Sustainable living and shabby chic décor in Santo Domingo.

I can’t remember if I mentally started writing this post before or after I’d received my confirmation email from Airbnb. But I do remember that as soon as I saw Rustyka House on the accommodation booking site, much like when I booked a super cute Airbnb in Berlin, I instantly knew it would be the kind of Instagrammable place that would have social media going “oooh”. And with over 500 likes on my Instagram post of the interior of the house last week, I wasn’t wrong.

Situated in the heart of colonial “old town” Santo Domingo, I booked one night at Rustyka House as part of my recent trip to the Dominican Republic. After a week of five star luxury at the LHVC resort in Puerto Plata in the north of the island, mum and I had to travel back to Punta Cana airport to fly home. However, as the journey was over 275 miles and required two taxis and two buses, we decided to split it up with an overnight stay in the country’s capital.

Leaving the paradise that was Puerto Plata was hard (especially as I’d made some new friends there), but it wasn’t the end of our Dominican adventure…


It was just after 6pm when we finally arrived in Santo Domingo on the Saturday evening, and it was getting dark, fast. Thankfully it was still a warm 26c though, as we were only wearing shorts.

It took nearly an hour of faffing around to find the Airbnb apartment, as rather annoyingly, Rustyka House wasn’t on the road the taxi driver dropped us at. And although I speak a little Spanish, I didn’t feel confident enough to ask for proper directions, and remember them. Instead I resorted to asking (in Spanish) for the wifi password at a pica pollo chicken shop, where I hastily loaded Google Maps and downloaded the route.


We eventually found the house; the front door was open and a pool of light was spilling out into the dark, dimly-lit street. Through the gaps in the locked security gate, I spied a living and dining room which looked just as cute as the pictures I’d seen. “This is it” I whispered to mum, who was stood beside me on the pavement. I called out “¡Hola!”, and a young Dominican girl came out of nowhere to open the security gate and usher us in off the street.

After shaking our hands and welcoming us to her home, Emmanuelle (or “Ellie” as she introduced herself) took our bags and lead us through to the bedroom we’d be sleeping in. As soon as she flicked on the light, my eyes immediately darted to a piece of art on the wall opposite. A weathered piece of drift wood was fixed to the cream wall, and hanging on strings from the wood were photos and postcards of iconic cities and sights all around the world. Even from the other side of the room, I instantly recognised the Taj Mahal. Then, as I crossed the room towards the art, I started to identify others: the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Pyramids in Egypt, the Colosseum in Rome.

Sensing my intrigue, Ellie started to explain that unfortunately she hadn’t visited all the places yet, but she hoped to one day. Like me, Ellie has the heart of a traveller. We chatted for a while about the places we’d been, the things we’d seen, and I told her about how I’d ticked off 30 countries before my 30th birthday, but that there are still plenty of places on my bucket list that I want to go.

Unfortunately it was hard to capture a photo of the postcards, as the ceiling fan overhead was whipping up quite a breeze – not that we were complaining, given the temperature. Flapping about like laundry on a washing line, I couldn’t get a picture of them stationary (so you’ll just have to book your own stay at Rustyka House to see that). I did get some pictures of the beautiful room though…


What first attracted me to the Airbnb when I browsed the accommodation site was the description on Rustyka House’s profile:

“Our concept is neo-recycled, better to support the environment, recycling materials we commonly throw in the garbage that giving a little maintenance and using the creativity we have made beautiful luxurious rooms because we combine the new with the recycled, we have an enviable and welcoming space, this beautiful will love it as it is youthful and with much entertainment program because we bet another concept of tourism visit us! you will not regret.”

All of the furniture in the house had been built by Ellie and her friends, using stuff that the people of Santo Domingo had discarded. Item by item, our host explained (in excellent English) how each piece had come about.

With a headboard made from a sanded down, distressed old door, the bed was comfy with just the right amount of pillows, i.e, none had to be tossed on the floor when it came to sleeping. And the fitted wardrobes were made from old units that had been coupled together, chalk painted and distressed. Then there were the smaller pieces of furniture and the little Instagrammable details…


Ooohing and ahhing over the decorations, I got a little snap happy and took pictures of everything. The seahorse decoration had been made from an old plastic water bottle, and wooden palates had been hacked up and reassembled to make bedside tables and a TV unit.

The TV was huge, and Ellie excitedly showed us how to use it and where to find Netflix. I don’t watch that much TV even when in the UK, so I rarely watch it when I’m abroad – but it would definitely be handy for guests who are staying in Santo Domingo for longer periods of time.

Next up, we were shown the bathroom…


Again, the details and little touches here and there were so cute, and very thoughtful. A vanity unit around the sink made from another old palate was keepin clean, white towels tidy. It also provided the perfect place to put some little trinkets – just look at the mini deck chair!

Over the toilet was a metal space-saving storage rack. I’ve never seen anything like this in the UK, but love the idea, so will see if I can find something similar for my new home. There was a real Pinterest feel to the whole place, and when asked, Ellie said she took a lot of inspiration from photos on the website, as well as “ideas from my head”.

After showing us the bathroom, our host led us back through to the dining room and kitchen, which we’d walked through quickly to get to the bedroom, so not really taken in properly. When she flicked on the light, we were amazed…


Remembering the Airbnb write-up on Rustyka House’s profile, I was really inspired by Ellie’s creativity:

It is unique because in its copy we are recyclers of materials, giving a second option to materials we throw and create works of unique arts mixing different elements, we give our concepts and we teach to recycle creating souvenir for travelers. The first house in its scheme a house recycled.

She was saving money by not purchasing new, but also giving unwanted items a second lease of life, stopping them from being sent to a landfill site.

I’d seen one of these sites in Puerto Plata the day before; men were setting fire to huge mountains of rubbish, sending spirals of dirty smoke into the perfect blue sky. It was a sight that made my stomach churn thinking about the damage it would be doing to our planet. Staying in a home where Ellie was reclaiming, recycling and reusing these unwanted items made me feel much better, as it proofed that people in the Dominican Republic do care about the environment.


After having a chat in the dining room over a glass of ice cold water, we went through to the living room, which we’d passed through almost an hour before. The living room was definitely Ellie’s pièce de résistance


In the centre of the room, another old door had been turned into a beautiful, rustic dining table. On the table were some woven reed mats and a simple handmade centre piece: a frame made of palate panels, filled with empty Sol beer bottles and artificial flowers. It was so cute, I spent about 10 minutes trying to take pictures of it in different angles. But as we’d arrived so late, unfortunately the lighting wasn’t great. I did manage to capture some of the details though.


A few hours later, after a walk around the colonial town and a meal at a little restaurant on the high street, mum and I headed back to Rustyka House to get our heads down. The next day would be another long one, with an hour walk to the bus depot, a three-and-a-half hour bus journey to the airport, and then 14 hours of planes and airports before arriving in the UK.

When we awoke the following morning, Ellie had gone to work, but left us the key to lock up when we checked out. Again, the front door was open and the security gate was guarding the threshold to the house. But this time, beautiful sunlight was spilling into the front room, allowing me to see some of the other quirky details that we hadn’t noticed the night before…


The cable reel table with Ellie’s sewing machine on was definitely the most creative thing I’d seen – until I realised that our crafty host had used the machine to make all the covers on the cushions that were decorating the cream sofa. I was in awe, and trying to figure out how I could replicate any of the details in my own home in the UK.

As we were checking out I realised the colonial influence and pastel colours in Rustyka House reminded me of the Puerto Rican city of Ponce that I’d visited last March. I loved Ellie’s turquoise window shutters, but sadly I think that’s one thing that will have to stay in the Caribbean coastal city – they’d look a bit out of place in my Victorian terrace in the centre of Reading!


Planning a trip to the Dominican Republic and want to stay in Santo Domingo? I cannot recommend Rustyka House enough. Ellie was accommodating and helpful, spoke perfect English, and was very welcoming. Booking a stay at her home will support her plans to extend the apartment to offer more guest rooms and an outside communal space, plus you’ll be helping the environment. Oh, and you’ll have plenty of Instagram-worthy pics, too. As she reminded me on her review on my Airbnb profile, I know I’ll always have a friend in Santo Domingo, and I can’t wait to see what she’s done with the place next time I visit.

If you’ve yet to use the accommodation booking site, sign up via my Airbnb profile to get £25 off your first stay:


147 thoughts on “Sustainable living and shabby chic décor in Santo Domingo.

  1. I LOVE the idea of using old with new to make beautiful decor. I would really like to visit there someday because I believe in their mission statement with up cycling which helps the environment ; )

    Liked by 1 person

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