A dark brick Tudor in Denver's Bonnie Brae neighborhood is not the sort of place where you would expect to find a dash of Miami sunshine and Caribbean heat, although maybe the bright blue door should be a tip-off, even on a January day when the sky looks like a pewter dome impervious to warmth.
But walk inside, where light pours through the windows to illuminate floors of bleached red oak, and that is the precise effect.
Take a dozen more steps and turn around, and the point is driven home: The living room's south wall is a vivid turquoise, just like the expanse of sea-meets-sky found in Miami Beach, the hometown of owner Kristy Socarras Bigelow, who shares the house with her husband and three children.
Delve a bit more into Bigelow's family history - her parents were exiles from Castro's Cuba - and you realize the wall evokes something with even more resonance. It conjures Havana's famed seawall, El Malecón, which looks north across the Straits of Florida to the southernmost tip of the United States.
A lot of dreams have passed back and forth across those 90 miles.
"I grew up in Miami, and I love the beach," says Bigelow, a restaurateur who owns Cuba Cuba in Denver and Cuba Cuba Sandwicheria in Boulder. "We still have a place there, and I wanted my living room to feel like something oceanside even during a Denver winter."
Three large photographs atop the fireplace mantel reinforce the vibe. One is of a group of Havana residents perched in front of an old home. The other is a view from the city's seawall. Another is a picture of a vintage 1950s automobile, perhaps a Chevy Bel-Air, judging from its sky-blue color - a model still found on Havana's streets.
The house itself is of a similar vintage, built within months after the United States entered World War II. It doesn't quite qualify as the classic English "pile," those manors that litter the British landscape like hedgehogs dodging the fox-and-hounds set, but at 4,000 square feet, it is big.
But the interior of the house, which the Bigelows bought in February, is a departure from its period roots.
"Kristy really wanted a historic shell with a modern interior, which I thought was really exciting," says Jonas DiCaprio, the architect and owner of Design Platform, which oversaw the redesign and refurbishing.
The renovations took six weeks, a feat Bigelow describes as "kind of a miracle." It was not a top-to-bottom overhaul. The kitchen had been remodeled by its former owners, save for a new island and range that Bigelow installed, plus some tile work.
In a sense, this is not the first older home that the Bigelows have converted. Cuba Cuba restaurant in the Golden Triangle neighborhood, which they opened in 2001, was a joining of two pre-Depression clapboard houses. But that was a commercial retrofitting. And while attention had to be paid to the interior aesthetics, the main challenge was installing a professional kitchen and a hip bar to dispense the nightly array of ropa viejo, empanadas and mojitos.
A home is a far different animal. Here, the collaboration between Bigelow and DiCaprio proved critical.
DiCaprio, 36, is a Minnesota native whose parents built custom houses. "I kind of grew up on the job site," he says. He earned his degree at Boston Architectural College, a five-year program with internships that jump-started his career, including historic-preservation work on Nantucket Island.
The house's core is the stretch running from the entranceway and living room through the dining room and the kitchen. The living room features a glass-fronted gas fireplace in that turquoise wall, and a rugged, steel-wheeled cart serves as a coffee table.
The original arched passway into the dining room was replaced by a squared-off version. "I know that's a departure from what these houses generally look like, but we felt the additional sightlines that were created open the room up," Bigelow says.
The dining room is anchored by a big, battered table that Bigelow bought for a song because of its broken leg, since repaired. She removed one of the 2x4-foot table leaves, painted it a mustard color, and mounted it on an adjacent wall.
"We didn't have much in the way of art, and so that functions as a sort of painting," she says with a laugh.
The bulk of the kitchen is finished in white subway tile. A charcoal-gray grout was used to provide a contrast with the black cabinets, which are lightly distressed. But one stretch of wall is a crazy-quilt of various Cuban tropical tile, some of it left over from the remodeling done on the couple's Boulder sandwich shop.
Save for the five-burner Kenmore gas range, mounted in a rectangular island, most of the appliances were inherited.
"It was awesome because we were on the same page," Bigelow says of working with DiCaprio.
And now, in winter, she can look out from the kitchen, gaze at that aqua wall, and dream of Miami Beach - and a certain city to the south.