasquale [Franco A. Pasquale Design Associates]

After deciding to pursue your design career, where did you do your formal studies?

Being raised in New York was a major benefit to me, allowing me to become familiar with luxury goods and designs. I studied at the Pratt Institute in New York City and later at the Domus Academy in Milan, Italy, specializing in lighting and industrial design. I also took professional courses at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in Cambridge, mostly related to expanding my abilities and (focusing) on residential interior design and interior architecture.

How did you end up in Tampa?

When I graduated in 1990, the design market was dead, so I took a part-time job with an airline and that brought me to Tampa. I worked in design for a few people prior to that, and I decided it was time to branch out on my own. I had a client who purchased three houses, and I ended up doing all three back to back, so it was a good launch. I opened Franco A. Pasquale Design Associates in 1994. Ten years ago, we renovated an old cigar factory in Tampa and moved the firm to our current location (3024 N. Habana Ave.).

How would you describe your design style?

I’m a classically trained interior designer with a focus on the fine arts. When I went to design school, we were learning figurative drawing, space and ceramics, not just technical drawing. They molded us to be artists and to be technically trained. Interior design has changed so much since then. We were just starting to get into computer-generated design in 1991, and that was even prior to 3D design, which is currently what we are doing. Back then, everything was hand-drawn, and you had to be meticulous with every detail. Designs still must be precise, but the computer allows for more flexibility and speed. I think style comes and goes, just like fashion. I take a lot of my cues from fashion. As a designer, you can see how quickly fashions translate into design.

Tell us about your own home.

I live in a Spanish Mediterranean-style home in Tampa with a courtyard and a flat roof. It definitely has a Spanish vibe to it. My home has always been a mix of different styles and materials. I love antiques and mid-century modern. I like that clean approach, the simplicity of the lines and that kind of style.

How would you describe the current design trends?

When I started, Tampa was still very traditional. Up in New York, I was doing more modern design with cleaner lines and fewer patterns. There were a few people (who) had moved here from New York and California, and they wanted that design. I could bring that, so that gave me a niche in the local market. The modern look included more maple woods and neutral tones, and I think they are kind of back again. Warm colors are starting to come back. (We) are seeing more browns in design and fabrics, and blue is the new black. I think gray, hopefully, is gone for a while. It’s a little like hairstyles – they are the same as they were, only not as severe with as much hair spray. Patterns are back. So is wallpaper, including grass cloth. Floor-to-ceiling drapes are also popular and a good way to soften up harsh lines.

Entranceway of a home in Tampa. [ Franco A. Pasquale Design Associates ]

What do you think we’ll be seeing in the near future in design?

What I see looking down the road is that people, hopefully, are going to start thinking a little bit more about making their homes more sustainable. They are focusing more on quality materials. I think it’s important when you are building a home to (invest in) hurricane-proof windows, solid architecture and proper insulation. My clients want to age in their homes as well. They are looking to simplify designs with fewer curves and more user-friendly plumbing fixtures so they can transition (into their spaces) and remain comfortable as they get older.

Have design firms changed since you began in the industry?

The answer is yes. These days, I am collaborating more with others in and outside of my firm, which has seven members now, including an architect and interior and exterior designers. And if I have a project, I may call two other designers and work together depending on the clients’ needs. I am hoping to create more of a collaborative space in my own office, sharing space and my design ideas. There are a lot of designers out in the market who need more help.

What kind of jobs do you handle these days?

I (have) one home that is $30 million for the build-out alone, and the interior furnishings are over $2 million. That home is in Boca Grande. The average design budget for one of my clients usually starts at about $150,000. I don’t do smaller jobs anymore, but even somebody on a budget can still make good design choices that are functional, aesthetically pleasing and fashion-forward. It may not be practical to buy the bright pink sofa that you fall in love with at the furniture studio, but you could always buy the pink pillows instead.