After Austin, Texas, native Robert Dull visited Nicaragua for the first time in 1997, he fell in love with the state and pledged to return and buy property whenever possible. 2 years later he fulfilled his dream by buying 10 acres on a hillside 320 yards from Playa Gigante, a small farming and fishing village on the Pacific Coast.
Dull, a research fellow in environmental science at the University of Texas at Austin, has always had a fascination with and love of modern architecture. So in 2004 he formed CasaMod, a development firm based in Nicaragua, also got to work designing and constructing a housing community which sprawls around seven of his acres, with a resort and staff quarters containing the other 3.
As part of the housing community, he built two twin casitas (small houses), with the aim that one would function as his dwelling area when he visited and worked on research projects, along with the other as a rental property. He calls his job the Brio Project. Having worked closely with architect Javier Arana from Granada to create the blueprints as well as the electrical and structural plans, Dull now appreciates lush views of the Central American coastline from his new home away from your home.
at a Glance
Who lives here: Robert Dull
Location: Playa Gigante, outside Rivas, Nicaragua
Size: Each casita is 750 square feet; Dull’s: 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom; rental: 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom
Cost: $60 per square foot; $45,000 each casita; the many range from about $25,000 to $65,000
The two casitas were constructed in 10 months. When seeing Nicaragua to operate on various environmental research jobs, Dull resides from the two-bedroom unit with all the blue window trim. Another unit is primarily a rental property.
The window trim consists of Covintec and is used as a mirrored material that transitions from the side metal paneling. The detail also provides shade and a dab of colour to the otherwise plain geometric forms.
A small kitchenette provides all the essentials Dull needs; vinyl left over from the swimming pool constitutes the backsplash and countertop.
A staircase with laurel timber treads leads up to the 2 bedrooms. Reinforced concrete block and stucco make up the lower-level structure, while a metal skeleton forms the top levels.
The project wasn’t without its challenges. “We had some major issues with subcontractor work and specifications being met,” says Dull. “The Galvalume siding was not a normal program, and we had to redesign it. We also had to rip out the top staircase once, since they cut into the kitchen headroom.”
Dull made the teak dining room furniture and also had a local carpenter construct it. A previous rental tenant created the wire sculptures and abandoned them as a present for Dull.
The casitas’ front porches look toward the Giant’s Foot stone formation in Playa Gigante.
The teak ceiling on the top floor proceeds outside to develop into the roof eaves. Large windows frame Giant’s Foot from the space.
Dull also designed the beds and bedside table at the guest bedroom, also had them assembled by a local carpenter. The upstairs bedrooms at the casitas feature stainless lights. “Some of the lights operate on solar energy, but others don’t. You only learn when the power goes out,” Dull says. Power outages are rather common during the windy season of December to February.
Smartly positioned windows offer privacy from the neighbors while still showing blue heavens.
Sky-blue tile covers the unit’s only bathroom. “It’s small, elegant, practical and contains hot water — a rare amenity here,” Dull says.
Dull bought the towel bars, hardware and fixtures from Ikea from the U.S. and slightly modified them to add local timber for shelving.
With teak and teak Galvalume for the siding, the design style is exactly what Dull calls tropical modern — a nod to architect Glenn Murcutt of Australia, that “has done much to pioneer tropical modernism in a way that recognizes and embraces the climate and atmosphere,” Dull says, adding Ian McHarg’s publication Design with Nature also inspired his layout.
The 2 units sit on top of a hill of drought-tolerant plants and xeriscaping, and miss a pool that is shared with the resort. Dull is still developing the property as new many are offered and homes constructed.
Dull kicks back poolside here in front of a deck along with a shade structure. He is now working on a new water system at the Brio development along with a similar casita because of his Austin, Texas, residence. “If you are building a home in a distant region of the planet, be patient and try to source locally,” he provides as guidance.
The resort closed in 2011 and is now rented as staff housing to other businesses in the area. “The truss joists increase the roof airplane for venting,” Dull claims of its own design. “I had been attempting to mimic the open minded effect of traditional bud palapas while giving it a transparent modern feel.”
And Dull practices what he’s preached. Having educated environmental sustainability at the college level for a long time, he included graywater, xeriscaping, solar energy and rainwater collection. The blossom roof is a way to collect water for the significant rainwater cisterns, which have a 20,000-gallon capacity.
See more photographs of this Undertaking