The second half of the 19th century saw the return of large numbers of emigrants from Brazil to their native Portugal. While returning to their northern roots, especially in the Douro and Minho regions, they brought with them sizable fortunes — made in the economic trade and industry boom of the 19th century Brazil — and a new culture and cosmopolitanism unheard of in Portugal at that time.
That combination of capital and taste sprinkled the cities of northern Portugal with examples of rich, quality architecture, of which the Three Cusps Chalet is a clear example.
Thanks to large amounts of Brazilian money, as the Dom Frei Caetano Brandão Street was opened, a small palace was built in the corner of Cathedral’s square, boasting high-ceilings, rich frescos, complex stonework, stucco reliefs and exotic timber carpentry.
In deference to such noble spaces, the kitchen, laundry, larders and personnel quarters — usually hidden away in basements and attics — were now placed in one contiguous building. The Three Cusps Chalet, built according to the devised model of an alpine chalet — with narrow proportions, tall windows, pitched roofs and decorated eaves — was that one building.
As years passed, the building fell into disrepair, until a design team took it as their mission to recover the building’s identity. The intention was to clarify the building’s spaces and functions while simultaneously making it fit for today’s way of living.
The result is a cohabitation of work studio and private home. The design team took advantage of a 5 foot height difference between the street and the interior plaza to place the working area on the ground level, turning it westward and relating it to the street. Meanwhile, the private areas of the structure relate to the interior plaza and the morning light.
The staircase, previously closed in on three of its sides, is now surrounded by glass to filter views from both the work space and the home, while allowing natural light to seep down from the upper levels.
The second floor was kept for the private areas of the house, though the designers refused the natural tendency to compartmentalize the spaces; the staircase was allowed to define the perimeters of the kitchen and living room, creating an open floor with natural light all day long. Light enters from the kitchen in the morning, from the staircase’s skylight and from the living room in the afternoon.
Climbing the last and narrow flights of stairs are the sleeping quarters where the roof structure was kept apparent, though painted white. On the other side of the staircase is a closet and bathroom.
If the visual theme of the house is the white color, methodically repeated on walls, ceilings, carpentry and marble, the clothing room is the surprise at the top of the stairs. Both the floor and roof structure appear in their natural colors surrounded by closet doors constructed in the same material. It reads as a small wooden box, a counterpoint to both the home’s white box and the marble box of the bathroom.
White was used for the walls, ceilings and carpentry due to its spatial qualities and lightness, while wood in its natural color is used for the hardwood floors and clothing room for its warmth and comfort. Portuguese white Estremoz marble, which covers the ground floor, countertops and on the bathrooms and laundry walls and floors, was chosen for its texture, reflectivity and color.
All of the original wood window frames of the main façade were recovered, the roof was remade with the original Marseille tiles and the decorated eave restored to its original glory. Ground floor window frames were remade in iron, as per the original, but redesigned in order to maximize natural illumination.