When Carolina and Pedro Freyre first laid eyes on the 1950 Coral Gables home they were considering buying, it wasn’t much to look at: The cinder block- and-stucco structure suffered from low ceilings, a choppy blend of elevations that meant stepping up or down to get from one room to another and a very unfortunate infestation of iguanas. Still, “we fell in love with it,” Carolina says, adding the house’s unique position on a bluff in the bend of a canal—which gives the property a long, southwesterly view over the water—compelled them to buy it.
Luckily, Carolina, an interior designer, had a precise vision for the residence: “Right from the start, it was screaming ‘beach bungalow,’” she says. With help from architect Arturo Fanjul and general contractors Andres Freyre and Frank Batista, she conceived a property that feels like a modern Bahamian-meets-Ibizan cottage and reflects her family’s travels and love of entertaining.
To achieve such an ideal outcome, the structure first had to be taken down to its cinder block shell with only two interior walls standing. “We didn’t just scrape it and build on the site, because it would have been too challenging to build something newer,” explains Andres, Pedro’s cousin. “It has a coral stone foundation, and that was a big benefit to keeping the shell of the house.” Fanjul overhauled the layout, creating a central great room that comprises the living area, kitchen and dining area and is lined with sliding glass doors to the back patio and pool. “We knew we needed to create volume and capture the vistas,” he says. By removing the ceiling cross beams and boosting interior height, the team achieved an airy feel and added one of the home’s most distinguishing features: the truss system’s tension rods. Structural in essence, they are also a key aesthetic boon thanks to their painted matte black color, which injects an industrial feel. “They give the house a little edge that differentiates it from a typical beach home,” Carolina says of the rods, installed in the kitchen and the main bedroom. “They make it feel a little more ‘us.’”
A former carpenter, Batista credits the craftsmanship to Carolina’s eye for detail. “Every nook and cranny took discussion,” he says. To build a home of this caliber, he adds, “you start from the millimeter, and you move your way up to inches and feet.” Materials played a starring role; the thoughtful palette on the exterior includes stucco in a beachy clapboard finish and the original barrel-tile roof, painted white.
The bright, clean aesthetic continues inside, where the floors are covered in a concrete-like micro-topping and sealed with marine-grade white paint. Combined with the walls, all painted the same shade of white, the envelope is an ideal backdrop for layers of furnishings, rugs and art that give the spaces a storied, collected feel. In the family room, there’s a framed rubbing of a steam-hole cover an artist created outside of Dartmouth College’s business school, where Pedro attended. The same area holds a handsome chest the couple bought from an antique store when they lived in Atlanta and an Indian mirror with gorgeous inlay, a hand-me- down from Carolina’s mother. Across the room, double doors that lead to the main bedroom showcase knobs Carolina bought at London’s famed street market on Portobello Road; nearby, a framed black-and-white photo of men fishing— purchased in Positano, Italy—reminds the couple of Pedro’s childhood summers, spent in a small fishing community in Spain. “It’s important to me that every detail tells a story,” Carolina says.
That narrative extends to the house’s landscaping and hardscapes. Out back, a three- tiered terrace leads to the water and a small boathouse. Landscape designer Jason Smith, who helped engineer the terraces, left three original junipers—“which have so much character,” he says—and introduced palm trees and shrubbery such as clusia nana. In the front, he adds, “we went for exotic, highly sought-after trees, like cabada palms and satakentia.”
The whole residence exudes intentionality and warmth. “Everyone feels at home here,” Carolina says. “I can seat 120 people for dinner across the property, or I can simply enjoy being here with my family. And when the sun sets over the water, it’s just as good as we first imagined.”