Growing up in Miami, designer Jennifer Bunsa became close friends with her neighbor across the street. “I used to play with him and his sister pretty much every day of the first eight years of my life,” she recalls. “His mother and my mother were best friends, and we were constantly in each other’s homes.”
The two loosely kept in touch over the years but properly reconnected when they each wound up living in Miami once again. This time, both were married with children, and Bunsa was an established designer with a background in architecture. With their shared history, it seemed a perfect fit that she would design the interiors of her childhood friend’s home for his new stage of life as a family of six. “They wanted a warm, engaging environment—something comfortable, durable and appropriate for its location,” Bunsa says. “But they also wanted it to be elevated and suitable for entertaining, because they host a lot of parties and events. They were willing to be adventurous with color and pattern in certain spaces.” Eclectic elements, natural materials and handmade touches were a must.
To complement the Key West-style structure by architect David Wearne Johnson, “we brought the shiplap from the exterior into the foyer to add texture but also to highlight the seamless relationship from outside in,” Bunsa explains. “It serves as an elegant transition in the main entry and formal wing of the house, which is where most of the entertaining happens.” The shiplap transitions from the foyer to wainscoting in the nearby dining area, adding a formal feel against a round marble table and wood chairs. “Carpentry played a huge factor in bringing out the character of the house,” says builder Alex Pirez. “We did vaulted ceilings in both the interior and exterior areas, which were complemented by shiplap paneling and custom white oak beams.”
Bunsa kept the main palette neutral, clean and bright, thoughtfully integrating color in select areas to add interest, starting with a red- orange rug in the white-walled foyer. “We used white oak for the flooring and cabinets because of its warmth and character,” she says. The home’s large rooms and ceiling heights meant the designer had to pay close attention to the scale of furnishings and light fixtures, such as the dining area’s statement globe pendant. And with four children, performance fabrics—like on the family room sofa—and forgiving sisal and Moroccan rugs throughout were ideal choices to stand up to activity.
Bunsa got to work establishing “zones” for the residents. The children, for instance, have their own play area in the family room at the top of the stairs. “We designed a built-in, wraparound sofa with lots of storage space so all the games and toys can be put away, out of sight, because this is such a visible space,” she says.
The adults, meanwhile, have a chic place of their own on the lower level. “The bar room was important to these clients as a retreat and a place to entertain,” the designer says. A dark navy built-in with large library shelves takes the focus off the television while highlighting books and decorative mementos from the family’s travels. Bunsa balanced the deep shade with a pair of rust-colored velvet armchairs, woven raffia wall hangings, an oversize rattan pendant and patterned hand-blocked linen draperies. “The combination of all these things creates a space that feels lived-in and evokes memory and emotion,” she says.
Handmade accents further cultivate a collected feel. The main bedroom features a framed Indigo fabric Bunsa found in Africa, hand-cast ceramic lighting pendants and a vintage rattan bench at the foot of the woven bed. Zellige tile shows up in the kitchen and the main bathroom, where it complements textured Belgian black terra-cotta flooring and marble slabs. “I feel that a space is enriched by the use of handmade items,” the designer says. “The slight imperfections in the tile make the surface feel varied, rich and deep.” Meanwhile, the green concrete tiles that decorate a powder room wall mimic those found on a Backgammon board, a delightful nod to a favorite game the family has played for generations.
At the end of the project, Bunsa gifted the owners a vintage Backgammon set, displayed on the bar room’s shelving. And with the home complete, she says, “I’m now working with the whole family on a compound in the Bahamas”— the latest residence for two longtime friends to form new memories.