Of light and lustre

Of light and lustre

Picture-perfect The dining table in the kitchen, bought at a vintage store. (Horacio Paone/New York Times)

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 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. Webster realised 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 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 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,” Webster said.

Not surprisingly, it needed a complete makeover. The house was 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 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,” Webster said, particularly since they oversaw every aspect of the project themselves.

Six months and $200,000 later, the old structure was almost unrecognisable, 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, 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 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 Buday, who grew up under a Communist regime that imposed travel restrictions. “I never imagined it.”