Home Improvement

A very imperfect home in Miami

When Nicolai Bezsonoff and Constanza Collarte decided to move to Miami in 2010, it was not just about building a new home in a new location, but building a life together after years of long-distance romance.

Although both had previously lived in Miami, New York, and London, they didn’t meet until they attended an engagement party for a mutual friend in Bogotá, Colombia, in 2008. At the time, Mr. Bezsonoff was living in New York and Mrs. Collarte was en route from Miami to London.

The two-year bi-continental relationship that emerged from that first encounter “involved a lot of air miles and AT&T long distance bills,” said Bezsonoff, 46, a technology manager who specializes in domain names and hosting.

Eventually they uprooted their lives to be together and shared an apartment on Key Biscayne Beach for several years. “It was a little paradise, just beautiful,” said Ms. Collarte, 40, an interior designer.

But when they started having kids – they now have three: Andreas, 7, Lucia (4), and Agustin (1) – they grew out of their space, and that sand-between-the-toes lifestyle felt less paradisiacal.

In 2016 they started looking for a new home. But most of what they saw left them indifferent. “Everything in the landscape was a white, modern box,” said Ms. Collarte.

What they had hoped for was a house with character. Or, as Mr Bezsonoff put it, “We wanted something that felt more like home and wasn’t that new.”

When they toured a Mediterranean-inspired home from the 1930s in the Coconut Grove neighborhood, Ms. Collarte said, “We both fell in love instantly.”

The stucco and terracotta exterior of the house – encased in a lush garden of magnolias and palm trees, clipped Green Island Ficus, and brick walkways designed by Fernando Wong, a Panamanian landscape architect – exuded charm.

The 5,400-square-foot interior was a different story. The home had undergone a number of renovations and additions over the years that had awkward connections and corridors, as well as outdated finishes – exactly what the couple had dreamed of. “We wanted something that we could empathize with and work a little bit to make our own,” said Ms. Collarte.

They bought the house in May for about $ 3 million, and Ms. Collarte began drawing plans for a renovation that would not only update the interior style but also move walls to create contiguous, comfortable living spaces for a busy one to create young family.

She moved the laundry room from the garage to the first floor of the house, opened the kitchen to the family room, removed a fireplace in the way, repositioned the bathrooms, relocated a poorly placed staircase, and swapped the locations of the living room and dining room, and added new windows to bring in light and air. Apart from a few original doors and floors that she had reworked, it was a complete intestinal renovation.

“I almost wanted to bring it to a Spanish Californian style home,” said Ms. Collarte, adding pleasing textures, soft curves and colors, natural materials and hand-applied finishes. “There’s a lot of human touch to everything, which is a big deal to me.”

For example, the cabinets in the newly expanded kitchen were hand-painted and not painted in a shop. And the white walls have a hazy appearance because Ms. Collarte’s painter applied lime wash and then waxed the surface, which adds shine and protects the finish from messy hands.

She clad the main bathroom in warm-colored limestone and installed custom-made cabinets made of white oak. And in many areas of the house she designed arched openings and walls with rounded edges, without sharp corners.

The interior doesn’t look like high-tech, but a smart home system allows the couple to control lighting, heating, cooling and entertainment from their smartphone. “I mean, I’m in the tech, so one of the requirements was that I wanted a rack of gear – just a couple of flashing lights,” Bezsonoff said. (In keeping with Ms. Collarte’s aesthetic, however, it is hidden.)

That calm feeling belies the surprises contractors discovered during construction. When the demolition began in February 2017, the couple discovered sagging beams and foundation problems. “We realized that we need to replace the roof,” said Ms. Collarte. “And we discovered that there were termites.”

The transformation took 17 months to complete and cost approximately $ 130 per square foot.

After living in the house for over two years, Mr. Bezsonoff is still occasionally surprised by how much he likes it. “I literally kicked and screamed for moving away from my beloved apartment,” he said, looking out over the water. “It was a big change, but I love the way we live in this house. I don’t think I knew I could enjoy the house that much. “

And during the pandemic, having more space to spread out was a gift. “There are rooms for everyone to zoom in and for Nicolai and me to get our work done,” said Ms. Collarte. “And there are places where we can hide from our children if necessary.”

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