How two Vikings built the Zenest home on Miami’s Venetian Islands
In 2009, as designer Siri Willoch Traasdahl and her husband Are (founder and CEO of marketing tech firm Tapad) searched endlessly for a home in Miami, they stopped in their tracks on one of the Biscayne Bay-hemmed Venetian Islands.
“We were walking around this house, and we saw a Norwegian flag sitting in the master bedroom,” marvels Siri. “It was just one of those many, many weird coincidences that seem to occur in my life.”
Indeed, although Siri, 43, and Are, 42, both grew up in the same teeny-tiny village in Norway (“more cows than people,” as she describes it), they didn’t meet until 2007 in NYC. Siri was in the city from Milan for a clothing-line photo shoot, and a mutual friend suggested Are’s rooftop
One missed flight later, the pair lingered over drinks at the Mandarin Oriental.
Are mentioned his hometown, and Siri (who is Korean by birth but adopted by a Norwegian father and Dutch mother) blurted out that she’d lived there as a child.
“His jaw dropped,” she recalls. “He thought I was joking and had Googled him to find out where he was from. Can you believe the audacity of that man?”
But, she confirms, “He was 4 when he got there, I was 4 when I left — we could have been kindergarten sweethearts! We were two ships that almost passed each other in the night.”
Four decades and two heart-melting children — Felix, 6, and Iris, 2 ½ — later, the pair moved from New York to Miami, finding safe harbor in that house with the flag. (Yes, the previous owner also turned out to be Norwegian.)
“We were both entrepreneurs and it was getting cold in New York, so we thought we’d go down to Miami for the winter,” Siri explains of their move, which put Are on the vanguard of Miami’s growing tech scene.
“But we ended up having such a good time, connecting with so many people and enjoying ourselves tremendously. We never looked back.”
Their remarkable ground-up renovation took six years, and transformed the former Mediterranean villa into a massive Japanesemodern home, complete with a koi pond, a footbridge (“which I painted myself — in 110-degree heat!” Siri notes), an over-garage reflecting pool and a Japanese soaking tub. The Willoch Traasdahls named the home “Matsu House” (matsu meaning “pine tree” in Japanese) in homage to a nearby pine forest.
“I’ve been fascinated by Japan since I was a child,” she reflects. “And Are and I officially became a couple in Tokyo, so it holds a very special place for us.”
They were careful to avoid the sterile, impersonal chill that often permeates modern houses. “This is my exact, verbatim direction to the architect: ‘I do not want to live in a white box.’ ”
They hired Miami tropical-modern architect Ralph Choeff — whose celeb clients include Alex Rodriguez, Cher, Matt Damon and Barry Gibb — to dream up their soaring two-story abode, now the tallest on Rivo Alto Island. It’s topped by a grassy thirdfloor rooftop deck (reachable by elevator) that overlooks their custom blackbottomed pool, two outdoor kitchens (offering beer on tap and a pizza oven) and a private dock: “We don’t have a boat, but people come pick us up and we use it to fish — it’s fun.”
Indeed, fun is front and center at the Willoch Traasdahl home, where a fairy tale-worthy play nook for the kids — complete with 6-foot-tall, house-shaped Dutch cabinets — holds court in the entryway, beneath a floating staircase.
“You know how kids want to be where you are?” Siri asks knowingly. Those unreasonably charming children speak English, Norwegian and Spanish — clearly trying to keep up with their mother, who’s mastered all of the above plus Italian, French, Swedish, Danish, “and a little bit of German and Dutch.”
In addition to running her jewelry line, Sirissima, and co-helming her clothing label, Clement Willoch, she also managed to decorate the entire 7,000-square-foot, seven-bedroom home herself. In only three months.
“It’s a fairly big house — I’m used to apartment living — so I thought it was going to take forever,” she says. “But my theory was that I would start with all the necessities. We needed sofas, we needed a table, we needed chairs, we needed beds — as long as we had those, everything else was icing on the cake.”
Siri, who previously worked for fashion powerhouses Bottega Veneta and Marc Jacobs, embraced a high-low approach to the décor. She scoured eBay and Craigslist for treasures and paired them with impressive modern art — like the delicate glass “Flylight” installation from Studio Drift that floats in the foyer — or Hermès throws.
“These are JCPenney tables,” she enthuses, pointing to the round tripod side-tables, made with cast iron and oak, in the lounge between the kitchen and living room. “They were about $50 each — I saw [British designer] Terence Conran was doing a capsule collection with JCPenney and I went right in and bought them. The price of a product doesn’t say anything about the aesthetics.”
The wooden architectural cabinet drawers in her office came from eBay, stuffed with handdrawn technical sketches from their previous life at a GE factory in Gary, Ind. And she found the round foyer table, which was crafted decades ago in NYC’s Little Italy, on Craigslist for $700.
Color and surprising materials also abound. The living room coffee table is a bold aubergine, while Mastercraft Cabinets in Are’s office were dyed teal-blue to match a bundle of yarn from Buenos Aires. Siri commissioned a craftsman to create a one-of-a-kind raffia face for the fireplace, while a flipped globe in the children’s room spins mischievously with Australia on top.
“I’m not doing anything to impress anyone,” Siri emphasizes. “If it’s warm, if it’s inviting, if it makes you feel good, that influences me a lot more.”
While the family only moved into the home in May, they’ve already hosted a cocktail party for 115 guests, benefitting Miami’s Nicklaus Children’s Hospital.
“Are loves to entertain, and the bigger the better,” Siri says. “I love to entertain too, but I’m more, ‘Let’s have four people over for dinner.’ He’s like, ‘Let’s have 150 people come over for a party!’ ”
This month they’ll do plenty of cooking (Siri specializes in Italian, though Norwegian, Japanese and Thai are also on the menu), host both of their mothers for Christmas (“It’s cold in Norway, so everyone wants to come to our house”), and explore the piles of art on offer during Basel.
“I think it’s much more exciting to find and curate young talent than more established artists,” she says. “That’s the exciting part of Miami — it’s finding its own style.”
Meanwhile, Siri will continue styling — and branding — the Willoch Traasdahl home. She already designed the house’s logo (a depiction of four strands woven together), which she plans to emboss on dinner napkins and party invitations.
“I also want to create a scent for the house, but there’s a limit to my time,” she acknowledges. On second thought, she adds, “I think I may still do that.”