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Robert Novogratz’s lawyer was skeptical. His client called him to explain that he was thinking about buying a house in Brazil. From a guy he had Stellas with at the now-defunct Cafe Noir in Soho. (That was in 2005.) The attorney mulled over the news. “So what you’re telling me is that you’re buying a drunk Russian man a house in Brazil,” he remarked.
Yes; Yes, that’s what Novogratz intended.
The attorney replied, “Well, the good news is he’s probably broke and you’ll get a deal.” (“I was fair,” Novogratz chimes in.)
Trancoso, on Brazil’s Bahia coast, has been a meeting place for the famous and the extravagant for at least two decades. The small fishing village’s laid-back beaches have been carefully tended by locals since the ’70s, but the arrival of the UXUA Hotel in 2000 attracted more visitors to the area over time. The destination is now prized for its white-sand beaches, charming quadrado (a central city square) and tranquility that draws celebrities, soccer players and supermodels alike. It’s also just a 1 1/2 hour puddle jump from Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo.
The city’s t-shirt and swimsuit culture was a major draw for the New York City-based Novogratz family, all nine (Robert has seven children with his wife Cortney). They love to travel as a unit and traveling south for spring break has become something of a tradition; They always go in March. “This is towards the end of their summer and it’s still super warm,” says Novogratz. As your kids get older, they appreciate Trancoso’s dirt roads, local soccer fields and the come-and-go feel. “There’s a real sense of freedom there.”
The house, an airy, rustic space, is 300 meters from the sea and nestled on a small hillside overlooking the water. The couple bought the property knowing it needed a not-so-minor refurbishment: the main house was far from finished by the previous owner (the drunk Russian architect). For continuity reasons, Novogratz decided to hire the same contractor who had started the work to complete it. He also hired the same person to build an additional treehouse and outdoor space, including a pool and pizza oven. Five years after taking ownership, the couple finally had the entire property where they wanted it.
The exterior and interior are of equal importance in this space, and many have been built with native or reclaimed materials such as eucalyptus, tatajuba, and paraju woods. Novogratz points to the exceptional skill of local artisans; Many are clearly working from muscle memory. “We designed with them, like teardrops and rough drawings, and they built with hand-made tools,” he marvels. “Often I have [would] catch myself watching someone sawing wood or whatever they are doing. I could watch for two or three hours.”
Fitting the nine Novogratzs somewhere is usually a challenge, but not here. With an expansive veranda and al fresco dining room — with a table for 20 — as well as four suites (one with six twin beds), the property emphasizes carefree, comfortable gathering space. Upon arrival, closed storage is traded for exposed closets, and there’s little else but flip-flops.
The kidney-shaped pool (kids’ favorite spot), built from old local river rock quarries, is surrounded by a Paraju-clad patio and wooden-built cabanas where you can relax, play pool, or play ping-pong. An outdoor bar with Angelim wood countertops is arguably the central gathering place for the family and their guests. Just steps from the main house and aptly situated next to the pool, Novogratz outfitted the entertainment area with a towering 7ft tall adobe stucco pizza oven. (Since so much time is spent outside when family is there, the kitchen inside is simply furnished.) A staircase that winds around the main house leads to a one-suite treehouse fully furnished with locally sourced pieces is.
The couple have brought their own signature look — pops of color, prints, funky vases, considerable art — across the different structures, all balanced with handcrafted pendants, locally made woven and wooden dining furniture, and a rustic hutch. Beds are draped in gauzy mosquito nets and clad in vibrant linens. That electric pink shower? They were inspired by the colors of the quadrado and decided to revamp the entire space.
Over the years, Novogratz says, the highlights of their time in Trancoso have evolved, from a meal at a great restaurant or all day on the beach to something more distilled: surrounded by pure nature. (A case in point: the bright spot of recent trips was feeding a family of monkeys that visited the home each morning.) “As we get older, our priorities change. That’s how we’ve grown with the house,” he says. It makes this deal made 17 years ago and 4,500 miles from Brazil look pretty smart.