The old man who owned the house before me was born in here in the village. He married the girl next door – quite a feat in a village of less than 50 people. It could be a romantic story or it could be a scary one. Also scary is the idea of living within a stone’s throw of your parents AND your in-laws.
The house was built in 1939 by his father who was a respected stonemason. He also built the bridge and other houses in the village, and buildings in the nearest tiny town. My house is actually two houses: the white house is one and the ruin is another. There is also an annexe. A different family lived in the ruin. Apparently the ruin was a bit of a party house. Much singing and dancing and drinking went on there. Perhaps they shook the house down!?
The houses are built in schist, the common field stone in central Portugal. Schist is similar to slate, it’s medium-dark grey with red, brown and terracotta clay colours. The stones are laid in a pure clay mortar which gives the house a very warm glow in the afternoon sun.
The white house has a cement render. Historically, rendered houses denoted wealthier owners, but in a post modern twist whole villages with houses in bare stone have become a valued tourist attraction in this area.
Here’s the layout of how it is now:
The idea of the building project is to unite the two houses to become one. The render on the white house will be removed, the stone cleaned and the mortar renewed. The metal windows will be replaced with older style timber windows and half-pipe roof tiles will reflect the local-traditional architectural style.
Here’s a crude photoshop impression of how it will look.
I love the look of stone on the outside, but the interiors of these local stone places are frighteningly troglodyte-like. Dark, rough and…dark. So, my interior walls will be plastered white, making the interior space new, clean, and open. The floor plan is designed around the enormous existing fireplace in the (old) kitchen.
The underground garage is missing from the plans.
While the exterior will hopefully look entirely traditional and old, the interior is modern. Modern in the sense that it will be a new blank canvas where I can insert old architectural pieces such as classic Portuguese azulejos (tiles), 18th century style mirrored doors, interesting antique coat pegs or other small details.
While the fireplace is the focus of the house in the winter, the summer hub is the outside terrace, with a large dining table under a vine covered pergola. The stairs to the first floor link the outside dining area to the kitchen.
By locating the kitchen and living areas on the first floor, these spaces benefit from the views outside, and the cathedral ceilings inside. My aim is also to maximise the appeal and comfort of the house in the winter months as well as the summer. As it has a south-western aspect, the winter sun reaches all the way to the back walls of the first floor. The alternative of having the living area on the ground floor would’ve resulted in a cooler winter living space.
The house has four bedrooms which all have flexible usage. The bedrooms on the ground floor are partitioned only by sound insulated cupboards, once removed enable the two rooms to convert into one 25m2 space. The bedroom on the first floor, adjacent the living area could be a study or nursery. The annexe bedroom benefits from privacy and natural light, and has an ensuite bathroom. It might be useful as guest accommodation or an artist’s studio.
First – adequate insulation. It’s the cornerstone of a comfortable, low cost, low maintenance house. There’s a huge range of products out there and yet the majority of builders here are still opting to use the bare minimum and to use one that’s harmful to the environment. It drives me nuts.
Solar hot water. Who can resist free hot water? It’s now the law for new builds. Solar panels won’t perform 100% of the time so,
Recuperador de calor a agua. No idea what they call it in English, but it’s super efficient closed fireplace that heats the immediate area while also providing hot water for the whole house. I’d love to connect a series of radiators to make central heating. The cost of the installation is nothing much but the cost of the radiators is way out of my league. From my research the recuperador solution is the most economic and eco-friendly form of heating and complements the solar hot water system perfectly.
Still on heating – there’s an endless supply of free firewood here in timber country, so if I don’t find affordable radiators I’ll be installing another two more salamanders in the main house and one in the annexe. All of them will have splitters so that they can heat two rooms at once.
Cooling is not a huge issue. Even without insulation I haven’t found the summers uncomfortably hot here. Nonetheless, the design of the house follows the principles of passive cooling by using cross ventilation, exterior window shading and ceiling fans in every room.
Grey water system. All grey water from the bathrooms and laundry will be diverted underground to the lawn, thus automatically watering it and avoiding unnecessarily filling up the closed septic system. Hopefully this will keep the grass green all year round.
Rainwater collection water tank. It seems a bit strange to collect and store water when for most of the year the natural springs are flowing, the tap water is almost free and more water is falling from the sky every other day. For the two or three months of the year when the springs are dry and there’s a very high fire danger, another 1000 litres of water close at hand could well save the house from destruction. The tank is connected to a sprinkler system on the roof. When activated, the water then flows into the roof gutters and back into the tank, providing hours of hands-free fire protection when it’s critical.