There’s something about Costa Rica,” Key West-based interior designer David L. Smith says. “The wild life, the climate, the proximity to nature, a rugged rainforest fronted by both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans …” With his early involvement in what would result in a 6,800-square-foot aviary overlooking the sea, Smith still seems awestruck by the grandeur he along with the architectural team and builder created from the jungle mountainside.
While the well-traveled homeowners could have lived any place, the gated community of Tulemar in central Costa Rica already had an infrastructure for water and electricity supplied to the 33 one-acre homesites. “Yet there were challenges,” says Smith, referring to the strict codes to deal with natural seismic activity and the rolling topography of steep jungle terrain. “But for the owners to see ocelots, sloths, monkeys, and scarlet macaws … it was worth it. This place might just be paradise.”
And the owners didn’t want to keep any of it outside. Built on three levels with straight, spare lines, the home’s contemporary profile is essentially open to the sea’s breezes. There is no air conditioning. Windows retract into walls or accordion to the side, and fans stand ready only if needed. Because the views of the ocean are most spectacular from the third level, the living room, dining room and kitchen are positioned there. Only from the rooftop terrace could the horizon seem more dramatic.
Many of the furnishings chosen by Smith are familiar to him in his Key West showrooms. “Handcrafted Indonesian pieces, created in Bali and Java were particularly appropriate for this setting,” he says. Dramatic use of woods, artfully sculpted metal, and artisanal finishes in each room seem to relate to the natural textures just outside the windows.
Wafting over textural surfaces of hammered metal, ancient roots, and bamboo stalks as tall as a monkey can spring, the jungle is always an invited guest in the living room that opens onto its own balcony. “Our aim was to be practical, as well as elegant,” Smith says. Casual furnishings cushioned in Sunbrella’s sailcloth naturally pair with vintage copper urns from Mexico, a Coco Craft drum table from Indonesia and a massive teak “root ball” that forms the abstract sculpture of the cocktail table. Tracks that subtly disappear into the 10-foot-high ceiling and the tile below enable glass walls to enclose the room during rain showers.
Downstairs in the breezeway, a transition begins from the home’s covered portico and its glass entry to a welcoming sitting area with a panorama of the stepped patio, dual pools and the sea beyond. Pairing surprising textures, Smith imported furnishings covered in river rock from Indonesia, added a concrete bench-turned-table with arched Lucite bridges, a lava stone-framed mirror, and the woven neoprene basket from Milan. The grouping feels like a celebration of exotic elements, each with a story to tell.
On the top level, the central stairway opens to the dining room’s extravagant views. According to Smith’s design, a solid slab of ancient tamarind tree was sculpted into a table, while an untitled artwork from Bali recalls the jungle hues above a handcrafted distressed mahogany sideboard. “I love finding small villages on Java where the old craftsmen still work,” Smith says.
A unique teak root console leads the way from the dining room to the kitchen, where catching a casual bite at the breakfast bar doesn’t mean skipping a breathtaking view. Distressed tamarind wood cabinetry reappears to make an impressive organic statement in the heart of the home.
Even in a guest room on the lower level, the designer’s taste for the exotic feels natural. A four-poster teak bed and louvered tamarind armoire shape the perfect retreat with its own private balcony amidst the jungle-like verdant vistas. Nearby, an over-sized bath glitters with beveled mirrors framed by colored raw stone.
“The homeowners really listened to what the land was telling them,” Smith says. “They wanted two pools and the terrain sort of fell away as to suggest a waterfall.” Coming down the steps from the breezeway, it’s as if a resort suddenly appears. Stacked in rectangular planes, the first pool wraps around what Costa Ricans call a “rancho,” an island-like, covered pavilion for dining. The second pool looks up at the natural Sukabumi stone “water wall.” With Sunbrella-covered cushions, the concrete banquettes are both structural and convenient, as are their aquatic counterparts lining the pool’s interior. Comfortable chaise lounges recline for relaxation.
“According to the owners, around sunset is when they come … family, friends and neighbors just show up,” Smith says with a smile. “Everybody delights in this place, its setting and its feel.”