Wednesday, March 2, 2011

My Beautiful Buenos Aires

As most of you know, I was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Although growing up, I didn't feel anything special about being born there (I guess you take for granted where you land when you are born), as I grew older (and wiser) and moved to New Orleans, I realized how fortunate I have been to be a part of such a beautiful city.

This morning, as I browsed through the New York Times, an article caught my attention that I wanted to share with you -- not only for its inspiring story line but also for the amazingly beautiful work this couple, Jennifer Webster and Zsolt Juhasz Buday, did on this Beaux-Arts house in Belgrano -- one of the most beautiful, tree-lined neighborhoods in Buenos Aires (or "BA" as us natives call the city).

I wanted to share with you the story as it appeared in the New York Times and photos of their gorgeous home:

THE story of how Jennifer Webster, an American film producer, and Zsolt Juhasz Buday, a Hungarian architect and set designer, came to live in a railroad baron’s grand old house in Argentina is one of serendipity and hard work.

Eight years ago, the couple were living in Budapest, but a trip to Buenos Aires caused them to rethink their lives.

“We fell in love with the city,” said Ms. Webster, 42. “Every place was interesting and fresh.”

The city was booming, filled with creative types from around the world who came for its affordability and cosmopolitan feeling. Ms. Webster realized it was an ideal place for a branch of Pioneer Productions, a company she had started in Hungary in the mid-1990s to serve the growing advertising industry in Eastern Europe.

By June 2003, Pioneer had its first overseas office, and the couple began splitting their time between Budapest, where they own an apartment, and Buenos Aires, where they bought a small house in Palermo Soho, a lively area of the city.

But three years later, when Ms. Webster became pregnant, they decided to spend most of the year here and began looking for a home in a quieter neighborhood. An online listing for a Beaux-Arts house in Belgrano, an upscale area with tree-lined streets, caught Ms. Webster’s eye. They drove by and were amazed to find a Hungarian church next door.

“We’re not really religious,” she said, but “we thought it was such a great coincidence and a good sign.”

That spring, they bought the 8,000-square-foot house, built in the early 1900s by an English railroad executive, for about $300,000. “For the size and the price, it was amazing,” Ms. Webster said.

Not surprisingly, it needed a complete makeover. The house had been uninhabited for a decade, and at some point in its history had been converted into an elementary school, so it was a warren of ugly partitions with lots of tiny bathrooms.

The new owners were experienced renovators; even so, they were intimidated by the magnitude of the project.

“We had a low budget,” said Mr. Buday, 45. And given the size of the house, “we had to be very careful.”

Time was scarce, too, as their first child was due in the fall.

They began tearing down walls, demolishing an entire building at the back of the property to make room for a garden and a pool. “It was a very intense renovation,” Ms. Webster said, particularly since they oversaw every aspect of the project themselves.

Six months and $200,000 later, the old structure was almost unrecognizable, at least on the inside. Gone were the narrow corridors and the small rooms; in their place were ample spaces filled with light.

On the second floor are the children’s two bedrooms (although Sophie, 4, and Felix, 3, still share a room), a guest bedroom and the master suite. Downstairs, a 540-square-foot kitchen looks out onto the garden through a wall of windows. On the other side of the house, a sliding door made of sheet metal opens into an office, where an old ceiling with rusted beams was uncovered during rebuilding. The couple chose to leave it that way, Mr. Buday said, because “something too modern can be too cold.”

Another remnant of the early 20th century is the entry hall, where the staircase with its wrought-iron banisters has been restored, along with the moldings and an original skylight. The pilastered front facade has also been returned to its former luster.

The huge basement is mostly empty, except for a housekeeper’s room, a storage space and a studio where Mr. Buday is designing interiors for a project in Hungary.

Living and working in two hemispheres has its challenges, he said, but it’s worth it.

“This is the first time I’ve lived in another country,” said Mr. Buday, who grew up under a Communist regime that imposed travel restrictions. “I never imagined it.”

Take a look at their work:

Jennifer Webster, 42, and Zsolt Juhasz Buday, 45, at home.

In the entry hall, the wrought-iron banisters, the ornate moldings and the parquetry were all restored. The ottoman and chairs were bought at a flea market and reupholstered in fabric by De Levie.

They bought the marble-top table in the kitchen for about $800 at a local store. The vintage chairs, which Ms. Webster reupholstered, were purchased at the Mercado Dorrego flea market.

The 540-square-foot kitchen has a central island with an old lapacho wood counter made by Los Diaz de Mario.

The living room is furnished with a sofa custom-made by Los Diaz de Mario and a loveseat bought at a flea market for about $600 and reupholstered in burlap. For a similar sofa and chair, click here and take a look at my own designed "Roma" sofa.

A painting by the artist Fernando Goin rests on the headboard in the master bedroom. The lamps are from Milagros Deco, a local store.

During renovations, the couple uncovered an old ceiling with intricate moldings and left it as is. “We love to mix things up,” Mr. Buday said.

A building behind the house was demolished to make room for the garden and the pool. The chaise longues were made by Los Diaz de Mario.

Written by Paola Singer, Photographer Horacio Paone (New York Times)


  1. Wow. What a wonderful transformation. I love the entry hall and that beautiful staircase. *wistful sigh*
    I can't believe they took on all this work, and were about to start a family, at the same time!
    Thanks so much, Karina, for sharing this. Just goes to really never know where you will end up in this world.

  2. Thanks, Victoria. Yes, you are so right -- you really never know where you will end up in this world. A beautiful thought. Thanks for commenting.


  3. Karina .... what a wonderful story! The home is exquisite and I love the ceiling they discovered. What a gem! How beautiful to think of this home in your home town and your beautiful Roma sofa looks wonderful! Hope you have a gorgeous day!
    hugs always

  4. Thank you, Frances. It is truly a gem and seeing it made me homesick for a taste of BA.

  5. Wonderful inspiring story...makes me so impatient to get my hands on our new house and start decorating! I particularly love that image of the original ceiling...absolutely fantastic!


  6. I think we were reading this simultaneously, Karina, but I was thinking how magnificent it'll be your Times feature hits!

    I love the Beaux Arts - Neoclassical swags and parquet floor in the entryway.


    Sandy @ My Shabby Streamside Studio

  7. I think we were reading this simultaneously, Karina, but I was thinking how magnificent it'll be when your Times feature hits!

    I love the Beaux Arts - Neoclassical swags and parquet floor in the entryway.


    Sandy @ My Shabby Streamside Studio

  8. Dear Hope Ava, your home will be absolutely beautiful because you made it so.

    Dear Sandy, I owe so much to you!

  9. Oh my freakin´ god! I have never been to a place like that. But to be honest, I have been in luxurious flats that I rented in different cities. Luxury varies depending on the facility. For example, the furnished apartments in buenos aires that are nowadays for rent show luxe in the bulding entrances, the parking lots, the garden, pools and saunas in the last floor. And I guess hotels manifest it with private beaches!


I love hearing from you. Please don't be shy and share your thoughts.