welcome to emmas housethought

my favourite furniture design shop in portugal

There I was thinking that central portugal was a design desert and then my favourite magazine Attitude came to my rescue.

Attitude is a Portuguese interior design mag with just the perfect balance of international going-on and Portuguese pride. I love how they also love all the “design classic” Portuguese grocery products with original packaging. In general, the Portuguese don’t have much appreciation of their own 20th century pop culture. “Saudades” and nostalgia clearly aren’t the same thing.

attitude magazine

And apparently, Portugal didn’t have much of a “mid-century modern” interior design boom, like the rest of Europe had. As far as I can see, there were no Portuguese Eames, no Panton, no Saarinen, or Jacobsen. Which is surprising (if it turns out to be true) given the great architecture that Portugal produced over the last century.

Anyway, back to the shop – it’s called Moveis Tralhão and it’s in Soure which is about an hour away from here. I feel like making it my regular Saturday outing, but I worried I’ve already made myself known by lurking around the place like a furniture pervert.


The curious thing about this ‘shop’ is that it’s also a design studio, ie, an architect’s office, and there are no definite divisions between the showroom and the workspace. Stray off course and you could be admiring someone’s in-tray.

It’s a big showroom, over several confusing levels, so they’ve got tonnes of stuff to drool over that I hardly know where to start. Much of the stock comes from Amsterdam, from Moooi (check out the red sofa below) and Droog. Arper, Kartell (plastic tables above right) and Edra (beautiful chair above left) from Italy are also there, and I saw the Eames Chair & Ottoman (can you have a design store without one?) from Vitra in Switzerland. There are yummy decorations and lights by Artecnica and Flos.

Movies Tralhão

Plus, there’s all the in-house designs, by ipotz. I saw a handsome set of Lloyd Wright/Mackintosh-like dining chairs designed by Ricardo Tralhão. Really nice.

Oh I almost forgot – I saw this table which I really really like. It’s designed by an English guy called Tom Dixon who I’ve never heard of before. I’m picturing it next to a grey Moooi lounge in front of the fireplace…


More pictures click here

all about building lime

I used to be a girl who knew all about lime; the ones you quarter and stick into the top of a corona beer, the lime that goes in a caipiroska and a caipirinha. The lime that’s indispensable in Thai, Lao and Vietnamese cooking. Even the lime that can be squeezed on oysters, while sipping champagne under a sail of the Opera House and gazing out over Sydney Harbour… sigh…


But now I’m a girl who knows all about the other lime. Building lime. Calcium oxide. Quicklime. Hydraulic and Non-Hydraulic lime. Hydrated lime. Slaked lime, Burnt lime, Fat lime, Lean lime.

Before the advent of portland cement in the mid 19th century, it was lime that held together buildings made of stone and brick. While the wholesale adoption of portland throughout the world practically shelved the use of lime mortars, lime is now making something of a comeback.

These days, lime mortars are primarily used in the restoration of historic buildings; where they are compatible with the existing mortar, they blend in terms of texture and colour to the original, and the flexibility of lime accommodates the softening or weakening of old bricks and stone and does no further damage to them.

Scientific and academic interest in the history of construction history and the efficacy of modern materials has also had an influence on lime’s recovery. We now know a lot more about the chemical properties and reactions at work when using various building materials as a result of studies and testing at a scientific level. For example, due to the worldwide concern about the environment, researchers tell us that lime creates very little CO2 in production compared to portland cement, and this subsequently opens the door to its use as an eco-friendly alternative.

brickies sand

In my case, there are several reasons to consider using lime.

Firstly, portland is too hard for schist-stone and your mortar should never be harder than your building material. Secondly, it’s incompatible with the existing material: You should repoint like for like, if possible. The house was built entirely with a clay mortar. Clay absorbs and releases moisture, it’s highly flexible and highly permeable. Cement is the exact opposite. Using cement on the outside of a clay filled wall would potentially result in cracking of the cement pointing as the rest of the building heaves and shifts. Probably it would trap moisture inside the walls and cause saltpetre and other moisture related problems. But lime, on the other hand, is like clay, flexible and breathable.

So, where do I start? There is not just one type of lime or one standard recipe. So I’ve been trying them all.

At first, due to some translation/linguistic ‘nuances’ (dictionaries can only do so much – check out the list of words for lime in English in the 2nd para, and then times by three to get the Portuguese variations… then you add complications like the similarity of ‘hydraulic’ and ‘hydrated’ and all this results in is a blank stare from the guy at the shop) the only lime I could get my hands on was quicklime. ‘Cal vivo’ in Portuguese.

Quicklime needs to be slaked, i.e. mixed with water and then left to ‘fatten’ (ferment, say) for anything up to 6 months before it is used. Oh bummer. But fortunately there are plenty of ‘skip the rules’ DIYers on the internet offering up all manner of experimental alternatives, so I aligned myself with them to start with.

bubbling quicklimebubble

First I made up ‘hot lime’ and cement mixes; i.e. straight from the bag 1:1:3 lime: portland: sand. At this stage I’m using brickies yellow sand, not ideal for mortar but a nice colour. This is too strong a mix, and it’s a very dodgy way to use the lime, but it results in an aged patina (probably because it’s burning the stone as it reacts) that looks really good. This mix wont work for the engineer though, who’s also the ‘responsavel de obras’, the inspector. It’s too unorthodox and it will probably all fail anyway.

So then I slaked the lime for 24/48 hours. There are a few ways of slaking. Firstly you can use about 1:1 water, and this does a crazy thing of drying to a powder after giving off a lot of heat. That powder is now called hydrated lime (cal apagada). Better still is to use a 2:1-4:1 (depends on the quality of the lime – I find a 2.5:1 a bit stiff and 3.5:1 nice and workable but maybe a bit weak) and this turns into lime putty… after a really fun volcano-like eruption… stand back while watching this movie!

The third slaking method, a very traditional one taken from The Art of the Stonemason by Ian Cramb, is to mix the quicklime with damp sand, 1:3, and turn it over occasionally over 6 weeks. I’ve got this going on as well.


A word of warning though: I had been fiddling about with the quicklime for a few weeks with only casual regard for safety. One day I was turning over the sand-lime mix in the box for just for a couple of minutes wearing a t-shirt. There was no visible powder on my skin, but I washed my arms off with soap anyway. An hour later I was covered in blisters, including my shoulders – it even went through the t-shirt! Not good. But fortunately I’m not quite so stupid not to wear goggles and mask because I could’ve been blinded! Now, several weeks later, every time I go out in the sun, I get blisters. Nasty stuff.

The putty (even slaked for this ridiculously short 24 hr period) makes your mortar really nice and sticky and easy to work with. Even mixed with grey portland, (1:1:6 is the correct ratio – according to CSIRO – very reliable) over several weeks it dries to a bright white. I also did a few mixes with one part clay in the mix, clay that came out of the original wall. This resulted in a better colour, marginally, but more on clay later.

So far all of these mixes contain cement, which for new wall building will be fine, provided the mix isn’t too strong, and I can get the colour right. But for pointing old walls, this needs a pure lime and sand mix. Slaked quicklime/sand mixes are, these days, only recommended for interior pointing because it is so vulnerable to the elements while it takes years to harden. So I moved on to Hydraulic lime.

The term ‘Hydraulic’ (or ‘non-hydraulic’, as quicklime is) refers to the lime’s ability to set under water, or not. Hydraulic lime sets when combined with water, therefore it dries hard quickly, like cement does. Non-hydraulic limes stay soft initially and gradually harden over a longer time.

There are three types of Hydraulic lime, basically weak, medium and strong (or #1, #2, #3.5 and #5.) The strongest is almost as strong as cement, so it’s usually only used for building areas subject to harsh conditions such as by the seaside, or chimneys, or window sills. But what do you know, #5 seems to be all I can get here in middleofnowhereedgeoftheoworld, central portugal. The #5 is a horrible grey (3.5 is white, I believe) so I’ve done some colour experiments: This time I’m using river sand (a greyer sand with larger particles.)

lime test wall

What do you mean you can’t tell the difference? On the left is a straight Hydraulic:Sand mix at 1:3. Horrible colour and horrible to use. None of the nice stickiness of the putties. In the middle is 1:3 plus 5% ferrous oxide for colour. Still horrible but slight improvement. On the right is .5 hydraulic: .5 sand slaked quicklime, : 3 river sand, 10 % ferrous oxide. Getting closer, but still horrible.

So where does that leave me? Hydraulic too strong, too grey; Non-hydraulic too weak, too white. I think I have two more options.

The first one is pozzolans. They are additives that make non-hydraulic lime harden like hydraulic lime. They can be bagged powders like Brick dust, Fly Ash, or fired clays as found in Pozzolan, Italy. There are proprietary mixes like Metastar. But can you get them in Portugal? My hardware supplier has never heard of a pozzolan, and all I get from google is one academic who mentions “nationally produced” pozzolans in a paper. I’d better send her an email. Maybe she’s my new best friend.

My other option, as some of you may have been thinking, is clay. If lime can make a comeback why can’t clay? If my 5 metre tall walls are still standing after 70 years, why can’t I apply the “like for like” rule and repoint with clay? I’m not suggestion that I dig it out of my garden like the old boys did. I don’t mind buying some peace of mind in a bag. And more… there’s actually a company in the Algarve, Construdobe who produce clay mortars… it’s sounding like a solution, isn’t it? If only my engineer can be convinced…

to be continued….

michelle obama’s arms

My brother-in-law has been bugging me to write about arms for some time. I’m not entirely sure how the subject came up, but it’s true that I am frequently bragging about the fine state of my arms. Now that this Michelle Obama thing has hit the news, I’d just like to say a few words.

I have Michelle Obama arms.

Let’s have a look at that:

emmas arms

I’m not saying that my arms are better. Comparing white-sister with black-sister is just not fair. The length and proportion of the limbs, the quality of the skin… well, it’s part of a physical synergy that makes black people as unassailable in track and field as on the dancefloor.

I’m just saying that Michelle and I are on the same page. She and I are sharing an important piece of knowledge that the rest of you are only just coming up-to-speed on now:

Arms are the New Abs.

A Brief History of Arms.

I have been a follower of good arm style since Joanna Lumley was running with flat hands instead of fists in the New Avengers of the early 70’s. But arms never really made headlines until the Pioneer of Everything, Madonna, picked up her golden dumbbells. Her set (the biceps, not the weights) have boarded on the too-cut from time to time, but we’ll just put that down to late 80’s mistakes. My real arm heroine was always Linda Hamilton, who despite having a such a dreary name achieved action-bitch cult status as Sarah Connor in Terminator. Let’s have a look at the data:

madonna arms

Arms and Controversy

As all media bloggers know, when you are talking about arms it’s almost impossible not to segue into other subjects like politics, feminism and of course, terrorism.

So let’s go.

Why are we talking about Michelle Obama’s Arms?
…when there are so many more important issues to discuss? I’ll tell you why: we don’t want to talk about the Financial Crisis all the time! It’s done, the money’s gone and what we want now is to bathe in the light and hope of the couple Obama. We are talking about Michelle’s arms because they are the most attractive arms in the White House since Jackie Kennedy’s. And the parallels don’t end there – a young, healthy family who exude charm, beauty and power and still yet a down-to-earth availability. Those arms are the American dream.

The Right to Bare Arms.
Well, it would be wrong to say “the first lady’s got great tits” wouldn’t it? But we feel the need to give credit where credit’s due, nonetheless. The arm is one of the few body parts, while by no means devoid of feminine beauty, that is sufficiently un-sexual to avoid giving offence, by both the demonstrator and the commentator. The hands are also probably quite safe, as are the feet and probably the lower legs and the knees, but not the thighs. And nor, curiously, the back. It’s the utilitarian function-over-beauty equation at work. These parts are simply more functional than beautiful. Which means that Michelle’s arms are very very useful indeed.

Michelle Obama's Arms

Are Michelle’s Arms a Weapon of Mass Destruction?
It’s the muscles that people are afraid of. A woman with muscles is a strong woman, a woman who won’t be pushed around. And a woman who displays those muscles is a woman who is proud and confident. And for some sooky puny pinky pookies that’s a scary thing.

I have read something of what the sooky puny pinky pookies have to say – they say ‘Michelle Obama should cover herself up’. Suddenly all those clichés about ‘the threat to the American way of life’ and ‘the freedom of the American people’ make sense in the context of Michelle Obama’s arms. The day this woman covers her beauty is the day America loses the war against terrorism, a.k.a. Islamic fundamentalism. Quite frankly, the fact that an American journalist is even mouthing those words just shows how much they’ve lost it already.

Oh now, isn’t this getting boring…? Let’s cut the crap. Here’s what you want to know, really:

How To Get Michelle Obama Arms

Get a personal trainer, of course! For these fabulously famously wealthy successful people, it’s too easy. How did they get great arms? Madonna, personal trainer. Terminator’s mum, personal trainer. Michelle Obama, de de de de de. And I hate to tell you this people but Madonna’s personal training bills would be a tax deduction. She’s a performer. It’s her job. And the actor? The bill would go to the producer on T2. It’s part of the role. It’s Too Easy.

But we ordinary people don’t have the bucks (or the yucks, here in europe), nor the 90-minutes-three-times-a-week that Michelle apparently has (how’s that, I’d like to know?). But don’t worry, I have the secret.

Linda Hamilton as Sarah O'Connor

Emma’s Easy Michelle Obama Arms Getting Tips for the Poor and Ordinary

First, find yourself an inconveniently located pile of stones. The size of the stones doesn’t matter, but the quality of the pile is important. If you have a choice, pick the biggest pile.

And now, move those stones to a place that is temporarily more convenient. The place is entirely up to you. You could start with somewhere close by, just a step away, and then later on you can try somewhere across the paddock. The important part is moving them. Pick them up, one by one, and put them somewhere else. It’s that simple. You don’t have to count, or chant something in Sanskrit, or even think about your arms. Just move those stones.

Now if the idea of moving stones day after day bores you, you can try this instead. This method seamlessly blends the arms training with your everyday lifestyle. Step 1: Disconnect the water supply inside your house. Then for every time you need water you have to walk outside to the tap, fill up a bucket and carry it inside. It doesn’t sound like much, but you’d be amazed at how many times a day you will need to carry a bucket of water in or out of the house. Go to the toilet? Need a bucket. Wash your hands, need a bucket. Do the washing up, de de de de de. And much like having a personal trainer, you can’t avoid your workout. What are you going to do? Dry bake the pasta?

Just two months of either of these activities will make an obvious difference to those tuck shop wings, mama-sister. And if you can do both programs at once and add a little power-tool handling once in a while, you will have arms as fine as mine in no time. ☺

building update

Weather report: fine, fine, fine, fine, fine!
Injuries to left hand: 5 Injuries to rest of body: 2

All those injuries are perhaps the best indictor that I’ve been working hard. But to explain where I’m at, I’ll start from very beginning.

My annexe, behind the house, is a cute little 20sqm room which used to be a storeroom with a stone oven at the rear. Here’s how it looked when I bought the house.

the annexe

The annexe is destined to be a bedroom with an ensuite bathroom, which I will move into while work continues on the main house. I spent about 7 months of last year making the hole for the bathroom. There was a whole lot of bedrock to dig out, and for a long time I resisted using a jackhammer, so much of it was done by hand! Gallery of pictures click here.

Eventually, the hole was deep enough. I put down agricultural drainage and laid a concrete base and walls to compensate for the lack of foundations under the existing walls. Originally those walls sat on a ‘flat’ base of bedrock, but since I have sliced the bedrock so that it forms the lower part of the walls, the stone walls have a lot less supporting them. Hence the reinforced cement sides.

annexe-wall the annexe floor

As part of the oven demolition I removed the back wall of the annexe. So my next step was to repair the holes where the back wall met the side walls. I did this as a part of repointing the two adjacent walls (see productive days). In the last week I have finished the top of the neighbours wall, to secure the loose stones and fix them so that they drain water away from my bathroom-to-be. I think it looks quite nice. I’m sure the neighbours (who ran away to Brazil during the Salazar years) would be happy, if they knew.

annexe mortar

Next I slapped on a treatment which is meant to stop ‘salitre’ or ‘saltpetre‘ which is the mortar degrading via salts being pushed to the surface… we don’t want this even on an unseen wall because it will fill up the air space between old walls/new walls with salty dust and will clog the drainage.

Next, I’m going to lay some bricks… Say goodbye to the neighbours’ wall. It’s the last time it will see daylight for a while… going… going…

neighbours wall

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