Designing Expat Homes in Costa Rica

What do these pictures have in common? No, they are not of the same location. But they are both sites where houses are being built that were designed by my wife, Tamara. One halfway done, the other just beginning. 

The one that is bare, scraped land has as of today foundations being poured. It is across the ravine south of us where we can delight in its formation over the next several months.

The other partially completed house is on the other side of the larger valley, well out of sight from our place. 

Besides these two houses and the two on our property Tamara has one design that's in-progress for a couple who haven't made the move down here yet. She actually did another one for some TIcos but they so corrupted the design later, as only Ticos can, that she doesn't want her name attached to it. So, she counts 5, I count 6.

One of the "gets" I promised her when I was persuading her to move to the Tropics was that she'd be able to put her fine arts and architecture degrees from Kyiv to good use. The latter, especially, was difficult to find a niche for in the States where architecture is more of a guild than a profession, though she was able to do a few small-scale designs. A couple of her best friends from school who now reside in the States did find jobs with architecture firms, but as drafts-people putting to CAD others' designs. Tamara's pretty happy to be working independent of a firm with the creative freedom that provides, to a point.

It seems to me that the hardest part of her job in all this is dealing with the clients' changing whims. She doesn't take over the design, but instead tries to work with their vision while trying to apply good architectural principles and working with whatever advantages the building site offers. Once it's done and in CAD and in the permit phase she's pretty much hands-off. It's with mixed feelings she comes to visit the site if the owners have, in her opinion, strayed too far from the original design to the extent that it's lost some of the charm and functionality which she was trying to impart to the house.

That can irk her a little, because she's a diligent, caring person who's trying to do her best and to her big changes, post-design, makes her feel that the owners don't "get it" or that perhaps she failed to sufficiently inspire the shared vision. I try to give her a broader view by reminding her that a house, a home over time, is a human collaborative effort, thus it sometimes gets messy. In that case, she should adhere to the wisdom of The Chink in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, which is, paraphrasing, "to eat it over the sink".

Pura vida!


  1. Going to go back and look again as I don't think I saw the pictures of the kitchens, but had to comment about the "eat it over the sink" saying. I have never heard it, but love it! I'm sure Tamara's work is beautiful.

  2. Fran,

    I think you'd like that book. If you can't find that title, try "Jitterbug Perfume" by the same author.




Thanks so much for your comment! - Casey