el alma

the ideal retreat from the pressures of everyday life

Want to stay in a Treetop Paradise in Costa Rica?

Patricia Coester's beautifully designed home is the ideal retreat from the pressures of everyday life
By Philip Fine September 12, 2016

Costa Rica has had a powerful effect on Patricia Coester's family. It drew them to its lush mountains from Switzerland last year, turned her husband Christian Steinmann, a successful lawyer, into a baker, and gave daughter Ginger a welcome alternative to the conformist pressures she felt in her home country. And for Patricia, it brought an opportunity to transform her long-time design visions into the clean lines of this Papagayo perch; gave her a space to share her love of tango with her guests; and cross-hatched her professional coaching advice with the aims of this high-end retreat that caters to those who want to unplug. Ten years ago, the family decided to spend a vacation in Costa Rica.

Patricia, Christian and then 12-year-old Ginger loved the country. Patricia recalls how wild and natural the surroundings were, as they rode horses through the river in Corcovada National Park. "I remember it raining hard and then the sun came out. All the birds and the monkeys were happy to also come out."They loved the Costa Rican concept of Pura Vida, an expression that translates literally as pure life, but means to take it easy or to appreciate the life you've been given.

Young Ginger was so enamored with the area that she wanted to stay. "She was crying 'I don't want to go back,'" she said, her daughter referring to their home in Zurich. Six years later, 18-year-old Ginger had just finished high school and did not know in which direction to take her life. The family was conscious of the expectations the Swiss have on youth, and how a young person is expected to simply continue on to university. "If you don't fit into that system, you're really an outsider," says Patricia. Ginger decided to take some time off to visit Costa Rica with her boyfriend.

The two young people rented a small house and came back after six months, fluent in Spanish and more in love with the country than ever. Then a funny thing happened. Christian felt something similar to what his daughter had felt a few years earlier. He was also needing to escape the Swiss straitjacket. While he had built a successful law practice and sat on company boards, both he and Patricia felt a certain disingenuousness around them. "People like you if you're on top," says Patricia.

Christian, who loves baking and horses, knew there was not much time in his job to explore those passions. "There's no room for the other person."Christian and Patricia decided to move away from Switzerland, selling most of their possessions. They had originally intended to move to Argentina - her love of tango and his love of horses were two of the draws to that country - but they found its economy and political situation too unstable.

They also loved Bali, but chose Costa Rica for its stability, the language, memories they had made from their trips there and the Pura Vida they were looking for. They said their goodbyes but there were some people who questioned this decision. "They did not understand how you can give up everything," Patricia says. But Patricia and Christian came to Costa Rica to create a new life, build a new home for themselves and one for guests, and set up a business.

Patricia worked with a Swiss architect to bring out the sense of serenity that she was seeking for both the family and their guests at the new properties. Both their home and the guest house are similar in design and are in close proximity, allowing Patricia and Christian to greet guests when they arrive.The location for the villas was ideal, looking over Prieta Bay ­­­­­­­­­­­­and the mountains that hug it. The team built a cantilevered viewing deck to take in a 360-degree view and an infinity pool that blends with the natural setting. There are mature trees and a garden, and several beaches just minutes away.Patricia worked in the fashion industry for several years, designing clothes and working on everything from textile prints to clothing labels. Her aesthetic philosophy is that she "tries to find the beauty in everything."

For the guest villa, named El Alma, Spanish for 'the soul', she made the design simple and elegant, with straight lines, and warm touches such as the traditional Balinese doors and wood screens. While the color palette is a mix of neutral earth tones and the walls and floors cool and glossy, there are warm touches like a wooden spiral staircase and intricate mandala screens that let the sunshine filter through in beautiful patterns. The room names evoke the sense of nature and calm: Mandala Room, Treetop Room and Garden Room. Patricia sees El Alma as a detox for those who are bombarded with too much information, who are escaping bustling city life ­­̶ a peaceful home away from home. The villa has no television, though she has installed wifi for those who want to bring their own screens. She sees the villa as a place to contemplate and relax so that people can return to their lives with a new perspective.It's something that goes hand in hand with her teachings as a life coach, a profession she has transplanted to Costa Rica. "You need a space to make decisions."

Though, she also adds that some people might like to simply come to the retreat to play golf at the nearby Arnold Palmer-designed course. Patricia has also transferred her love for tango to Costa Rica. A dancer for seven years, she has invited tango teachers to her villa for organized dance retreats. Meanwhile Christian has been baking, though he has had some difficulty importing some of the ingredients and equipment he requires for the business. His plans have him eventually supplying nearby hotels and restaurants with fresh baked goods. Patricia says it could be tomorrow or two months until they get the go-ahead from local officials who are holding up the process. "It's out of our control," she says. "You adapt to where you are and do your best." She and Christian have been joined by Ginger, who came back to Costa Rica in May to stay. Swiss Family Coester-Steinmann have washed up on the shores of a new land but are living it with the luxury they designed, a few local constraints and lots of pura vida.