By: JEAN NAYAR
Decorator Sasha Stula transforms an outdated contemporary dwelling into an eclectic family retreat with an emphasis on the great outdoors.
When Sasha and Gordon Stula’s family outgrew Stonegate Manor, their previous historic home in Coral Gables, they turned their attention toward starting fresh in completely new environs. “We loved our 1923 home and its coral rock walls, but after our four sons were accepted into a new school, we knew we needed to move, and I wanted something completely different, something very modern,” says Sacha. The couple found the essence of what they sought in a contemporary six-bedroom single-story dwelling built in the 1990s in Pinecrest. The only hitch: “It needed a lot of work,” explains Sasha, a self-trained interior decorator with boundless energy and an optimistic attitude. “But it had such good bones with very high ceilings, so I could easily see the potential and knew I could make it work for us.” With the trust of her husband, they took the plunge, purchased the house, and worked together to make it their own.
Since they began at the start of the pandemic, the renovation was slow-going at the start with supply chain delays and a shortage of labor. Undaunted, however, they pressed on, starting with the big changes-replacing the dated marble floors with poured concrete, switching out and expanding windows throughout, adding extensions, redoing the pool, and introducing pickleball and basketball courts in the backyard-shortly after moving in. “For a while we lived with plywood over the windows while the expansion was underway, so the kids had fun making graffiti on the walls while work progressed,” explains Sasha. Recalling the expansive feeling she experienced while living in a loft in Vienna and working for the well-known Austrian designer Hans Taus, Sasha, who was born in Kiev, wanted to create a free-flowing open ambiance in the main living spaces. She would knock down walls and install a brand new kitchen that overlooks a massive 24-seat entertaining space anchored by two library tables she found in an antiques store in North Carolina. She also had the home’s white stucco exterior painted black and replaced the nondescript doors with chic custom-made wooden ones from Italy. “I wanted the home to blend more discreetly with the landscape,” she notes.
Turning her focus on the decor, Sasha crafted spaces to attune to the different needs of everyone in the house. “I really wanted to bring the feeling of the outdoors in,” she explains. “So all of the living spaces relate in some way to the backyard and pool.” A pingpong table and basketball hoop add spunk to the family room-“three of my boys are very involved in sports,” notes Sasha-while multiple tables support creative projects (the couple’s oldest son is now pursuing fashion design at Parsons in New York City). A media room overlooking the yard with custom cabinets and a cushy leather sectional is a gathering space for the whole family, while a niche housing a Columbian hammock suspended over an antique rug from Ukraine serves as a quiet comfort zone for Sasha whenever she needs a little time out.
Touch points from her family’s past as well as their travels layer the home with personality and soul. A set of chairs she commissioned from German designer Wolfgang Joop, for example, add style and substance around the breakfast table. Her grandmother’s antique dishes and tea sets fill the kitchen cabinets with touches of historic charm. A coffee table and round dining table, which she designed and had made herself while in Austria, add form and function to the open living areas. And Russian dolls from her mother and works of art, including pieces from Austrian painter Andy Ellers or Cuban artist Kcho, add color and zest throughout.
With a little something for everyone, the entire family lives comfortably at home with so many ways to entertain themselves even as work progressed at the height of pandemic. Now that it’s done, says Sasha, “it all feels meant to be, we are very happy here-it’s not a house, it’s a home.”