San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Matthew Falkiner: Crafting a New Architecture

ALONG with the perfect crescentbeach and the pristine hillside setting, oneof the major attractions of Morgan’s RockHacienda and Ecolodge (see separatestory) is the stunning architecture andintriguing interior design.The man responsible for both isMatthew Falkiner, 36, an English émigréwith a passion for both stark modernismand ecology.Falkiner says he fell into the job almostby default. He had already built a beachhouse for the French family that owns theMorgan’s Rock property and is a partner inhis furniture-design business in Managua.Though Falkiner had never designed ahotel before, the Ponçon family had confidencein his proven success at melding climate,place and materials.The major architectural challenge atMorgan’s Rock, Falkiner says, was findinga balance between nature and makingguests comfortable in nature. Another challengewas having to take into account twototally different seasons.The result succeeds unlike any ecolodgeI have ever seen. The main lodge andthe 15 guesthouses blend into the dry-forestlandscape, bringing the outside seamlesslyinside. In the green season, when thetrees leaf out, the angular-roofed cabinsbuilt into the hillside disappear altogether.FALKINER approached the projectwith the idea of “touching the ground lightly,”cutting down as few trees and movingas little earth as possible – even leavingsome tree trunks poking through cabinroofs.He designed the hotel “on the hoof,” hesays, walking the property every day withthe builder, feeling his way around the site,taking every tree into account and adaptingdesign to topography. He chose unusuallocal building materials, including handcut,pale-gray lava rock for the foundationwalls; shade-farm netting for windowscreens; forest-green canvas laced tobranches for light walls; a lush variety ofhandsome local wood; and traditional polishedfloor tiles and clay roof tiles.Interiors are full of startling and innovativedetails. All the electrical wiring isencased in exposed copper tubing thatclimbs up the eucalyptus roof posts andthen suddenly snakes out, vine-like, tobecome a halogen ceiling lamp. Showerheads emerge from coiled copper spirals,and gleaming white sink basins sit atop thebathroom counter, fed by two industrial lookingcopper water pipes, hot and cold,worked by a lever.THE luxury here is apparent not onlyin the soaring inside and outside spaces,but also in the high-style, exquisitely craftedfurniture. Simple, elegant and modern,each piece is a well-crafted work of art: acurved-back desk chair is the epitome ofcomfort; wood-and-canvas deck furnitureevokes an African safari; a huge, handsomewooden chest lifts open to revealextra pillows and offer storage space forvaluables. There’s a delightful two-personbed swing on the deck, suspended by thickropes, as well as a luxurious king-size bedwith slatted headboard and footboardbench in the bedroom.The hotel has become, in effect, ashowroom for Falkiner’s furniture anddesign ideas, and he receives weekly emailrequests from guests to replicate thehotel furniture. One of the most popularpieces is the slatted-teak poolside recliner,curved just right for comfort and aestheticallylight years beyond the typical plastic,poolside chaise longue.FALKINER is first and foremost awoodworker. Ever since his 10th birthdayin Yorkshire, when he was given his firstset of tools by his father, a woodworkingteacher, Falkiner has been making beautifulthings out of wood. He studied architectureat the University of Nottinghamand traveled to Seville, where he fell underthe spell of finely detailed Spanish architectureand stark, Spanish modernism. Hethen traveled to Bolivia to help design anonprofit housing project and got bitten bythe Latin American bug.His first opportunity to work professionallyin this part of the world came in1995, when he signed on to design buildingsfor the Hovercraft service that brieflyplied Nicaragua’s Río San Juan. When thatproject petered out, he stayed on, openinga small workshop in Managua and workingwith Masaya carpenters to make a newerversion of the traditional Nicaraguan rockingchair.From that small beginning, he createdSimplemente Madera in 2000, whichdesigns and builds furniture to satisfy anew demand for high-quality pieces fromforeigners, returning Nicaraguan émigrésand a growing Nicaraguan middle class.His formula for taking traditionalcraftsmanship to a whole new design levelhas been very successful. His shop nowdesigns and commissions furniture frommore than a dozen independent woodworkingshops, keeping a lot of local carpentersbusily employed.FALKINER’S furniture-making philosophyis simple.“Wood has a whole level of structureand its own aesthetic born out of the qualityof the wood, so it doesn’t need decorating,”he says. “I make the simplest furnitureon the market – not simple in theDanish-style, but more arts-and-crafts withSpanish modern influences.”Another facet of his philosophy has thepotential for making a global difference inforest conservation. Falkiner is one of theleading proponents of Certified Wood, aninternational project spearheaded by theWorld Wildlife Fund and the ForestStewardship Council to promote sustainableforestry management, along the linesof Fair Trade coffee or certified organicproduce. The idea is to promote worldwidedemand for wood products made fromwood that has been responsibly grown andcut in certified forests (see sidebar).At the moment, about 70% ofSimplemente Madera’s furniture orders arecustom orders from residents. But Falkineris also delivering furniture by containership to the United States and shippingorders to Costa Rica by truck. And he isexcited about a new contract to design andbuild Certified Wood garden furniture for aSan Francisco firm.ON the architectural side, thanks to thesuccess of Morgan’s Rock, he is turningdown traditional house-design projects andconcentrating on projects that will allowhim to build in a totally new style – such asan ultra-modern new hotel in the colonialcity of Granada, and a community of housesin a forest south of Granada.His challenge, he says, is to find a languagefor a new Nicaraguan architecturethat looks at home but also as though itbelongs in the 21st century.“I’ve done the tiled-roof building,” hesays. “Now I want to build something evenlighter that looks entirely new, but doesn’tlook kitsch or copy any colonial style.”Simplemente Madera’s elegant, spaciousshowroom is in the Los Robles sectionof Managua, 100 meters north (towardthe lake) of the IBW computer building. Ifyou can’t visit the shop, visit its Web site, or call278-1478.Seeing the Trees for the ForestIN addition to being socially committed to utilizing and developing local craftsmen,architect/furniture designer Matthew Falkiner is committed to environmentalresponsibility. He sees the Nicaraguan wood industry as a huge resource that could givethe country’s economy a much-needed boost.“If it’s well managed, it could be a resource for the next 1,000 years,” Falkiner says.Putting his considerable energy where his mouth is, Falkiner is leading the way inNicaragua in promoting Certified Wood, a forest-management program sponsored bythe World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and monitored by the Forest Stewardship Council thatestablishes a “chain of custody” to track wood from its source to the showroom. Theidea is to create a demand for wood products that carry the Certified Wood seal ofapproval, guaranteeing the wood comes from forests that respect the environment, aswell as the local economy and communities.In Central America, WWF created the Jagwood network, which includes plantationowners committed to good forestry management and wood-product businesses usingCertified Wood. As of November 2002, more than 15 Costa Rican businesses andforestry foundations belonged to Jagwood, joined by companies in Panama, Belize,Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua. In all of Central America, more than 536,280hectares of forest have been certified.For more information, visit WWF Centroamérica at

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