In Bogotá, a Designer’s Eclectic Home and Bonsai-Filled Garden

The accessories designer Danielle Corona likes to say she has two competing sides. “On the one hand, I’m known for a very minimalist, modern aesthetic,” she explains. “But there’s another part of me that leans toward the more naturalistic and earthy.” These opposing tendencies come together in Hunting Season, the line of pared-back but textural handbags and travel pouches she founded in 2006. While its slim top-handled purses and boxy cross-bodies have precise, structured forms influenced by Corona’s time at European fashion brands such as Valentino and the Italian accessories line VBH, the pieces are in fact crafted by artisans in Colombia, where her company is based, who often use local plant fiber and cotton hand-weaving techniques that imbue them with warmth and a more organic feel.

A similar duality defines the home in Bogotá that Corona, 39, shares with her husband, Felipe Echavarria, 36, a real estate entrepreneur, and their three young children, Felipe, 6, Alejandro, 5, and Lucia, 9 months. Built in the 1980s, with a white stucco-clad exterior, the three-story, four-bedroom house is undoubtedly urban and, accordingly, the couple have decorated its interiors in part with contemporary abstract art and modern furniture: a streamlined, slate gray Christian Liaigre sofa in the living room, for example, is paired with a sculptural, marble-and-steel Stéphane Parmentier coffee table. But, in keeping with their equal appreciation for a more unpolished, rugged kind of beauty, the couple have also incorporated handcrafted elements (such as rugs woven from fique, a Colombian succulent fiber) and treasures collected on their travels (vintage baskets, for instance, and antique wooden boxes from Kyoto). And at the heart of the home is a vibrant, 6,500-square-foot garden where, amid a lively jumble of South American flora, ferns and vines, Corona and Echavarria keep their prized collection of bonsai trees.

Corona, who is Cuban American and grew up between Miami and Okeechobee, Florida, met Echavarria, a Bogotá native, in Cartagena in 2011, when her fledgling, then-New York-based label was at a crossroads, and she was looking beyond Italy’s expensive factories for workshops in which to produce her pieces. Echavarria began introducing her to the handicrafts of Colombia, and she soon fell in love with the exquisite workmanship of the country’s artisans. “I think it was all part of Felipe’s big plan to try and get me to move here,” says Corona with a laugh — a scheme that would soon prove successful. In 2013, she began producing her line from Bogotá, introducing styles made with delicately woven iraca palm from craftswomen in the western mountain town of Sandoná, and with textured plantain fiber from women near the Andean town of San Agustín — all in soft, neutral shades of straw, bone and biscuit. Hunting Season’s newest collection, which launched earlier this summer, includes drawstring bucket and weekend bags in a colorfully striped, hand-loomed cotton made by artisans in San Jacinto in northern Colombia and typically used for hammocks. Over the years, the company has also integrated more sustainable practices and materials, including naturally tanned, chrome-free leathers. Soon, it will begin offering products for the home, too.

As the brand put down roots in Bogotá, so did Corona. She and Echavarria married in 2014 and, later that year, after a fruitless search within the city limits for a house with outdoor space, something Corona describes as “nonnegotiable” for the nature-loving couple, they purchased their home from Echavarria’s parents. It was, as Corona puts it, “sort of old and run-down,” but not without its quirky charms. Located in the El Chicó neighborhood, on the eastern edge of the city, the building rests on an incline, just as the land begins its ascent to the surrounding verdant peaks that eventually give way to Chingaza National Natural Park. “I love that the house is built on the side of the mountain because, when you enter the front, it feels like a modest bungalow, and as you walk through it begins to unravel into small spaces that become worlds of their own,” says Corona of the staggered layout, in which a central living space on the street level leads via various passages and steps up to the third-floor bedrooms, down to the kids’ first-floor playroom, out to the greenhouse and into the spacious back garden beyond.

Corona and Echavarria made only modest updates to the interiors, including painting the wood floors and doors throughout the building black to create a sense of uniformity, and adding elements such as a carved stone sink in the powder room and salvaged Calacatta marble floors and walls in the main bathroom to impart what Corona calls “the natural feeling of irregular forms.” They filled the living areas with works by notable Colombian artists, including a 1970s-era geometric metal piece by the sculptor Édgar Negret and an abstract canvas by the contemporary painter Santiago Parra, as well as timeworn furnishings collected by Echavarria’s mother on her visits to Indonesia, Morocco and Myanmar.

But if they decorated their home simply, the couple decided to let loose in the garden, where a sort of controlled chaos — and a similar mix of Latin American and Asian influences — reigns. “For us, the main focus of a home is always the garden,” says Corona. “It’s what gives the house its soul and character. And in our garden, it’s definitely ‘more is more,’ and ‘let’s grow things wherever we can.’” Both avid plant collectors, Corona and Echavarria held onto most of the local species — such as delicate oncidium orchids and several tall, palmlike Cyathea caracasana tree ferns — that already populated the backyard, surrounding a central lawn and brick-paved seating area. They have also added a diverse array of greenery, including sago palms, bougainvillea, medinilla and staghorn ferns, much of which they keep in the greenhouse that they built by enclosing a checkerboard-tiled outdoor terrace that connects the house to the garden.

But holding pride of place is the couple’s collection of evergreen bonsais. Four years ago, a friend gave Echavarria a 25-year-old juniper bonsai as a birthday present. “Immediately, we felt such a responsibility toward this plant, knowing how old it was,” says Corona. “We saw it as something to really nurture and even hand down through generations.” And so, when, a year later and despite their best efforts, the tree started to look sickly, Corona and Echavarria arranged to take weekly classes with Juan Escobar, a former professor at the Jardín Botánico de Medellín and a bonsai expert. As an art form, the cultivation of miniature potted plants — which first flourished in China during the Tang dynasty, between 618 and 907, then made its way to Japan — can take a decade to master, but Escobar started by instilling the basic principles. Practitioners spend years observing the unique aesthetic qualities of a tree or shrub, pruning and wiring its branches into pleasing shapes and coaxing it into one of various diminutive forms — among them upright, windswept and cascading — that each represent an idealized version of a tree that grows in the wild. A mature specimen bears both the hand of nature and that of its caretaker.

“When we started to learn about bonsais, it was really humbling because we had no idea how much patience, time and dedication go into it,” says Corona. “The first thing Juan told us in class was, ‘Don’t even think about touching a plant for a while.’ First, you need to learn and understand.” After a few dicey moments with their tree, though — at one point, they found themselves fending off white mealybugs — Corona and Echavarria have now successfully expanded their bonsai collection to include five others, among them an indigenous pine that Echavarria found on a hike and brought home to pot. The practice has taught them to appreciate anew the commitment that goes into creating something that lasts — an ethos that Corona says she brings to both her brand and her life. “What I love about bonsai is that you don’t get instant gratification,” she says. “It’s really about having a long-term vision, and cultivating something that is timeless, that endures and that you can pass on to someone else.”