Sunday, March 29, 2009

Interior Designing

Bone or “blanco”? Large tank or small? High seat or low? Who would have thought so many decisions could go into simply choosing a toilet! Pat and I went to San Jose recently looking forward to starting the process of designing the interior of our homes and restaurant, but our excitement waned as we were confronted with walls upon walls of faucet handles, shower heads, light fixtures and tile samples. Talk about sensory overload!

It helped that we had the somewhat limited mission of finding “acabados” or “finishings”, for the bathrooms and kitchens. Window treatments, door hardware, and wall paint were thankfully set aside for a future date. Our task was further simplified by the fact that our range of choices here in Costa Rica is much more limited than it would have been in the United States. Using a Costa Rican design magazine (Su Casa) as our guide, we compiled a list of about eight design centers in San Jose that we knew would have the quality products we were looking for. Compared to the eight million design centers in the Greater Washington area, we thought we’d be in pretty good shape. Well, we thought wrong.

First of all, the idea of choosing permanent fixtures without being able to “try them on”, is really rather daunting. Pat had a minor freak~out on our first shopping day, and was rendered completely incapable of making any decisions. He kept asking over and over, “But how do we know that this will look right ?”. The best answer I could come up with was, “We don’t, but we have to choose something. We’re just going to have to trust our guts and get something we like… and we can’t go too terribly wrong with beige.” The urgency of the situation helped push Pat into high gear, and by the second day, we were able to make considerable progress.

Our second major obstacle is our bank account. As our architect has commented on more than one occasion, we’re trying to build a million dollar home on a million Costa Rican colones budget (exchange rate 560 to 1!). So, although we continually gravitate toward the onyx sink basins and custom Italian tiling, the sticker shock brings us back to reality. We try to make ourselves feel better by thinking how difficult those fancy surfaces are to maintain, and how impractical they would be in a public restaurant (but it doesn't really help).

By the end of our trip (among other things) we had chosen:
Seven bathroom sinks
Six fountain lights
Five possible floor tiles
Four low~flush toilets
Three types of faucets
Two office chairs
And a painted lamp with a toucan in a tree!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Asian Accents

Over the past three weeks, we’ve been fortunate to have had visitors from both sides of our family come to see our project take shape. While entertaining has impeded my blogging process a bit (OK, a lot!), thankfully our construction team has continued to be productive.

If I’ve been successful in posting the two pictures below, you can see that our walls are now completely up. We can walk from room to room debating what piece of furniture will go where, and comparing the views from each of the four bedrooms. We served the first bottle of wine in our “open air” restaurant to my parents while they were here, and we had fun imagining our future life as we watched the sun set into the ocean.

We are now looking forward to the Roof Raising phase of construction, which will begin next week. As I’ve described earlier, we’ve designed our buildings in a Balinese style, which is characterized by high (5 meter), steep (70 degree) roofs with exposed rattan and rafters, held up with tree trunk~sized pillars. In preparation, we've put an improvised saw mill into operation to slice our teak trees into carefully measured posts and beams. We are now the proud owners of an industrial strength sander, which will (supposedly) pay for itself within a couple of weeks. If all else fails with the restaurant and guesthouse, the carpentry business might offer a good a fall~back option!

In order to get an authentic Balinese look (and because some materials are simply not available here), we have been working with two Asian importers to provide the supplies we need. We’ve ordered all the rattan for the roof, sandstone for our gate and water feature, custom wall sculptures, and carved doors directly from Bali. We’re crossing our fingers that the rattan shipment will arrive on schedule, since any delay could bring construction to a halt. We’re cutting things a little close here, but we think the rattan will give our buildings that special something that will make people want to come take a look. As they say in Costa Rica, “Ojala que si”!