Is This The Jungle’s Most Eco-Friendly Luxury Home?
Initially called Casa Flotanta by award-winning Costa Rican architect Benjamín García-Saxe, our #brandtotrust LX Costa Rica has the honour of selling what has been lauded as the the world’s first Sustainable Luxury Treehouse, and the first García-Saxe house to market. With its laid back feel among the treetops and direct views to the renowned Santa Teresa beaches, it is totally surrounded by nature and combines expansive ocean views towards the Playa Hermosa surf break, luxury interiors, and an infinity swimming pool – all within walking distance to the beach.
The 1.5 acre property exemplifies sustainable tropical luxury design. The Floating house incorporates sustainable living and construction principles like raised construction to reduce impact on forest undergrowth, passive solar design, UV water filtration systems, and natural ventilation for efficient heating and cooling without depending on mechanical fixes. Natural teak wood flooring, integrated social areas and vertical bamboo shafts along the main corridor combine to create fresh and inviting spaces – for a luxury home that might just be the jungle’s most breath-taking treehouse.
We talk to the owner Jez Gooden – who works to conserve the oceans himself – on what led them create a life in Costa Rica, and how they dealt with the feat of building such an incredible property.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO MOVE TO COSTA RICA?
I had a 4 year old and 9 month old child, working in London with a big creative agency on a big job with Sony and I never got to see my daughter. My wife was in an even more hardcore job and in charge of 65 people and we just wanted to see what the next move was really. We asked for a sabbatical from work for six months which then turned into 7 years! We were lucky enough that we had jobs that allowed us to do that. The original idea was to go to Tonga to build an eco-resort with some friends of mine who are down there, but we were starting in New York then Costa Rica, then Tonga and other places from there, but we basically got to Costa Rica then cancelled the rest of the trip! But when we got there we had to decide what to do when we were there and we spent two months wondering whether we’d made the right decision or not; how do you survive in paradise?
WHAT LED YOU TO GO INTO PROPERTY THERE?
There’s a lot of people that have gone to live the dream but its gone wrong. They’ve found themselves with no money left and spent everything they’ve saved. Because we were only there for three months, we had no intentions of going to paradise to try and make it work, just to enjoy it. But while we were there we figured out that bars and restaurants are a tough industry at the best of times, you then add small beach town-like life but it’s ruthless and you’ve got to be incredibly good. I think thats the mistake a lot of people make. But when you throw on top of that that for at least three or fourth months of the year there’s absolutely no body there you’d have absolutely no income. We chatted to lots of people and we knew that the only thing that can give you a chance is having a property that you rent. And then we got into exactly what makes – there’s nobody there who managed properties and we started to manage properties of people who live in the states. If you can get it right, you can do alright.
WHAT SURPRISED YOU ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT THERE?
When I was walking my dog on the beach the tides turned, it was in the winter when not a lot of people were there. I was literally blown away by a 3/4 metre wide tidemark of plastic. People come here in the summer when the tides don’t bring this in, and they think the beaches are pristine and lovely but when the storms change and the winter starts its mind blowing what washes up. It’s actually what washes up too. I had a music stream and I had an idea to raise awareness about this using the stream, but keeping it positive. We have tried to really build momentum with One Ocean FM and we’ve got a lot of exciting things coming up, a big campaign in June. Everyone’s realising now that single use plastic is what the problem is. The good thing is, it seems to be on the front pages and in the newspapers all the time at the moment.
WHAT WERE YOUR FIRST CONSIDERATIONS WHEN BUILDING STARTED?
I used to work in experiential marketing and I’m used to thinking about the experience of things; what do you feel when you walk up the steps. We started thinking about what sort of property we would do and the initial start for me was that we saw a plot of land that was quoted as being near one of the top five beaches in the world by Condé Nast Traveller. And i couldn’t believe there was a plot of land that close, a few minutes walk to the sea. Whats up there I wondered..so I thought the slope wasn’t too bad it wasn’t as steep as it looked and it was completely covered by jungle. I started thinking that I knew in LA you can build on the side of a mountain, so why not. But we also had learnt that there was a huge amount of development in Santa Teresa the next bay over, and everyone there cuts into the mountain at a level platform, which makes the mountain behind the house weakened. With the amount of rainfall that drops at any given time, you have a real problem with mudslides. So we wanted to affect the earth as little as possible.
HOW DID YOU COMBAT THIS PROBLEM?
We started thinking about putting it on stilts, as we are on a fault line and there’s lots of very very small earthquakes, you don’t even feel them but there is a chance that it does have a good old shake and we started to think seismically we needed to look at that. The idea of the pods came about purely because of money. I wanted to build them as we could build as we go along when we got more income. To do that without scorching the earth, we looked at the seismic activity and what we needed to do to address that so the first things we did was something really natural which nobody does which surprises me. A lot of trees had fallen on the land over the years, so we made them horizontal to the landscape, as the problem with water coming down the mountain is when it gathers pace – so the trees would slow it down. By the time it reaches the house it’s just dispersed so many times that you could manage it. And then we put in a french drainage system which is completely natural that channels the water underneath the house so that if it does gather pace from somewhere else, we have another way to deal with it. That became a water collection system for us as well. The very first things we did was about making sure that the land didn’t move – and touch wood, so far so good!
The next thing was the seismic activity, and unbeknownst to me my builder Dante said to me look if you’re worried about seismic activity you just dig a little deeper and make things bigger. But he failed to tell me the costs involved in that! But we literally made the foundations as strong as they make them on steel skyscrapers. We used the same steel bar, we doubled up on everything. And so we made it as strong as we possibly could, and i can say hand on heart that house is as solid as you can make it.
HOW DID YOU BLEND THE HOUSE INTO ITS SURROUNDINGS?
But the interesting thing was that once we did all the steel framework and looked at it, i thought wow what have i taken on. There were a lot of comments by people in town, so we needed to soften up the entire building and blend it in. we wanted to do as little to the environment around it as possible, so we started looking at the options and it was my neighbour who came up with a brilliant idea: when the jungle goes dry, most of the trees turn into quite grey-looking, bare trees. So we matched the colour of the trees and you’ve almost got this grey sort of magenta and we painted the entire framework this colour. So when you look at it for at least six months of the year, it does blend in.
HOW IMPORTANT WAS IT TO USE LOCAL PRODUCE AND LABOUR?
But then the original architect drawings were nothing like it ended up looking like. We softened the entire thing up with sustainable wood that we could get locally. In the tropics you shouldn’t use wood from other areas, as there are reasons that particular wood survives in that area – its been born there and survived there without dying. I knew someone that shipped everything in from Europe and two years later, he was replacing all the wood in his house. We used a local teak, that was grown 5 miles away and that was important to me as well, to use locally sustainable wood and all the craftsmanship was by locals: I used a Costa Rican architect, labour and materials.
WHAT ARE THE ‘GREEN’ HIGHLIGHTS OF THE HOUSE?
The bamboo corridor down the back was a really nice touch, as it essentially creates a ventilation system so it doesn’t get hot up there. One of the problems a lot of my neighbours have who face the ocean you can’t watch the ocean from 2-5pm as its too hot. But in our house that’s not the case, we have great shade and amazing ventilation. I always found it incredible that people would build 4 walls and have only a couple of windows in a place as beautiful as that. Nature is providing you the backdrop, so i wanted windows on every walls – you get to see the jungle almost in 360 degrees.
YOU’RE NOW BACK IN THE UK – HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE HIGHLIGHTED ANYTHING FOR YOU?
Things go wrong often in the jungle – so it’s been quite nice not having to deal with the disaster! One of the things we learnt out there was how when water becomes an issue, how fundamental water is besides everything else. If there is a water issue, absolutely everything becomes a problem and that’s something I didn’t quite appreciate before going out there. Your well gets infected, or something stops the water from getting to your house and there’s a problem with fixing it. Being able to cook, clean up what you cooked, toilets – everything rapidly becomes an issue. But as the years have gone on the amenities are a hundred times better than when we got there. We live in Bath now, which suits as London seemed too scary – having a phone again has been interesting!
Images by Andrés García Lachner