Story at a glance:

  • A renovation project in Portugal turns into three houses when architects uncover more beneath the facade.
  • The original eucalyptus beams, rotten at the ends, were removed and reused in part to cover the floor of the central patio.
  • Paulo Merlini Architects used treated pine for the flooring, just like in the original farmhouse.

When the design team at Paulo Merlini Architects began digging into the facade of an old Portuguese farmhouse as part of a remodel, they were surprised to find not one but three small houses. Now the Paulo Merlini Portugal farmhouse, called Casa Rio, is a calming retreat for its owner and her family, who find peace everywhere from the new rooftop garden to the corridors flooded with light.

Three Houses in One

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Drawing courtesy of Paulo Merlini Architects

“Being in the family for some generations, this was a house with which the client had a great emotional relationship, hence his willingness to remodel,” says architect André Santos Silva. “Taking into account this emotional relationship with the property, it became evident the need to maintain its organic essence, hence the intention to maintain the structure of the three houses that made up the original volume.”

Using Light

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Photo by Ivo Tavares Studio

The team set out to unify the structures using a slab perforated by a central patio that fills the social area on the ground floor with light. A green roof on the central slab offers a new intimate garden to all rooms and private areas of the house.

“Natural and artificial light, together with the fluidity of space, perspective axis, and interior/exterior relationship are always our greatest concerns in our projects,” Silva says. “In this case the natural light fulfills an even more pertinent importance since the volume of the ground floor, apparently quite enclosed when seen from the outside, assumes itself as a space with a lot of natural light, strongly enhanced by the opening of the central patio in its nucleus.”

As for the rooftop garden, Silva says it’s one of the owner’s favorite aspects of the remodel. “It is common that, on a good summer night, the client lies with her daughter in this garden contemplating the stars. The three small houses that embrace them create a very pleasant feeling of protection.”

Creating Contrast

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“The most impressive sustainable features of the building are, in our view, the thermal comfort achieved by the thermal inertia of the original granite walls and the landscaped roof,” says architect André Santos Silva. Photo by Ivo Tavares Studio

Paolo Merlini Architects wanted to create a strong contrast between the two floors. On the ground floor a rougher materiality provides the sensation of living inside a granite excavated mass. Upstairs, the geometry of the three original houses is pronounced as pure white volumes are flooded with light. On this floor the wooden shutters combined with the white color and the wooden floors re-creates the feeling of a typical Portuguese country house.

“Regarding artificial light, on the one hand we applied it in order to make the most of the rough textures of concrete and granite. On the other hand, and as it is a constant concern in our creative process, we try to make its application respect our inherited biological mechanisms,” Silva says.

He says using artificial lighting on the floor of access corridors, for example, calls back to the receptors we have in our retinas that regulate our production of melatonin, responsible for regulating the circadian cycle. “These receptors are in the lower part of the retina because it’s the retina that receives the light from the sky,” he says. “When receiving light from a high point, the brain assumes the day is rising and makes us wake up. Thus, by placing it at a low point, we ensure respect for our biological rhythms, creating an environment adapted to the human being.”

Warm Wood

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Photo by Ivo Tavares Studio

Silva says the firm used wood to break the coldness of the granite and concrete throughout the project. “There’s nothing better than the use of this millenary material,” he says.

The interior slabs of the upper floors were executed as a wooden structure to keep the farmhouse’s original characteristics. The original eucalyptus beams, which were rotten at the ends, were removed and replaced by wooden laminated beams. “We reused the original beams to cover the floor of the central patio, passing this piece of history to the core of the house,” Silva says.

For the flooring, Paulo Merlini Architects chose treated pine, just like the original.

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“The garden cover was without any doubt the greatest sustainable perk,” says architect André Santos Silva. “We strongly recommend the use of this type of solution because, besides guaranteeing a permanent and very comfortable temperature all year, it has an endless aesthetic potential. The possibility of appropriation is completely customizable. With the added value of nature providing us with completely different environments during the various phases of the year.” Photo by Ivo Tavares Studio

Project Credits

Project name: Casa Rio
Location: Gondomar, Portugal
Completion: Early 2020
Size: 3,767 square feet
Architect: Paulo Merlini Architects
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Drawing courtesy of Paulo Merlini Architects

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Drawing courtesy of Paulo Merlini Architects