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.

Kitchen complete -almost

Anyone that knows me, knows how important my kitchen is to my well-being.  I love to cook, entertain and spend most of my time hanging around the kitchen.  After all it’s where the fridge is located and that means regular visits to inspect the interior of the fridge.  Lets just say it’s a hobby.

The challenge with this kitchen was to combine the elements of a 30’s kitchen with modern-day conveniences without making it look modern.  When I began to think about this kitchen I made the conscious decision to eliminate any upper cabinets.  My original preference was to  leave everything above the counters open and spacious.  I did acquiesce and add one upper cabinet at the opposite end of the counter to help balance out the heaviness of the tall fridge at the other end.

I also did not want stainless steel appliances which is difficult to avoid these days.  Actually I really dislike stainless steel appliances in traditional kitchens.  Recently, manufacturers have begun to add color to appliances once again and hopefully it’s a trend that continues. Some of the best looking appliances I have seen are painted from the 1940’s and 50’s.  I find it hard to believe that 50 years from now, that there will be a GE stainless steel cooker  worthy of appreciation.  Interestingly, a few years ago, you would have had to pay more for stainless steel than for color and now it’s the opposite.

The decision was made to cover the appliances with painted panels.   For sinks and faucets, I chose antique copper which were made in Mexico and I had sent to Panama.  The cooker is painted black with brushed aluminum and stainless steel accents.  I would have preferred all black but that was not an option.

There’s so much you can do with color in a kitchen and the variations can be unique to any style or era.  In my case the color of the cabinets needed to be period correct and my first choice was going to be red.  Red as in Habanero chili red.   The decision to change the color to blue came at the final hour when I felt it better to integrate the color of the cabinets with the exterior seaside colors.  Red would have been fine  especially with the clay floor tiles but with patio doors open to outside most of the time, it would have been a more difficult transition in terms of color.  The outside colors are predominately blue, green, sand and beige.  So the color change to blue made it a more palatable choice.

My biggest challenge was picking out the back splash tiles.   From the beginning I’ve always imagined a 4×4 glazed tile with hand-painted talavera tiles as accents for the back splash.  There were really no other options that I would have considered.  It’s the perfect Spanish Colonial combination and it says it all.  I was going to combine that look with a natural honed soapstone counter top until Kelley presented an option that was very different from my own.

Kelley thought that the back splash would look great with a 1×4 subway glass tile that had the look of weathered stone or sand-blasted glass.   It was an interesting product but I was resistant to take the chance.  The colors were great but the subway pattern felt too modern and I searched everywhere for examples of 30’s homes that might have some of this element to appease my own doubts.   Kelley finally said to trust her instincts and I really had to stretch to say yes to these tiles.  They were so right but so wrong.   I have to say now that they are installed, I like the look of the tiles and they work so well with the colors of the kitchen.  Most importantly, they bring the colors from the outside into the kitchen without overpowering any other kitchen element, but complimenting them.  So I can honestly say that it pays to have a designer challenge and expand one’s ideas and in my case it came as a delightful surprise.

Thanks to Wolfgang and his crew, the cabinets were perfectly constructed and painted.  I can honestly say that there is no better kitchen cabinet-maker in Panama.  His German perfection comes through in every inch of the cabinet’s design and while it took two years for the kitchen to finally come together due to other delays in the construction of the house, the craftsmanship is impeccable. The kitchen island is a work of art and purposefully left unpainted.  I wanted the piece to stand on its own like it was hauled in from a barn somewhere.  The one side has 20 drawers and the other side seats up to 6 people with bar stools.  The wood is Alemendro de Montagna which translates to Almond wood from the mountains.  The top is 2.5 inches thick and it is hard as rock. We bought the wood two years ago and let it dry out in Wolfgang’s shop. I’m thinking of getting a rustic wood apron for the kitchen hood made of the same material.  What do you think?











Of course not everything is perfect -yet.  I’ve had to order new granite as a result of my issue with the Texas supplier.  You can see the cabinets around the stove are missing their tops and it’s impossible to match the rest.




We had this enormous wind and rain storm last week.  Timing was not great as the workers had just finished laying the final coat of Kool Dek around the swimming pool.  We were trying to keep the rain off of the material until it had a chance to dry.  The wind was ferocious and I would guess the speed at over 40 knots.  With it came the heavy rain and for all intents an purposes, it was a squall.  It took 9 of us to hold down a large tarp that would have picked us up and flown us down the street if it were not tied to the posts.  We  gave up trying to keep everything down and let nature take its course as we finally exhausted ourselves.


A couple days later, the new pool deck with the early morning sun coming up


Bath tiles

I shipped new tiles from the US to Panama and after the mix-up with the Cararra stone tiles, everything seems to have worked out well.

Juan Carlos has done another magnificent job installing the tiles according to the original designs from Nicola and her team.  If there is a place that I have taken liberty regarding SCR design, it would be in the bathrooms.  It is common to see glazed tiles for the walls and counters, which would be Spanish Colonial or Revival correct.  Unfortunately, I don’t like tiles for counter tops and so with the decision to install granite and under mount sinks, came the decision to install the travertine tiles.  One could say that the master bath is an updated bath in a SCR home.

The powder room maintains the look of a 30’s bathroom with a pedestal sink, bath fixtures and lamps.  Marble was widely available and it was common to see it in luxury versions of an SCR home.  The black floor mosaic is definitively period correct in the powder room.

The photos do not do much justice to the intricacies of each room.   Double click each photo for a better look.

The Master bath.

Vanity: Restoration Hardware. Travertine: brown, gold, beige tile mix, Emser







Unfinished bench in the shower stall:














Powder Room: White Cararra



White Cararra Marble Mix with Mosaic, Emser

Sink and fixtures: Restoration Hardware






Spanish Colonial Revival revisited

I’ve been working on my trip back to Panama that starts at the end of this week.  I’m excited to be heading back and I’m looking forward to seeing some of the most recent installations. The bathroom tiles should now be installed along with the bath fixtures.  I know the kitchen island has arrived and most of the kitchen is complete with the exception of the back splash and counter tops.  The light fixtures will be installed and I’ve got the job of unpacking the furniture that I had delivered six months ago.  I’ll be posting new photos soon.

I also thought it would be helpful to revisit the reason why I chose to build such a complicated style of house in such a far away land.  I never imagined it would take this long to complete and for those of you that are new to my blog, the completion of Villa del la Torre is finally coming to the end.  A whole new chapter of living in the Villa is about to begin.

I wrote and spoke of why I chose Spanish Colonial Revival as the style of architecture I wanted to build in Panama here:    The rest is history.

I will state once more that if it were not for the inaugural celebration of the Panama Canal at the 1915 San Diego Exposition, we might not have ever seen the revival of Spanish Colonial style in North America which lasted predominantly until the early 30’s . My intention was to honor the style by bringing back SCR to Panama where it all began.

A great example of a Spanish Colonial Revival Home in Santa Barbara is Casa del Hererro designed by one of the most famous SCR architects of the time, George Washington Smith.


Kitchen Island

I’ve been waiting for more installations and tile work to be completed before I post more photos.   My trip to Panama in the next couple of weeks will bring a plethora of new photos and for the first time, I am excited to say that I am actually staying at the Villa!  I know I’ve said this on my last three visits but his time it’s gonna happen.  Of course, I’ll need a day to assemble my bed and mattress but the thought of actually enjoying the house for the first time in four years will be a great experience, -I hope.

There is still much to do, notably landscaping and the spa area along with the new driveway.  I’m hoping the pool might be ready but that might be asking for too much.  I’ll be happy if the interiors are done and I’ll be able to just relax.

The replacement light sconces will come down with my baggage and I will most likely have to buy a few more exterior weatherproof light fixtures when I get into town to replace those that started to rust a couple of months ago.

My kitchen builder has sent me photos of the kitchen island from his workshop and it’s going to be a brut of masterpiece in the kitchen.  It’s over ten feet long and 5 feet wide.  The top of the island is solid wood two inches thick and I’m told the whole thing weighs a ton.  Here it is without the top or drawer hardware




It’s been a few weeks since I was last in Panama.  Once again, I was too optimistic that the house would be ready for furniture last month.  Living in one country whilst building in another can mean things happen at their own speed and in most cases will require the patience of a saint.  Indoctrination into sainthood is not automatic but I think it should be if the construction of your house takes longer than 4 years in any foreign country.

Pedro is working on a new driveway and the dump trucks filled with soil/tosca have been delivering the most expensive dirt that I’ve ever purchased.   Back home if you need dirt, trucks will deliver it to your house for free.  People need to find a place to dump their excavated dirt and in most cases you have to pay someone to take it.  The old adage, “dirt cheap” does not apply in Panama.

On the tile front, the bathroom tiles are almost installed and complete.  I’ll be posting photos as soon as I get them.  I’m now waiting for a number of people to get back to me with regards to the granite counter tops and final installations of the plumbing fixtures.  The kitchen still needs a center island and I’m waiting for Wolfgang to finish the cabinets.

In the meantime, we had our first big rainfall after the dry season, the terraces have sprung water leaks due to poor installation of the electric light boxes sunk into each terrace.  They are now leaking into the suspended ceiling below and Pedro has removed the plaster board ceilings in order to find and repair the leaks.

I’ve now moved all my furniture out of the 40 foot container into the living room area inside the house.  The container will be moved in order to make way for the driveway and I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to install the furnishings including my bed next month, June 2012.   That would be a very appropriate date as it is the anniversary (June 2008) of my first visit to the Azueros region and most importantly, the purchase of the land upon which Villa de la Torre now sits.  If all goes well, I will be able to spend a full day and night under the roof of my house, for the very first time.  Hooray! It will be a joyous occasion.

I know there are those of you that love to see photos as part of this blog and while I have no new photos of the house to add until the final installations take place, I do have a few photos of a very average Sunday afternoon at Playa Venao just 30 minutes down the road where the World Billabong surfing championships occur every year.   Want to surf? Grab your board.  Maybe a game of cards under the shade of a mango tree or how about a hair cut in front of the grocery store followed by the best fried fresh fish you’ve ever tasted at one of the two beach front restaurants?

Of course all of this leisure depends on your ability to extract yourself from your hammock.  Nothing comes easy it seems.

Happy Sunday.



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.

Kitchen Exhaust Hood

 The kitchen fan and hood surround has now been fabricated, installed and most recently, repello’d with plaster to give it the old country look one may have found at a time when it would have functioned as a real chimney. I originally installed the guts of the fan and reinforcement to the wall but Juan Carlos finished it with the plaster exterior. 

I’m toying with the idea of installing a wood apron around the bottom of the hood but I think I am going to wait until the kitchen is complete with granite counter tops and the glass tile backsplash Kelley picked out before making that decision.

As I noted in an earlier post, the color of the kitchen cabinets seem to change depending on how much light is being reflected from the cabinets.  You can see the subtle difference on the cabinet that houses my refrigerator in the photo below.  The upper part above the door handle is brighter than the area below the door handle.  It’s a subtle difference but clearly demonstrates how light causes this color to change depending on the time of day. 

Also, one of five moorish arches in the house.  This one located between the range hood and the refrigerator cabinet that leads to the pantry and laundry.