Anatomy of a Costa Rican Dream Home
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For those of you who make the life-changing move down to Costa Rica, at some point your thoughts turn to buying a home. And for those intrepid expats who want to really squeeze the marrow out of life in paradise, that may include purchasing property and building their dream house.
It’s certainly a dream I’ve had, constructing a rugged-yet-modern bungalow on a well-jungled hill that meanders down to the ocean. There, I can lie on my hammock by the infinity pool, sipping on a Flor de Caña con ginger ale as I watch yet another painted pastel sunset.
Once we start the process of planning our dream home, the imagination takes flight. A house that almost completely opens up to the outdoors? A tree in the center of your foyer? An outdoor shower under the stars? A swing in the middle of your living room? The possibilities are nearly endless.
However, we also can’t forgo the practical. There’s a whole lot more to think about (and get right) than when we buy a home in our native countries. So, to gain some insight into building your dream home in Costa Rica, I enlisted the help of four renowned architects, designers and builders who live and work in the land of pura vida.
Enjoy this brief Q and A with these experts about the anatomy of a dream home.
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“We should attempt to bring nature, houses, and human beings together in a higher unity.”
— Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
María de Guadalupe Montero
Hailing from the ultra-cosmopolitan scene in San José, Maria de Guadalupe attended Universidad Veritas to study architecture. She went on to work at highly-esteemed PIASA Consultores as well as VOID Architecture.
How would you define traditional Costa Rica architecture?
After Costa Rica was colonized, our culture — and therefore our style — was greatly influenced by what other big cities were developing. We often took the language of foreign architecture and translated it into our own, but with concessions for our climate, available resources, etc.
Therefore, the Costa Rican architectural aesthetic can be quite diverse, from weird finds like beautiful Victorian houses in the center of San José to stern concrete buildings influenced by the Soviets during the Cold War.
What luxury trends are you seeing in Guanacaste and other coastal areas of Costa Rica?
The trends follow different market needs. Seaside where we are located, I’ve come to notice a big trend of producing luxury goods in architecture. Additionally, whatever you design must be visually appealing to compete in popular but competitive online platforms such as Airbnb, Instagram, Booking, etc.
The idea of a dream vacation in paradise is definitely sold through architecture, so I would say that the trend would be to give an authentic vision of living in tropical paradise, but with all of the luxury amenities and creature comforts.
How does Costa Rica’s national love and respect of nature play into your designs?
The hand that guides design is the acknowledgment of the elements surrounding you. These are the boundaries that shape any design. This is the way in which we can create conscious buildings.
Admiration is an important concept in my language, and I try to create spaces that admire the natural elements around us, hoping to strengthen the value between man and wild. I focus on natural materials and lightweight tropical structures.
Australian architect, designer, and creative catalyst, Jake Magnus started working in Costa Rica with the iconic John Osborne in his studio, Osarq. Recently, Jake launched his own creative studio, Tierra Perma, where he focuses on clients with ecological/social ethical agendas.
What one word would you use to define Costa Rica architectural style?
Tropical. Our climate allows us a great freedom that is not possible in many parts of the world.
Architecture here is defined by a desire to enjoy and experience our environment, even questioning what is “inside” and “outside.” Therefore, most projects feature open-plan and open-air living with a strong connection and relationship to the natural surroundings.
Do you have a certain philosophy or personal design style?
To me, architecture is the perfect junction of pragmatism and poetry, a delicate balance.
With pragmatism we end up with a functional, efficient place to live, and with poetry we create a space that brings joy every day.
Costa Rica is known for a love of nature and a relaxed lifestyle. How does that manifest in your designs?
It plays into just about everything here! Life in Costa Rica is slower and simpler, so we want to be in tune with the rhythms and flow of the natural. That love of our environment permeates into architecture as naturally and thoughtlessly as breathing.
What advice would you give someone thinking about building their dream home in Costa Rica?
Go slow. That’s how things work here, so you may as well enjoy the ride! Take the time to get to know your chosen area — the people, culture, climate, environment and what daily life is like there, including in different seasons.
CFIA-registered architect and co-founder of AVarq Studio, one of the most innovative architecture firms in Costa Rica, Melissa Araya stands at the intersection between art and technology. She focuses on creating a connection with the environment when designing a home.
How do you account for the natural elements here in Costa Rica that the typical homeowner may not think about?
Natural elements are the primary basis of my designs. For instance, one of the most important considerations is the type of soil existing on the lot. By conducting a soil study, I can then define the type of foundation, drainage, filtration for septic tanks and water absorption tolerances.
I also consider the solar path, wind direction, ventilation and existing vegetation in order to design a unique environment that is totally coupled to its natural conditions.
Those are things the client or homeowner may not notice at first but are paramount!
What is your ultimate goal when designing a client’s dream home?
My goal is always to make clients connect emotionally with the space and surroundings. At the same time, I take pride in making sure that structural, mechanical and electrical codes are all met.
My ultimate goal is to create a solid, exciting and harmonious living environment that also showcases the beauty of my country, Costa Rica!
Owner of ConstrucTom, Tom Terry arrived in Costa Rica from California by sailboat in 1992. He has lived here ever since, building at least 60 homes and structures from San Juan del Sur to Playa Langosta and all over the Papagayo Peninsula.
What elements do a lot of your clients want? Are there certain trends?
The clients I’ve built for the last 27 years here in Costa Rica have varied greatly, but one thing they all tend to desire is a home that opens up to the environment and delivers an epic view. There’s a saying in my field that a home is only as good as its view at sunset!
What’s one of the most notable dream homes you’ve built?
My all-time favorite project that I’ve built was designed by the legendary Costa Rican architect Victor Cañas. The result is the magnificent, award-winning “India Desnudo” home located on the Papagayo Peninsula.
What three nuggets of wisdom would you give an expat coming to Costa Rica to build their dream home?
- Always ask the same question to three different experts but only trust the information when you get two similar responses.
- Watch what people do, not what they say.
- Don’t forget to enjoy it all because you’re in paradise!