There is a well-known (though anonymous) quote, “We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” Those words perfectly describe the personal philosophy that drove Dan Catalfumo to trade his life as a successful South Florida developer for one of relaxation surrounded by nature in a vacation dream home in Costa Rica.
There was a certain moment, he says, when he realized his employees had traveled to more places than he had. That realization led to a thoughtful but swift decision. “My wife and I would now see the places my employees sent me postcards from!” And so their home away from home, Casa Vista Paraiso, built within the Los Sueños Resort & Marina in Costa Rica came to be.
It is never an easy proposition to build in a country other than one’s own even, for someone who has spent a lifetime in the construction business. Dan, who by his own admission does not shy away from challenges, took on the new project with the same drive, confidence and enthusiasm he had shown his entire working life. As a teenager fresh out of high school he worked in his father’s small shoe repair shop in West Palm Beach, Florida. Later, as a young man with no construction experience, he decided to hand-build his own home and ultimately transformed that experience into a construction company of his own.
Looking back on a childhood growing up in the shoe repair shop, he still remembers the smell of leather and the tap tap of the cobbler’s hammer his father taught him to use. At 22, when Dan decided to build his first home, he had to take on a whole new set of tools. With the naïveté and unbridled optimism of youth, he says, he showed up at Sears and announced,” I’m building a house!” Sears obliged and sold him the raft of tools he needed to learn to use, but it was that classic tool belt that must have buoyed the young cobbler’s confidence. “I guess I’m a carpenter now!” he thought at that moment.
That first house was both a learning experience and a pleasure to build so he thought, “Why not build another?” Still keeping his day job with his Dad in the shoe repair, he built another and still another house. He surprisingly and suddenly found himself, he says, in the homebuilding business.
That business grew spectacularly. His company is responsible for offices, hotels, condos, medical facilities and government buildings throughout South Florida. Nothing, however, except perhaps his first houses as a young man beats the pleasure he had recently building Vista Paraiso…even with all its challenges.
Dan says that not speaking Spanish was the single most difficult element of the project. He solved that issue by working with an architect he knew from his projects in South Florida. Most importantly, Dan hired a talented young Costa Rican builder, Alonso Gomez who was eager to learn new construction methods. Dan wanted to build an eco-friendly home. He brought to the build argon glass windows, R-31 insulation and technology that used wire mesh, rebar, concrete and Styrofoam blocks, a method that would make the house virtually disaster-proof. He admits he was a bit of a back seat driver during the construction, but his builder, he says, understood everything Dan wanted to do.
The home Dan envisioned would be simple and elegant. Most of all he wanted the house to have, from the moment the handcrafted wood front door swung open, a dramatic view of the natural surroundings with its century old trees. “I wanted a 360 degree view of nature no matter where you stood in the house!”
The rich cream color home with its stone façade and red clay barrel tile roof is set among banana and mango trees and surrounded by jungle. Inside the five-bedroom, 9000 square foot home there are charming architectural details such as hand crafted panels, cabinetry and birch cherry wood beams juxtaposed with Italian marble flooring. One of Vista Paraiso’s signature touches is a custom radius beam kitchen ceiling. “We especially love the kitchen,” he says. Cooking is Dan’s longtime passion and one he can indulge in more now that he is retired. “I grew up in the kitchen,” he says nostalgically. “My grandmother and mom taught me everything about cooking.”
Everything at Vista Paraiso is designed for relaxation, he says. The family loves to sit in the backyard where they see monkeys, toucans, parrots and iguanas. And each night when dusk falls, they make it a point to go out onto the patio where they watch the setting sun and listen to the cicadas’ pulsating buzz that fills the air. “It is so magical as it echoes up and down the valley.” And, says Dan of his showplace home, the house is pretty magical too.