At first glance, Tracy and Alisa Bahl’s Mediterranean-style house looks every bit a part of South Florida’s architectural legacy. There’s coral-stone trim around the windows and cornices, a tile roof, a rotunda and even a bell tower. Step into the luminous entry, however, and the clean lines and bold juxtapositions signal that this Old World-style residence is, in fact, a new build. Crisp white wainscoting opposes the steel balustrade on the dramatic curving staircase leading to the second floor, while the creamy tiles underfoot are accented with graphic details in dark stone, continuing the length of the adjacent gallery hall. “The exterior is traditional, but inside, it’s a completely different feeling,” says designer Susan Bednar Long. “The owners wanted a classic but updated look, so that contrast was intentional.”
The original midcentury dwelling on the property had long been the couple’s second home. Though it offered proximity to family and friends as well as gorgeous sunset views over the water, turning the existing structure into their forever home proved impractical, and the Bahls decided to start fresh. “As much as we loved it, the house had 1942 problems,” Tracy explains. “The space usage and flow weren’t right for us. And we wanted a second story, which couldn’t be built on top of that foundation.” Alisa adds, “We wanted a layout that worked for how we live and entertain.”
Making the most of the long, narrow site, architect Carlos Palmer designed a two-story volume with a vaulted center hallway as a breezeway between the primary rooms on both floors. Midway down the lower-level corridor, French doors open to two interior courtyards with loggias, ensuring an easy flow indoors and out. “The house is classical, but its layout is modern,” Palmer says. “The hall forms a strong axis, which ends with a round pool mirroring the bell tower at the front.”
Builder Adriana Hernandez, who helmed the project with her father, builder Luis Hernandez, applauds the owners’ commitment to authenticity. “The raw steel staircase railing feels like something someone would have done years ago,” she says. “The columns are actual coral columns, and the pavers in front are salvaged Chicago brick. As a builder, these details take longer and require more coordination, but they make the house.”
For the interiors, Long took her cues from one of the couple’s favorite European getaways, the J.K. Place Capri, which offers a fresh take on traditional Italian design. She embraced the challenge of creating an atmosphere that would spotlight their growing art collection while bringing in a streamlined feel of traditional forms and fixtures. Because the dwelling had to be comfortable when it was just Tracy and Alisa yet flex to accommodate their visiting sons and gatherings both large and small, there are spaces for entertaining and lounging. The media room, for instance, holds a spacious sectional as well as a pool table that can act as an overflow dining table. A coffered ceiling sounds a formal note in the white paneled library, which the designer outfitted with a striped rug, mirrored bar, houndstooth-covered wing chair and white performance fabric on the settee. Just across the hall, the dining room also leans formal, but she took care to include such practical features as hidden wall storage and ring pulls on the backs of the chairs so they can be moved without touching the fabric.
Long tapped her experience in yacht design to put an elegantly nautical spin on the octagonal breakfast area, where a glossy mahogany table inlaid with chrome is joined by creamy faux- leather chairs finished in navy piping. Meanwhile, the flowing white draperies and the drum shade overhead are edged with stripes. “I’m a huge stripes fan,” she says. “I’d put them on everything.”
The designer deployed a more informal vibe for the upstairs bedrooms and the couple’s office, with a complementary palette and painted wood floors. Angled, beamed ceilings and round windows invoke the coastal nod, while a cathedral ceiling brings a lofty feel to the primary bedroom. The latter is accented with tomato red, inspired by a Horst P. Horst photograph Alisa wanted on display, and traditional lacquered linen side tables.
Best of all, the abode is an homage to the city the owners adore. “We can be in the middle of bustling Miami Beach one minute and in our pool the next, enjoying a drink and watching the sunset,” Tracy says. Alisa adds: “We love Miami, and we wanted it to be part of what we built.”