This 1920s Cuban Victorian Called ‘The Turquoise House’ Is a Perfect, Patterned, Colorful Dream
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Name: Kay Whitchurch, my husband, musician Norberto Guerra
Location: Havana, Cuba
Type of home: House
Size: 1,200 square feet
Years lived in: 3.5 years, owned
Tell us a little (or a lot) about your home and the people who live there: Our home is a 1920s Cuban Victorian that we call The Turquoise House. My husband Norberto and I bought it in May of 2016. I was still in art school in California and Norberto was living in Havana and scouring it for places. There is no real estate market or central place to search for homes so to speak, and he found our house by walking by and seeing a hand-painted sign “Se Vende’ painted in yellow on a scrap piece of wood.
I was taking a quick five day break from preparing for my MFA show in March of that year to come to Havana to see Norberto and the concert Rolling Stones put on in the wake of the optimism of Obama’s visit a few days before. We stopped by the house on our way to the concert, and it just spoke to us. It was cluttered with furniture but through the mess we saw the bones we were looking for—colorful Spanish tile floors, an ornate door, high ceilings, stained glass, a big front porch, and two huge bougainvillea trees that encircle the front patio. We also loved the quirky details like the mezzanine that has a pink ’50s style staircase and had dreams of expanding the home into the second floor. (We bought that over a year later and will soon renovate and connect the floors that were divided after the Revolution.)
Our home is a place for gathering—the communal spaces are where the energy lies and where the house feels alive. The bedrooms are small side notes. The only one that is really notable is the front bedroom that we turned into my painting studio. That shift changed the whole house—instead of having a bedroom off the living room, it’s now a studio. It expands the front of the house and makes it so inviting and creative.
Norberto and I co-founded and run a cultural travel group called Otros Ojos and we use our house as the gathering ground for all of our trips. Our house is always a revolving door of musicians, friends, artists, travelers. It’s magical and the house just absorbs it. You can literally feel how happy it is when it is full of people.
The neighborhood we live in has expanded around us. We are in the far reaches of the Vedado neighborhood of Havana, just two and a half blocks from the famous Fabrica de Arte Cubano a converted cooking oil factory that now houses Cuban art, music, film, and dance. Fabrica opened two years before we bought the house and the area has gotten so much more vibrant and creative since then. We love being able to walk out our door and be in the middle of so much creative energy.
Describe your home’s style in 5 words or less: Eclectic, creative, colorful, vibrant, community-centric.
What is your favorite room and why? The living room looking into the studio. I really think of them as one room and we live in them that way. The green couches in the living room were in the house when we first saw it and Norberto surprised me by managing to negotiate them into the sale. They are so quirky and elegant at the same time, and I smile every time I see them. They give the room so much character and you feel regal sitting on them. They remind me of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. We also have so many art, travel, and history books and a growing collection of art, both mine and Cuban artists. The record player sits in the corner and is frequently playing old Cuban jazz records that we found on the second floor.
The studio is filled with tables for painting that we had built, an easel I bought from another painter who was moving spaces, an old metal hospital tray table that a friend gave me for my paints, and an old yellow couch that sits really low to the ground and is perfect for reading. The antique lamp was an amazing find and replaced a fluorescent strip light hanging from a chain. I used to call it our Dan Flavin, but I think we are better off with the new (old) lamp! I keep the french doors to the outside open as much as possible. The light in the morning is amazing.
Norberto definitely loves the front porch the most. It expands the house by over a third and the breeze and social nature of it is really magical. We have strung lights that we turn on the second the sun sets and they wind through the bougainvillea and make the space like a secret garden. Norberto is a fusion flamenco and Latin jazz musician and his bands are always at the house practicing or hanging out there.
I suppose I just picked the two places where each of our art practices live most, which makes sense!
What’s the last thing you bought (or found!) for your home? Our mid-century modern glass dining table. We searched for it for two and a half years. We find all of our furniture in private homes that collect, restore, and resell items. There are a handful of them in Havana and we know them all well. I make it a habit to drop in every once in a while to see what else has come in. If you see something you love, you have to pounce, which can be a challenge in a place that operates totally in cash.
Any advice for creating a home you love? Patience. This goes for anywhere, but especially in Cuba. There is very little commerce or consumption here, so everything we have in our home has come to us with time and I honestly love every piece. It also means that the home is a constant project—but isn’t that life? When I first moved to Cuba all I wanted to do was NEST. Get the things we need!! Make it beautiful!! I had lists and lists… and Cuba was having none of that. This country has taught me that you can wait. That waiting for the right thing to show up is okay, and even better than you could imagine. It’s not how I usually operate, but I’m learning.
This submission’s responses were edited for length and clarity.