F&W’s Chris Quinlan finds design inspiration everywhere, from Asia to South America.


A curvy, 14-foot-tall hood made of cement dominates this vivid, high-ceilinged room.

For their house in Mérida, architect Salvador Reyes-Rios and designer Josefina Larraín played imaginatively with Mexican materials and styles. Their most brilliant idea: the giant hood. A pattern along the edge was stamped into the wet cement with a wood mold. Blue paint on the hood and apricot paint on the stucco walls evoke the sky and sun. The backsplash is a mosaic of new and vintage tiles.


A back-to-basics kitchen on a 200-acre organic farm is outfitted with a wood-fired stove and traditional stone pots.

At their weekend house in Minas Gerais, outside São Paulo, architects Marco Donini and Francisco Zelesnikar use a traditional Brazilian wood-burning stove made of bricks encased in a mixture of cement and sand. (The fire not only provides heat for cooking, it also warms the house.) The pair cook vegetables from the farm in old-fashioned stone vessels called pedra sabão: “Some dishes are only possible cooked slowly in these pots,” Donini says. Zelesnikar designed the plates on the wall behind the stove, which represent a food chain.


An architecture professor’s rural house in Xi’an combines high design with humble materials like bamboo.

Now the dean of the University of Southern California’s School of Architecture in Los Angeles, Qingyun Ma built this country house five years ago when he lived in Shanghai. Enthralled with the look of lacquered bamboo, used in China primarily to make molds for poured concrete, he incorporated the water-resistant material throughout the kitchen on cabinet fronts and walls. The cabinet handles are cut directly into the bamboo, while hinges are hidden inside for a seamless look. The rest of the kitchen design is very basic, with just a two-burner gas cooktop, a double sink and a stainless steel countertop that reflects the natural light coming in through the window. There’s no refrigerator—instead, Ma picks up fresh vegetables and meat from the nearby village whenever he needs them. He also makes wine: Xi’an is one of China’s burgeoning wine regions, and Ma’s property includes 40 acres of grapes and a winery, as well as a hotel and art museum. jadevalley.com.cn.

Costa Rica

A simple open-air kitchen, with two gas burners powered by a propane tank, sustains a Dutch expat’s family.

When Daan Nelemans built a house near Manzanillo, a fishing village on the southeast coast of Costa Rica, he took advantage of the temperate climate to install an open-air kitchen. He outfitted the room with open shelves and very minimal equipment: a sink, refrigerator, grill and portable two-burner propane stove (the blue tube connects the stove to the propane tank). He and his family use the kitchen to prepare all kinds of Costa Rican dishes featuring the seafood he catches in the Caribbean sea, a few hundred yards away. The open-air design appealed to the locals so much that they began asking Nelemans to build houses for them. He has also added six other huts to his 13-acre property to rent out. congo-bongo.com.