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Designs for Travel: A “Culture Club” on an Epic Scale

photography by VILLA MANZU

Villa Manzu at Costa Rica’s Peninsula Papagayo

Villa Manzu, perched on the Pacific-facing cliffs of Costa Rica’s Peninsula Papagayo, bridges heaven and earth through inspired, global design.

There are reasons why the well-known, five-star luxury hotel brands all have loyal customers who follow them around the world. They are successful at formulas fusing interior design, amenities and impeccable service. However, those same avid travelers are also willing to go to the ends of the earth to immerse themselves in the destination’s people, natural landscape and culture.

Patrick Callahan, an adventure travel resort developer, is one such traveler and conceptualizes his properties around a getaway that is more personal and in tune with surroundings.

As “Manzu” translates to “friend” in the indigenous Chorotegan language, Valenzuela designed the structure to reflect the different personalities and experiences of guests within each group passing through its impressive entrance.

When Callahan set his sights on the Papagayo Peninsula in Costa Rica, he envisioned Villa Manzu as exclusive, all-inclusive and intimate destination-within-a-destination. Therefore, he needed the right architect and interior designer to translate his ambitious vision into the ultimate escape for well-traveled clientele that would be at once surprising, refined, and approachable. Costa Rican architect Abraham Valenzuela was the man up to the challenge of fashioning a multi-story dwelling that flowed effortlessly into the Papagayo Peninsula’s rugged landscape while a visiting family or group of friends or business colleagues to interact with each other.

As “Manzu” translates to “friend” in the indigenous Chorotegan language, Valenzuela designed the structure to reflect the different personalities and experiences of guests within each group passing through its impressive entrance. He built in visual storytelling elements within walls and ceilings to connect the property with the Papagayo locale. The private rooms and suites, meanwhile, are connected through a passion for world travel. From there, another challenge arose—how does one weave the area’s Chorotegan underpinnings with motifs of other Latin cultures, as well as Indian, African, Thai, Middle Eastern, and European influences without “theme-y” results? And how could it be brought together as a cohesive whole?

“(Callahan) was open-minded and had a clear vision for how he wanted to use this property, and it was important to maintain a consistent level of quality and appeal with all finishes and furniture in each suite,” says Lynn Yellen, a Houston-based designer and head of the Resort Design Group, who partnered up with Valenzuela.

“We wanted to be sure that each private enclave offered something special so that every guest was excited about where they were staying within the home. As views from the home are spectacular, the interior needed to respond accordingly and provide the luxuries inside that matched the lush Costa Rican landscape.”

The resulting look of every public and private room at Villa Manzu is built upon curation rather than formula. This comes out clearly in the special pieces Yellen designed, blurring the lines between function and style. The full effect allows guests to have it both ways—being as comfortable as they are dazzled. She believes that instinct is something she inherited from her father.

“He was a furniture manufacturer, so I’ve got sawdust in my DNA,” Yellen muses. “Being around him and the interior design world he inhabited is what really piqued my interest to become an interior designer,” she says. “Understanding that almost anything is possible is what helps me create definitive pieces for our clients based on their goals. This belief system was set early in my life, as I attended furniture trade shows with my father all over the US. My being exposed to designers associated with his company led me to work and collaborate with some of the most talented people in the industry.”

Yellen’s firm is regularly contracted for second home residential work, and one particularly satisfied client (whose Cabo San Lucas property she remodeled and decorated) brought the Villa Manzu project to her attention. While she was intrigued with the concept, she knew the success of the finished product would need to exceed the expectations of a well-traveled but extremely diverse group of guests walking through Valenzuela’s carefully constructed doors.

We feel like a traveler choosing Costa Rica as a destination is engrained with a spirit of exploration and casualness.

“We were certain that the guests coming to visit the property would be from all over the globe, but we thought it important to respect the vibe and expectations that may be preconceived for a Costa Rican vacation,” she says. “We feel like a traveler choosing Costa Rica as a destination is engrained with a spirit of exploration and casualness. However, it was also imperative that this home appeal to everybody from experienced Costa Rican visitors to first-timers. As it is also quite isolated, providing everything a guest needs to feel comfortable and pampered was what makes Villa Manzu a destination, not just a place to stay.”

Although some of Callahan’s acquisitions can be found around the property, Yellen praised him as an ideal client who clearly communicated his wants and needs for the use of Villa Manzu, yet permitted her and Valenzuela to interpret his vision their way. She notes that his granting her team freedom to use high end and unique statement pieces of her choosing lent itself to the one-of-a-kind spirit in every room of the villa.

To preserve the individuality of each room, but keep a flow connecting all of them together, fabrics and finishes were thoughtfully selected to withstand a hotel environment yet maintain the quality of a private residence. It’s movie screening room and bar has Mid-century flair that would make Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin feel right at home. The multi-bed “Mono” (monkey) suite is sure to delight kids with its pastel hues and Thai elements. Another opulent suite puts you in the heart of a Moroccan medina (palace), while others bring aspects of Costa Rica’s outdoors inside…blurring the boundaries of indoors and outdoors in the process. The open concept kitchen, meanwhile, is a gourmand’s dream come true. It is outfitted with top tier appliances and appointments, as well as full access to the chefs who, by the way, are more than happy to dispense recipes and suggestions for bringing the flavors of Costa Rica and the world home.

“There is a balance involved in providing enough privacy to each individual yet allowing for the larger group (of 16 to 22 people) to be entertained effortlessly in multiple areas,” she says, insisting good hospitality for a property begins as early as a comfortable layout and wraps with important small details such as the fragrance selected for the amenities in the bathrooms.

“There was no part of Villa Manzu that could not be special, and the scope of the project led us to use the most vendors and artisans that we have ever used on a single project,” she says. “With Villa Manzu’s 30,000 square footage alone, it was no easy feat to keep the spaces fresh and unpredictable while allowing it to flow as a cohesive home. Feeling comfortable yet luxurious in a resort space elevates a vacation experience and is sometimes just as memorable as the numerous activities they will encounter while in Costa Rica.”

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