It’s one thing to have some of the best views in Costa Rica. It’s another to actually bring elements of the rainforest right inside. That’s the idea behind Villa Eram, a dreamy escape where the walls are made of tropical plants and the floors are lined with little rivers of water. “It’s unlike any project I’ve ever worked on,” says Martha Dayton, president and principal designer of Minneapolis-based Martha Dayton Design. “It’s simply stunning.”
For this 7,400-square-foot getaway perched on famed Papagayo Peninsula, the plan was to build a modern American abode, then fill it with touches of tropical elegance. Look down, and you’ll see little channels of water running through the floors. For Iranian-born owner Nazie Eftekhari, who also has residences in Minneapolis and New York City, these recall similar rivulets in her grandparents’ home. “It’s a centuries-old Persian practice of incorporating water features indoors for both the aesthetic impact and natural air conditioning,” explains the noted philanthropist and human rights activist. “The end result is pure magic. Very Persian, yet very Costa Rican.”
Dayton, along with fellow designers Kelly Perry and Kory Reckinger, relished in shaping this exotic retreat. For the past 18 years, the award-winning firm has designed everything from chic Manhattan penthouses to charming cabins up north. The through line is always to make life easier for clients while infusing a sense of beauty throughout a property.
To set the architectural stage, Dayton and team collaborated with Paul Udris, founding principal of U+B Architecture & Design of Minneapolis, known for his exemplary residential work both locally and abroad, in locations as far-flung as Morocco and Cyprus. Beginning with the initial design of the local team at Christopher Morehead Architecture, Udris crafted a space that feels open and bright, with nature taking center stage via sliding walls of glass that overlook the famed gulf. Once open, they bring in cool breezes, creating the dazzling effect of a house without walls. “It’s the most amazing view for a home I’ve ever seen,” Udris notes. “And with the glass wall across the entire back of the house and the water and plants woven throughout the space, the view and the surrounding landscape become one with the architecture.”
Another bold stroke is the placement of the infinity pool, which runs the length of the home. Because of its seamless integration, it doesn’t read as an object but instead an integral component of the villa. “We spent a lot of time choosing just the right color of pool tile,” says Udris. “Finally we found this subtle gray tile, which perfectly reflects the color of the sky and the ocean beyond.”
That same attention to detail extends to the furnishings, which are crisp and clean in gentle shades of white, cream and beige. To offset that quietness, a dining table adds organic drama. Designed by Udris and Dayton, and made by local craftsmen with Guanacaste wood, it’s accented with a ribbon of glass right down the center. “It’s my absolute favorite dining room table,” notes Dayton. “I love the rich golden brown as a counterpoint to all the white.”
Nevertheless, nature still steals the show, especially by way of one final interior feature: an entire wall made up of lush tropical plants, a sort of living wallpaper right in the sitting room. Woven with thick layers of leaves, the green wall carries a fresh scent, bringing all the romance of a secret terrarium. “In the rainforest, these plants live under a canopy of trees, so they don’t need much sunlight,” Dayton explains. “And sometimes you’ll find white orchids tucked into the wall.”
From the minimalist aesthetic to the magnificent views of nature inside and out, this Costa Rican retreat has become a beloved escape for Eftekhari to relax with family and friends. Here, you can simply open up the doors, feel the tropical air and listen to the sounds of wildlife in the distance. “Honestly, it feels like you’re sleeping in the middle of the rainforest,” Eftekhari sums up. “Villa Eram is absolutely our happy place.”