COSTA RICAN DELIGHT
Updated: Jul 7
”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.”
The owners’ array of collected art and artifacts read like a geographical map of Indonesia. A sculpted green-glass Buddha hand, antique centerpiece wine jugs and hammered copper wall sconces captivate. Still, the stairway’s light pendants from Hubbardton Forge fit right in.
ABOVE: Arteriors’ brass “Berti” pendants undulate above the handcrafted tamarind wood table in the dining room. Here, leather-clad chairs from Fast Buck’s in Key West comfortably seat a party of eight. Water World by Indonesian artist Norman Senjany dots the sidewall in complement to nature beyond.
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.
ABOVE: Indo Puri counter stools from Carlo Gallery pull up to the kitchen’s breakfast bar topped in Caesarstone quartz. This culinary space doesn’t miss a beat with aluminum and copper drum pendants designed by Smith and hand-hammered by local artisans.
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.
“Creating an elegant residence in a quasi-jungle setting wasn’t easy solid wood cabinetry, appliances, and tons and tons of stone along difficult roads,” interior designer David L. Smith says. “But in the end, the spectacular results speak for themselves.”
ABOVE and BELOW: One guest room entices with captivating water views. Mother-of-pearl shimmers in perfect complement atop the bedside tables and a desk, while the custom teak bed adds a touch of organic comfort. In the nearby bath, the tamarind wood vanity with its Caesarstone quartz countertop exudes a natural essence.
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.
“Balconies that jut out and act as private galleries to each bedroom and social space insure that nature is never out of sight or mind,” the designer says. “The property the owners chose backs up to Manuel Antonio National Park, where protected “bridges” allow for animal migration.”
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.”
On the patio pavilion, a charming dining table from Modern Primitive Living in Costa Rica and rattan side chairs from Bali seem made for each other. Along with Tuuci umbrellas from Miami that shade cocktail tables found in Key West, this exotic haven goes internationally tropical.
Sofa - Norwalk, Fast Buck’s At Home, Key West, FL, Wood-framed lounge chairs - Selamat Furniture, Fast Buck’s At Home, Key West, FL, Cocktail table - Java, Indonesia, Drum table - Coco Craft, Java, Indonesia, Occasional table - Palecek, Richmond, CA, Balcony lounge chairs - Kannoa, Miami, FL, Inda concrete floor lamp - Seasonal Living, Dallas, TX, Fans - Minka Fan Company, Corona, CA, Windows and doors - Extralume, San Jose, Costa Rica
Breezeway River rock sofa and lounge chairs - Carlo Gallery, Bali, Indonesia, Concrete bench cocktail table - Seasonal Living, Dallas, TX, Lucite bridge tables - Muniz Plastics, Inc., Miami, FL, Disc floor lamps - Pablo Lighting, Fast Buck’s At Home, Key West, FL, Lucite accent table between lounge chairs - Oly Studio, San Francisco, CA
Dining table and sideboard - Custom designed by David L. Smith Interiors, Key West, FL
Table fabricated by Prior Rio, Java, Indonesia, Sideboard fabricated by Meubel Ukir, Java, Indonesia, Chairs - Fast Buck’s At Home, Key West, FL, Light pendants - Arteriors, Dallas, TX
Stairwell pendants - Hubbardton Forge, Castleton, VT
Wood cabinetry and island fabricated by Tijerino Builders, Quepos, Costa Rica, Quartz countertops - Caesarstone, Charlotte, NC, Pendants above island - Custom designed by David L. Smith Interiors, Key West, FL, Fabricated by local artisans, Cepogo, Indonesia
Prep sink faucet - Hans Grohe, New York, NY
Bed - Custom designed by David L. Smith Interiors, Key West, FL, Stacked horn table lamp - Jamie Young, Gardenia, CA, Bedside table and desk - Coco Craft, Java, Indonesia, Desk stool - Fast Buck’s At Home, Key West, FL, Balcony lounge chairs - Kannoa, Miami, FL
Wood vanity fabricated by Tijerino Builders, Quepos, Costa Rica, Countertop - Caesarstone, Charlotte, NC, Faucets - Kohler, New York, NY, Mirrors - Coco Craft, Java, Indonesia
Pool and built-in benches fabricated by Tijerino Builders, Quepos, Costa Rica, Bench cushion fabric - Sunbrella, Glen Raven, NC, Umbrellas - Tuuci, Miami, FL, Dining table - Modern Primitive Living, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
Imola porcelain flooring - Prosein Showroom, San Jose, Costa Rica