The Aristotelian adage “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” bantered about by corporate team leaders and Little League coaches alike, takes on a singular resonance when applied to the labyrinthine Cartagena home of Chiqui de Echavarría. The Colombian style maven, known for her generous party hosting and her exquisite lifestyle retail store Casa Chiqui, originally purchased a 2,100-square-foot house near the wall of Cartagena’s Old Town 35 years ago with her husband. They intended it as a pied-à-terre for visits with their son and daughter. A couple of years later, the house next door was for sale, and de Echavarría bought it, too. By this point, she and her family had fled their Bogotá hometown due to escalating violence and were living abroad in Miami and Switzerland. The comparably safer Cartagena was the locus where the extended family would meet during the summer and winter holidays.
Over the next decade, de Echavarría expanded the immediate family’s footprint there, acquiring another adjacent building, four apartments, and a freestanding patio. A resident of one of the apartments proved particularly intransigent in selling her place. “She had a lot of little dogs. I bought a toucan. And every time the toucan was singing, the dogs would go crazy,” recalls de Echavarría, who is now based full-time in London and normally travels to Cartagena every six weeks. “Finally, the lady was persuaded. She decided to sell.”
Connecting the disparate properties into a contiguous home proved nearly as difficult as the real estate negotiations. The buildings, some from the 16th century and others with interiors from the 1950s, are all by the sea, and the combination of tropical humidity and poor maintenance meant that they required a complete overhaul down to electrical wiring, roofing, and plumbing. Fortunately, de Echavarría enjoys a work in progress.
“My mother always says the house was in construction for 30 years,” says de Echavarría’s daughter, Cloclo, cofounder of the Latin American design and creative consultancy Sí Collective. “She says a house is never finished. You can always make it better.”
Chiqui has a penchant for moving and rearranging the pieces in her eclectic decor to suit her needs and moods. An intrepid global shopper—in addition to selling her own jewelry and mochila bag designs, her Casa Chiqui store and e-commerce site boast rattan chairs from Indonesia and Burmese betel boxes, among other finds—she has created a residence that is warmly inviting. You enter through the original house she purchased (the entire home is now in an L-shaped layout, encapsulating the various buildings and three floors in total); in the zaguán, or entry, a traditional receiving area in colonial homes, the mosaic tiles are from Bogotá, and the Uzbek suzani tapestry was bought in a souk in Jerusalem.
Here, the living room features exposed brick walls and antiques including an altar from a Catholic church in Italy and a South American religious painting, both from the 17th century. Nearby, there is a small pool fashioned from an old cistern that Spanish colonists allegedly used to hide alcohol from invading pirates. The next adjoining building has another, larger living room and a main bedroom with views of the sea and an outdoor shower. There are 11 bedrooms in total throughout the home, though Chiqui is quick to note that they are not particularly large.
“The idea was for family to come here and be together, not in the bedrooms,” she says.
A devoted gardener, she has filled the home’s many ventilated spaces—there are three patios, a rooftop garden, and a gorgeously immersive pool—with palm trees, orchids, bougainvillea, and galán de noche, night-blooming flowers that fill the property with a heady fragrance.
It all serves as an irresistible backdrop for the joyful parties she likes to throw, particularly in advance of New Year’s, for the many international friends (fashion designers and European aristocrats among them) who flock to Cartagena, a newly hot travel destination in the past decade. “If you go into her kitchen, there are always enough cups and plates for a party of 600,” says Cloclo, who has inherited her mother’s social predilections. “Sometimes, I’ll do a party there for New Year’s, but it’s a lot smaller, more like 150 people.”
Naturally, such bountiful joviality is on a break (temporary, one hopes) during our current times. But according to both Chiqui and Cloclo, the home’s rhythms were already morphing toward more daytime activities to accommodate the needs of Chiqui’s budding clan of grandchildren.
“Now my nephews are the big focus,” Cloclo explains. “Until they hit 16, and then my mom will start doing parties again to please them. We’ve got 10 years.”
This story originally appeared in the September 2020 issue of ELLE Decor. Subscribe
Produced by Cynthia Frank
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