Located on a lush, previously undeveloped site in Playa Grande in the Dominican Republic, The Retreat House, designed by New York-based architecture studio Young Projects, sits at the cusp of a dense jungle on one side, and a pristine beach on the other. Known as “Casa Las Olas,” the 20,000-square-foot holiday home is designed to take advantage of both aspects of the property, the rich natural surrounds and the owners’ interest in hosting large groups of family and friends for retreats focused on wellness and creative exchange.
The Retreat House is the hub of a deep, ocean-facing 4.5-acre compound, which also features two guest homes, a yoga pavilion, and a structure for relaxation adjacent to the beach, with softly meandering pathways connecting each. Visitors arrive at Retreat House from a narrow road that meanders through tropical gardens and approach the building on a travertine and gravel footpath. The open-air entrance, lined in weathered ipe, leads under the home and up travertine steps into a breezy central courtyard. There, framed views of the ocean and horizon are revealed, eliciting a sense of arrival.
The outside face of the courtyard is white concrete poured into a formwork of palm stems gathered from the site. The stems were cut to various lengths in order to create an abstract yet organic and textural quality for this central space. The scalloped surface plays with light and shade. “In one manner, it is a living room set in the jungle,” says Noah Marciniak, Project Manager, and Partner at Young Projects.
Interior common spaces also take advantage of the compound’s overarching indoor-outdoor lifestyle and are oriented towards large windows and doors that can be thrown open to reveal sprawling terraces and expansive views. Conceptualised as a grab-and-go “24-hr Deli,” the kitchen caters to outdoor picnicking on the terrace or beach. For more formal meals, the lofty dining room features two substantial Paola Lenti tables in lava-stone tile and black-and-green crystalline enamel glaze that seat 28, as well as ceiling-height glass doors that open on three sides for al fresco dining.
The furniture complements the property’s natural landscape and the overall sensation of relaxation and ease that the owners hope the home embodies. “The owner’s goal is to give the house a distinctive feel: what is the smell and what are the touches that make it feel special,” says Young. “They want to create a precise place and memory for the family and their guests.”
Beyond the Retreat House, other structures across the compound encourage private reflection and wellness, each with a unique function and aesthetic. The Glitch House is the first building visitors encounter when arriving at the property from the jungle side, setting the tone for the structures that follow, all of which draw heavily from their natural surroundings. “Rather than marking this moment with a defined boundary or gatehouse, Glitch House strangely smears itself into the jungle landscape,” says Marciniak. “It is a hint towards the immersive experiences that guide the design for the Retreat in general.” The two-story residence, which houses staff and boasts 330-square-feet of accessible roof gardens, is composed of concrete masonry block (CMU block) and flat CMU walls that are oriented in an oscillating grid, with exterior surfaces clad in over 10,000 hand-painted encaustic cement tiles in brilliant blues, turquoises, greens, and yellows that allude to a camouflage pattern.
Closer to the Retreat House, the Guest House is a quiet, sun-drenched 4-bedroom, 4-bathroom oasis for additional guests. The building comprises a series of four identical suites whose orientations rotate under a single roof, where the shaded areas between each bedroom create shared outdoor spaces. The orientation of the structure was determined by two towering, age-old ficus trees (affectionately called the Avatar and baby Avatar by the architects) located in the adjacent clearing; each suite offers a view of one of the two trees through full-wall picture windows located at the foot of each bed. Located in the only area on the lush property that is a natural clearing, the home is slightly removed from the shade of the jungle canopy and receives a significant amount of direct sunlight. It also has the capacity to serve as lodging and studio space for visiting artists, acting as something of a creative residency.