Pedro’s Door

Its been a couple of weeks since I arrived in Panama and there has been a flurry of activity around the house.   We have electricians, carpenters, landscapers, plumbers, and workers digging up things that were covered with dirt long ago.

My closest neighbor laughs when there is so much activity around the house, he instinctively knows that I must be coming into town because Pedro has all his workers scurrying about like bees to a hive.   Of course this makes me happy as I know that many of the overdue small projects are finally getting attention.

I’ll be writing rapid fire posts over the next couple of weeks as those unfinished projects become complete and I’ll include photos of the new spa, landscaping, counter tops, and unveil the furniture I purchased over a year ago.

One of the projects that needed serious attention is the door that connects the interior of the house to the upper terrace.  This door provides access to two bedrooms which are only accessible from the outside terrace.  The door also keeps the outside elements from entering the interior of the house so it’s importance is more than just decorative.

Over the last year, I have sent Pedro drawings and photos of the style of door I’d like to see in that space and for many reasons unknown the door would simply not materialize.  I will attribute the delay to the Panamanian experience of getting anything accomplished within a reasonable time and coupled with the lack of skilled craftsmen to make this type of door.

So over the last few weeks, Pedro has been running around between carpenter and blacksmith to window glazier in order to have the door ready by the time I arrived and it looks great.  The biggest surprise, Pedro decided that he was going to give me the door as a gift and all I can say is what a wonderful and generous gift it is.  I think this is Pedro’s way of making up for some of the challenges we’ve had in getting this door organized and it’s a testament to his good-natured personality.  While not everything can be perfect or done on time, the job will get done and correctly.  Muchas Gracias Pedro.

The entrance to the terrace that required the door is quite high and large.  Pedro employed the same fellow who built the rest of the solid doors for the house.  You can see from the photos, the design is very close to one of the drawings I had sent Pedro and the doorway now provides a beautiful view to the exterior palms which brings in wonderful light to the corridor that connects the top of the circular stairs to the upper bedrooms.


At the moment, I’m planning my next trip down to Panama which will be in the next couple of weeks. This time, I only need to make sure the spa gets finished and the small lingering jobs that need immediate attention, get some serious attention.

Once again, I am picking up a number of items that cannot be found in Panama and bringing them down with me.  This will be my last and final trip hauling bathroom exhaust fans.  I have not been able to find good quality exhaust fans anywhere in Panama.

The best fans in my estimation are Panasonic WhisperGreen fans.  Like most items I’ve picked to go into the house, I spend hours doing research to make sure I get the best unit for each application.  Bath fans are items most builders don’t spend any money on because most people assume all fans are alike, so why spend more money.  You can get a regular fan for $20 and a Panasonic WhisperGreen, is $200.  -Yes, it is analysis paralysis.

This particular line of Panasonic fans have a completely sealed motor which is great for humid areas and they are also the quietest fans on the market.  One of the best features is that they run continuously 24/7 at about one third their maximum speed until built-in motion sensor is activated, triggering the fan to go to high speed and does not revert back until it detects no movement for 20 minutes.  Which means you don’t need an electrical switch if you don’t want one.

The average annual cost of operating the fan is approximately $8 per year with the new DC motor technology so it’s not only efficient but low cost to operate.  The constant movement of air helps to keep the rooms fresh, and can mitigate potential mold problems when the doors and windows to the house are closed for extended periods of time.

I’m going to feel much less like a pack mule in the coming weeks as most of the items I think the house requires have been installed with the exception of outdoor furniture and some electronics.  BUT, like a moth to a flame, I am actually contemplating shipping another container of furniture along with odds and ends to fill out the outdoor covered terraces and pool deck.

I dread the idea of having to ship another container at this point.  The logistics can be daunting if things don’t go right and I’m leery of all the potential hassles that I may encounter at customs.  The last two containers were a nightmare and an expensive exercise.

A little pig-headedness goes a long way in getting myself into trouble I’ve been told and so should I roll the dice and risk more pain?   I just wish there were better and easier options in Panama City.  The reality is that in most cases, if I found something that I liked in Panama City, it’s highly unlikely they don’t have it in stock and I would still have to order everything in, which will take a couple of months, so why not do it myself -that’s where I get into trouble.

In any case, this short update shows the workers planting the front entrance of the house with new palms this week.   Twelve of them will line the circular driveway.  You can see that we still have to begin the landscaping between the palms and the house but that can wait until I arrive at the beginning of November.  These palms are called “pony tail” palms in Panama. Not sure what the official name is.


Landscaping begins

It’s been a while since my last post and not much has really changed over the last couple of months with regards to some of the finishing details at Villa de la Torre.   I am having a difficult time getting the final finishes completed.   It’s the small jobs and details that seem to linger and it’s frustrating to have to try to deal with these items from afar.

In the meantime, we have started the landscaping and Kippy, our newly appointed landscaper has taken on the task of moving rocks and soil to get the process started.  There is a lot of ground to cover and she has done a remarkable job considering the scale of work and the elements she has had to deal with the last couple of weeks.  It is rainy season and you know the old saying, when it rains it pours;  in our case, it comes down in one continuous sheet of water, playing havoc with the newly planted areas, washing much of the new soil away.

The focus of the ocean side of the property is to keep it natural and less formal.  Rock gardens with natural vegetation and trees strategically placed.  This is a departure from traditional Spanish Colonial (Revival) design which would have formal gardens with structured borders and plantings.  I think this design will soften the look of the property, be less intrusive and works well with the natural elements of the surrounding seaside environment.   I will look to add more traditional elements of SCR design to the front entrance of the house, where it will look more appropriate.

The plants will need a few months of growth in order to see the full extent of their size and beauty.  Here are some photos of Kippy’s work so far.

Cararra Conundrum -updated

I’ve been working on a number of problems related to materials that I ordered from Texas and later shipped to Panama.  For the most part, I’ve had fairly good luck with the majority of items I have purchased, especially given the number of pieces I ultimately shipped overseas.

It’s no surprise to run into problems when so many things have to go right in order to have shipment leave one country and land at your doorstep in another a few thousand kilometers away.  For example, I’ve had a number of items go missing from my container when it was held for ransom on the docks in Panama by the customs officials.   Everything had to be removed, inspected and then re-packed into the same container.  Things can go missing and it’s not a surprise when they do.  So I have to replace a few new light fixtures, a couple of shelving units and a chair.   One would think if you were going to steal a chair you would try to get both chairs as they are a matching pair. In my case, it appears one chair is enough.  This is Panama and nothing has to make any sense.

I’ve also had problems with missing granite counter tops that did not make the container in Texas,  so problems can happen on the other end, not just Panama.  I’m working on resolving that problem now with the supplier and I’m hopeful we can come to a happy resolution.

At the moment, I’m working on the Blanco Carrara marble that I ordered from Emser Tile in Texas for the entire powder room.  All of it arrived in good condition but not all of the tile is Blanco (white) Carrara.  This may not make much of a difference to most people but in my case, I ordered White Carrara for good reason and it has to be all White Carrara for this room.   It’s easy to confuse white marble for White Carrara marble.   There are certainly Carrara look-a-likes or people who may try to sell you Carrara marble that is white but quarried from some other country.  The reality is there is only one Carrara marble and it comes from the Pyrenees in Carrara, Italy.   It might look similar but if it’s not from Carrara it’s not Carrara. End of story.

Update:  Today, I travelled to the local importer of Italian Marble and Granite called Bordignon.   I spoke with the owner who is Italian and travels to Italy a few times a year to buy product.  He spent a considerable amount of time explaining the differences in Carrara marble and he also stated that they have other types of Carrara marble.  It appears that the product that was shipped to me matches perfectly with a marble called Calacatta Carrara which has warmer undertones of beige and light yellow.  This is exactly what was shipped to me, not the Blanco Carrara that I ordered.  You can see the difference in this photo:











The photo below shows the same sample up against the warmer Calacutta Carrara marble and you can see it matches the warmer Carrara perfectly:

In my case, I received an order of Carrara tile that was simply labeled as “white marble” and sold to me as Blanco Carrara.  The true color of Blanco Carrara is white with streaks of grey to black and combinations of both.  It does not have any other colors and it certainly does not have warm undertones.  The white is usually a cooler white when it appears without any grey or black and there are variations in color from white to grey with streaks of black like these photos:

You can see the distinct bright white, grey and black streaks.  No other colors!



If you look at the last photo of Carrara tiles you can see the difference between the old product and the replacement that I reordered from the same company.  The small 1×1 inch marble tile has colors of light yellowish beige color in them and the larger 2×2 tiles are correct in color.  Further investigation with Emser tile states that the marble came from India where their supplier supposedly originated tile from Carrara Italy.  What’s your opinion? 

Emser Tile has agreed to refund my money if I get the tile back to them –  That leaves me with another problem;  The cost of the shipping the product back from Panama is equal to the price of the tiles.   Certainly a good move on Emser’s part knowing that it’s unlikely that I will pay for the shipping costs.  Bottom line, these are not Blanco Carrara tiles.  They don’t match any of the rest of the shipment that came along with this order from Emser Tile and I have now confirmed with another importer of Carrara marble that the product I received from Emser is not Blanco Carrara.  As far as I’m concerned, Emser is playing nice knowing that I’m not going to spend the money and it won’t cost them anything.  I intend to take them to task and will report anything new as it become available.

Update June 28, 2012:  Emser has refunded half my cost and let me keep the original order of marble.

Doors and Light Fixtures








Spiral Staircase complete

My first post since I returned from my quick trip to Panama.  It was a very busy couple of weeks punctuated by the Easter holiday, which is one of the biggest events in Panama.  Unfortunately, I was unable to get as much accomplished as I had hoped. 

We have officially started the bathroom tile installations.   It was important to make sure the tiles were going to be installed correctly and they waited until I got to the site to ensure I was ok with the install.   Juan Carlos who has been installing all of the tiles at the house made a sample of each wall in every bathroom with the correct tiles and we approved each bathroom one by one.  I did not take any photos simply due to the fact that I did not want to show them to you until the work is completed.  I think you are going to be amazed at the look of the bathrooms especially the powder room which will be 100% white Carrara marble.  This look will evoke the “revival” component of the house which harks back to the early part of the 20th century.  The polished nickel hardware and white pedestal sink will complement the black and white mosaic floor. 

Juan Carlos has been doing a terrific job of keeping the tiles in their rightful place.  Both the floor tiles and now the wall tiles will need careful attention in order to give justice to the patterns Nicola had originally designed for each bathroom. 

He has also just finished the spiral staircase and I’ve taken some photos to include in this post of not only the staircase with the re-finished Canterra stair treads, Talavera tiles, belly picket iron railing but a photo of Juan Carlos himself. Here he is sitting on the completed stairs, which is not something I see him do often. 

Juan Carlos, Canterra stair treads, Talavera Tiles, Wrought iron railing:

Double click any photo to enlarge:

Wrought iron railing installation

The iron railing that I spent so many months agonizing over the design and fabrication is finally ready to be installed on the staircase. 











You may remember from previous posts,(,  that I tried to find a blacksmith in Panama that could fashion such a staircase but to no avail. I finally made the decision to work with a blacksmith in Canada to fabricate the wrought iron balusters and railing based on a model we had taken from the plans and drawings.   Afterwards, we dismantled the staircase into parts and had them shipped to Panama.  That was a lot of work but it’s beginning to look like it is coming together nicely with the crew in Panama working their way up the stair case. 





The hand-painted Talavera tiles are now on each stair riser.









 You can see that each baluster is connected to the side of each stair rather than on top.

It gives the staircase a decorated look while it remains clean and functional.  I was particularly cognizant not to over decorate the wrought iron.  Overall, the circular staircase with all the different elements is fairly busy and I did not want the wrought iron to overtake the look of the staircase, but to complement it. I’d like you to see the rustic hand hammered wrought iron details but not at the expense of the Canterra stair treads, Talavera tiles, wrought iron light fixtures,  tall windows and the 5 meter chandelier. 

 Here’s where it all started, Manfred from Custom Ornamental Iron works:









Yes, it’s a blue kitchen


My kitchen builder was able to deliver some of the kitchen cabinets for installation after Carnival came to an end last week.  You can see Wolfgang and his son,Thomas assembling and installing each cabinet on the wall of the kitchen that will house the copper farmhouse sink, bar sink and other appliances.

At the moment, I am not in Panama so I cannot see the color of the cabinets in person.  The blue shade on the cabinets look a little brighter/lighter than what we had originally picked out. I’m hopeful that the actual shade is darker than the photos I see on my computer.  Two of the photos were taken with a Blackberry cell phone and the others were taken with a digital camera.  The photos taken with a digital camera show the color to be more turquoise than the Blackberry photos.  Also the photos were taken at different times during the day (early morning and late in the afternoon)  Once the granite counter tops and kitchen island are installed, I think they will blend in nicely.  Either way, I believe both shades of blue will be “period correct” for a SCR home. 

All of the appliances in this kitchen will be covered in the same color panels as the rest of the cabinets. There were no stainless steel appliances in Spanish Colonial Revival kitchens that I am aware of.



The center island is still yet to be installed.  It will not have any color other than natural wood stain.   The cabinets on either side of the stove on the end wall are also yet to be installed. 

 Which shade do you prefer?

 Update:  April 2012,

Here’s the iPhone photo I took a few days ago.  This is probably the closest true color of the kitchen cabinets.  The shade does change depending on the time of day. You can see an example of this by looking at the cabinet that houses my refrigerator.  The top half of the cabinet is a slightly different shade than the bottom where the light is not reflected as much.  The overly bright photos at the beginning of this post are not really indicative of the true color.  This photo taken at midday:

Saltillo comes to life

Just a quick update.  I’ve been waiting for more photos of the house in progress.  Heading into Carnival, it’s guaranteed the workers will be off for the next week and until things get back to normal, it’s unlikely that I’ll see anymore photos.

 Most of the light fixtures have been installed and while I have some photos that were sent to me, I am waiting for my trip next month to Panama where I will be able to take higher quality photos of each fixture to post on the blog.  I think you get a reasonable idea of the style in the following photos.  90 percent of the wrought iron light fixtures are hand-made to spec and are period correct.  The rest of the lighting is made up of small recessed ceiling lights.

The Saltillo tile is also hand-made the old-fashioned way and fired in a wood burning oven.   I’ve talked about this in previous posts so I won’t get into it again but it’s great to see the tiles at the end of their journey.  It was quite a feat getting them from Mexico to resting on the floors.  They look like they’ve been there forever and that’s exactly why I went to the trouble to get them.  They’ll be here for a long, long time.

The workers are applying the sealant and enhancer to the tiles this week after they were grouted and left to dry for a few weeks.  You can see the richness and unique characteristics of each tile. Most importantly, there is not one tile that is the same as the other. 


Lastly, Juan Carlos is putting finishing touches on the stair treads that he had to re-cut and also the hand painted Talavera tiles he installed on the riser of each stair.  The final application of grout and sealer over the next few days will finish the spiral staircase.  We still have the wrought iron railing to install but that’s another post on for another day.

See for yourself:


Window Grilles

One of the important components of a Spanish Colonial Revival home is the use of wrought iron.  I’ve already espoused the work and initiative to find a builder for the iron railing and balusters that will adorn the circular staircase.  A decision was made a couple of months ago to have the staircase built in Canada and shipped to Panama where it now sits awaiting installation. Hopefully, we will have the railing installed over the next couple of weeks. 

It’s now time to start thinking about the wrought iron window grilles and doors.  Previously, I had some of the basic grilles made and powder powder-coated in Canada along with the railing but now it’s time to begin planing the intricate and decorated grilles for two of the windows and the one door located on the upper terrace, similar to these in the photos below:

 I am hopeful that I can work with someone in Panama.    So far I have not had much luck with any of the other wrought iron items but I do have an idea, stay tuned!