Also known as Wild House, this brutalist off-grid haven was designed by Lilly’s close friend the architect María de la Paz Alice, founder of Mazpazz Arquitectura. Despite the logistical challenges that María’s team encountered constructing the self-sustaining stone-and-concrete project in a remote location, the brief from Lilly was simple: she wanted an artistic haven in which to disconnect from city life in San José and commune with nature.
María’s modernist design was completed in 2021. It is both pragmatic and honest, in terms of materials used, and spiritual, by way of creating a transcendental living experience for Lilly, a Costa Rican film producer. María also ensured she framed Lilly’s beloved rainforest views via a series of geometrical portals, the most striking of which is located in the concrete entrance courtyard, which is known as the ‘vortex’.
Here, two large circular openings, one cut to reveal mountain views and the other opening up to the sky, create a dramatic focal point to the house, softened only by its use as a greenhouse for ferns, mountain orchids and other endemic species.
“The ‘vortex’ is one my favourite parts of the house,” says Lilly. “The walls are made of raw brutalist concrete featuring leaf stamps we made using vegetation collected from the forest and crystals encrusted in the concrete floor! Here I feel the true energy of the mountains. I have a perfect view of the horizon, the sky at night with hundreds of stars, the clouds passing by overhead, and of course the thunderstorms!”
Given the house’s secluded location, it was also vital María incorporated the use of local materials and craftsmanship. Local stone was used on some exterior walls, and the wood-shingled roof was handmade on-site with Costa Rican teak. The interiors of the two-bedroom house are covered entirely from floor to ceiling in a local wood called ‘roble coral’, which María likens to walking into a wooden womb.
Responding to Lilly’s environmental concerns, and the practicality of the remote location having no power or water services, María ensured the house would be completely off-grid, relying on solar energy for power and on spring water captured uphill on the property. The landscaping by Jorge Salgado was designed as an edible and medicinal garden, with springwater pools and endemic species.
The interior design was the work of Lilly’s friend interior designer Ileana Guerrero, whose use of handmade elements, local handicrafts and eclectic pieces is a reflection of Lilly’s bohemian sensibility. “I wanted a simple, cosy and ethnical space, filled with items I’d collected from Costa Rica and abroad,” says Lilly. “Ileana very creatively curated my pieces and added more beautiful ones of her own design, all handmade by local artisans and weavers. Most of our furniture is made of local timbers by artisans in the area.”
When Lilly is not in the ‘vortex’ or relaxing on the wide verandah in contemplation, and enjoying the stillness, she loves to invite others to join her meditation sessions, share her intimate dinners or to take part in the deep conversations that seem to effortlessly take place at Casa Salvaje.
“I enjoy the house with my family, including my three children Camille, Stephan and Natalia, and our gorgeous dogs—some of which I rescued from city streets. We love to hang out or go hiking in the mountains. My close friends come to visit often. We’ll talk, eat and gaze at the stars by the firepit. María comes, too. She is a great friend and a truly amazing architect who has been wonderful to collaborate with. The two of us visited the site often to share ideas about creating the ideal escape. I trusted her vision.”
Since Lilly also visits Casa Salvaje solo, her days on the mountain are committed to a slow-living lifestyle. “I usually start with music and a cup of tea, then walk around the garden to check the plants and look for birds, bees and butterflies. If I’m lucky, I can find a morpho (a big blue butterfly endemic to the mountain), I visit my neighbours, their orchards, then sit on the terrace to watch the sun set.”
Nature-lover Lilly founded the organic farmers’ market Mercado KM0 in an effort to promote the natural produce of the area, but she is best known in Costa Rica for her documentary film making, specifically dedicated to the protection of the oceans.
It is in the cool mountainous central rainforests, however, where she has found her ultimate happy place: “I immediately fell in love with the peacefulness of this location. It was the perfect spot to build a hideaway where I could take my family, friends and dogs to enjoy the forest, the rivers, the purity of the air and the natural springwaters. I love the energy, the view of the mountain, the light at sunset, the moon shadow and stars. It’s as romantic as it sounds. I could be worlds away.”
Extract from Love Shacks by Susan Redman, $59.99 RRP. Available at all good bookstores now.