When Nicolai Bezsonoff and Constanza Collarte decided to move to Miami in 2010, it wasn’t just about starting a new home in a new place – it was also about building a life together after years of long-distance romance.
Although they both previously lived in Miami, New York and London, they did not meet until 2008, when they attended a mutual friend’s engagement party in Bogota, Colombia. At the time, Mr. Bezsonoff lived in New York and Mrs. Collarte in the process of leaving Miami for London.
The two-year bi-continental relationship that flourished from this initial meeting “involved a lot of air miles and AT&T long-distance bills,” said Bezsonoff, a 46-year-old CEO who specializes in domain names and hosting.
Eventually, they uprooted their lives to be together, sharing a beach apartment in Key Biscayne for several years. “It was a little paradise, just beautiful,” said Mrs. Collarte, 40, interior designer.
But when they started having children – now they have three: Andreas, 7, Lucia, 4 and Agustin, 1 – they outgrown their space and the lifestyle sand between their fingers was less heavenly.
So in 2016, they started looking for a new home. But most of what they saw left them cold. “Everything in the landscape was a white modern box,” said Mrs. Collarte.
What they hoped for was a house of character. Or, as Mr. Bezsonoff said, “we wanted something that felt more at home, not so new.”
As they traveled through a Mediterranean-inspired house in the 1930s in Coconut Grove, Ms. Collarte said, “We both fell in love immediately.”
The exterior of the house with its stucco and terracotta roofs – wrapped in a lush courtyard of magnolia and palm trees, trimmed ficus and brick walkways created by Panamanian landscaper Fernando Wong – radiated charm.
The 5,400-square-foot interior was another story. Over the years, the house has undergone a number of reconstructions and additions, leaving unpleasant connections and corridors and dated alterations – exactly what the couple dreamed of. “We wanted something that could fit our teeth into and do some work to create our own,” said Mrs. Collarte.
In May, they bought the house for about $ 3 million, and Ms. Collarte began drawing plans for renovations that would not only update the style of the interior, but also relocate the walls and create a cohesive, comfortable living space for the busy young family.
She moved the laundry room from the garage to the ground floor, opened the kitchen to the family room, removed the fireplace that stood in the way, relocated the bathrooms, relocated the misplaced staircase, changed the living room and dining room, and added new windows that bring light and air. Except for the rescue of some of the original doors and floors she repaired, it was a complete renovation of the entrails.
“I wanted to take it almost to a Spanish Californian-style home,” Ms. Collarte said, adding pleasing textures, soft curves and colors, natural materials, and hand-applied finishes. “There’s a lot of human touch in everything, which is a big deal for me.”
For example, cabinets in a newly expanded kitchen were painted by hand rather than painted in a store. And the white walls have a cloudy appearance, because the painter Mrs. Collarte applied lime and then waxed the surface, which adds shine and protects the surface from dirty hands.
She lined the primary bathroom with warm-colored limestone and installed a custom white-oak cabinet. And in many areas of the house she designed arched openings and walls with rounded edges, avoiding sharp corners.
The interior doesn’t look top notch, but the smart-home system allows the couple to control the lighting, heating, cooling and entertainment from their smartphones. “I think I’m in technology, so one of the requirements was that I wanted to have a stand with equipment – just a few flashing lights,” Mr. Bezsonoff said. (However, in line with Mrs Collarte’s aesthetics, it is hidden.)
This calm feeling denies the surprises that contractors discovered during construction. When demolition began in February 2017, the couple discovered sagging beams and problems with the foundations. Also, “we realized we had to remodel the roof,” Ms Collarte said. “And we found out there are termites.”
The transformation took 17 months to complete, costing about $ 130 per square foot.
After living in the house for more than two years, Mr. Bezsonoff is still sometimes surprised by how he likes it. “I literally kicked and screamed that I was moving away from my beloved apartment,” he said, looking at the water. “It was a big change, but I like the way we live in this house.” I don’t think I realized I would be able to enjoy the house that way. “
And having more room to expand during a pandemic was a gift. “There is room for anyone to approach, and for Nicolai and me so we can do our job,” Ms Collarte said. “And there are places where we can hide from our children if necessary.”