welcome to emmas housethought

my house plans

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!?

my house

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.

stone wall

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.

the beirasthe beiras
Here’s the layout of how it is now:
existing plans 1st floorexisting plan ground

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.

first floor plan

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.

architecture 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.

Energy efficiency

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.


  1. mores March 8, 2009 11:52 pm Reply

    If you want to protect the environment, specifically your lawn, you should throw out your old detergents and get soap nuts.

    They’re 100% natural, grow on trees, and give you better results than regular detergents.
    The only downside is the scent – or rather, lack of. Fresh laundry will smell rather bland, but not unpleasant. Just not what one might be used to. Fix this with a biodegradable fabric softener or a drop of essential oil (this mucks up your washing machine – I went with fabric softener instead)

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: March 9th, 2009 at 7:09 pm

    Thanks for your suggestion. I’ll definitely need to think about alternative products when the time comes. I’ll be doing more ‘green’ blogs on the site soon.

    [Reply to comment]

    Loretta   Reply: January 31st, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    @mores, Good day Aussie, what a big job you have undertaken as renos are a passion will watch your progress good luck and hope there are only a few tears. Cheers Loretta

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: February 1st, 2010 at 1:58 am

    yeah, only a few, and just from dropping stones on one’s foot…

    [Reply to comment]

  2. Carolyn March 25, 2009 7:57 am Reply

    What a great blog! Beautifully written and very entertaining. P.S. I absolutely love your cat and dogs!

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: March 26th, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    Thanks for your feeback Carolyn. My furry boys keep me entertained!

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  3. Dee Hawa April 2, 2009 6:18 am Reply

    Amazing, what a story so far.. fills me with hope form little Portuguese project, I’m awestruck at your tenacity!!

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  4. Gertrude October 2, 2009 2:40 pm Reply

    http://www.arttattac.blogspot.com where I post my art as it happens.

    Emma, I am enjoying your wonderful story, written with vigor and poetry. Your life is like a fantasy to this landlocked longing to be ex pat. I have renovated a couple of hopeless cases in the states, but nothing so grand as your beautiful stone house. I stumbled on your site in search of info about moving to Portugal as I’m finding life in the states always missing the points.

    Will there be more photos?

    thank you, Gertrude

    [Reply to comment]


  5. Emma Crabtree October 15, 2009 2:01 am Reply

    Hi Emma, just love your blog. It made me cry!

    After going through myself what you have experienced (2 years renting a flat when we were told “3 months, no worries” on a planning permission/build project), after a summer of wanting to pack my bags and flee to somewhere, anywhere, just as long as the road signs weren’t in Portuguese, after ‘coping’ with the incredibly noisy neighbours, we are about to move into our new house. New as in old, as in 70cm thick walls, as in ‘had to take the roof off & start again as it was all too low’, as in family of 4 living in 3 rooms.

    You get the picture.

    So I’m glad that I was directed to your site and I’m glad that this particular pommy chick & Aussie babe have connected.

    Best wishes,

    [Reply to comment]


  6. Rodrigo Pombeiro October 15, 2009 3:56 am Reply

    WOW! Emma! You are the best. Love your blog. Seldom does any writtings grab me. I last read this much when I picked up a copy of “The Alchemist”. I have built two of my homes. I am in the process of thinking of buying a ruin in Portugal and doing work on it. I know you must have thought of it by now, but I will mention anyhow, remenber to insulate and waterproof well. Try and form an inner skin in your schist home. You can hide your water, comms and electrical pipes in.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: October 15th, 2009 at 9:57 am

    Oh! Nice comments guys! Love the cat, rodrigo, and yes my cold little stones will be all blanketed and dry (but they are damp and cold now let me say)… emma I have a terrible story about getting my visa coming up next…. but hopefully it will make you laugh instead of cry!

    [Reply to comment]

  7. Dianne Sheridan January 31, 2010 1:16 pm Reply

    Fantastic journey you are on I hope all your reno’s go to plan. beautiful stone house. look forward to following another Aussie pursue her dreams.
    Good luck

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: February 1st, 2010 at 1:57 am

    ta, very much.

    [Reply to comment]

  8. Zolmira April 13, 2010 3:01 pm Reply

    Hi Emma,
    Im an australian who is also thinking of moving to “Porto Moniz” in Madeira. We to are looking at buying land with house or we will buid. Im fortunate that I can scrape by with the lingo. Thanks for the tips, and I will keep them in mind.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: April 15th, 2010 at 1:27 am

    Thanks Zolmira

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  9. martin vicker April 13, 2010 8:06 pm Reply

    Hi Emma. A friend of mine in Sydney sent me the link to your site. Nice blog… we have lots in common, and we love Portugal too… we´re in Spain but only just… I still haven´t worked out where you are, I need to read more… We are near Portalegre. I will try to follow your blog… Are you a member of WWOOF?? Do you know about volunteer schemes?? Anyway… get in touch if you fancy. x

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: April 15th, 2010 at 1:25 am

    Hi martin, I’m basically dead centre of the country… I now about wwoof, but I have no organic farm, but will get onto workaway once I have a room to offer them 🙂

    [Reply to comment]


  10. George May 11, 2010 6:36 am Reply

    Cool for cats :o)

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  11. Cristina de Jesus July 20, 2010 5:06 am Reply

    Hi Emma…
    I’ve been reading your blog and everything that has/still is happening to you about your estate buying, and I read some of the comments about Portugal or Portuguese people. I’m Portuguese, raised in Germany and living in Portugal for over 20 years and inspite of the economical crises, it’s a great country to live in. But it annoys me that there are still a few of Portuguese shitty smatheads, who think that they can ‘cheat on’ and gain from foreign buyers, specially if they’re female. Although native, they also tried it on me. I think that it had to do with the way I was raised that makes me different from the average Portuguese woman, cause I’m like you… I look everything up. Considering estate laws, they have changed to favor the Portuguese State and it’s hard and far to expensive to discriminate everything at the councils. But I’m sure I’m not giving you any new.
    I also read your posts about your trips around Portugal… and I hope that, during that time, you met nice and honest ones… whom you may do some business with. Although I’ve got a German rip, I love Portugal. Nevertheless, I’m the first who cries for whom wants to hear that we should belong to Spain… ;D
    Keep sharing your adventures… cause i’m to lazy to write mine…
    Nowadays I work at Caldas and I met Caldas through your trip.
    Thank you for sharing 🙂

    [Reply to comment]

  12. Rhys September 5, 2010 7:07 am Reply

    Hi Emma,

    I laughed my pants off reading your blog. Having nearly strangled a few people out of sheer frustration during my time in Portugal, your blog left me in hoots.

    I must say that living in our little corner of Alentejo has left me pretty impressed with key people in the local council, tax office and civil records office. My experience with some other aspects of Portugal (both civil service and private sector) has been so bad my (Portuguese) wife has virtually had to restrain me just in case!

    Patience in Portugal is certainly a virtue. In general, though, my experiences have been very positive, despite the archaic procedures that some (actually very competent) people have to work with. Despite the odd bout of frustration I have loved living in Alentejo and cannot praise my Portuguese neighbours enough for their warmth, hospitality and good humour. I stuck up some great friendships renovating our house and expect to do so again with our next project.

    I hope that your experiences are equally rewarding and please, please don’t stop this blog! I had a such a good larf…

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: September 7th, 2010 at 9:05 am

    laughed your pants off… this is the response we like 🙂
    Bravo and Força to you Rhys. x

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  13. Ruy Biscaya September 17, 2010 5:27 pm Reply

    Cara Emma.
    Escrevo-te em Português!! Em Portugal,sê portugues.
    Tiveste o bom senso de escolher uma das regiões mais tipicas mas mais pobres de Portugal;no entanto,onde onde as gentes são mais sãs,puras e verdadeiras.Sou da região-Cernache do Bonjardim,mas,por força das circunstancias,vim viver para Lisboa.Hoje vivo na Parede mas,sempre que me é possivel,vou ”beber”ar puro á minha zona.Recordo com saudade as noites calmas as desfolhadas,as vindimas,a apanha da azeitona ,as idas ao lagar etc,etc. Conheço bem a zona,penso que viverás no triangulo Figueiró,Bouçã,Cabril;ou será Ribeira D’Alge?.De qualquer maneira,Parabens e sê Feliz!!!

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: September 19th, 2010 at 9:15 am

    Obrigada pela mensagem na minha lingua favorita! Viver é complicada nesta terra, mais é terra cheia de personalidade – cheia da viva – uma vida que talvez não é para sempre… estou com sorte chegava cá. Beijos.

    [Reply to comment]

  14. Ruy Biscaya September 20, 2010 10:17 am Reply

    Querida Amiga EMMA.
    Grato pela tua resposta! Eu compreendo que não será fácil viver assim isolada e afastada das merdomias da vida da cidade mas,é tão bom e agradável o contacto com o silencio e o acordar com o chilrear dos passaros e o mermurar da agua corrente.Felizes são aqueles que conseguem a vivência simples com a Natureza.
    Faz favor de ser Feliz
    Um beijo Amigo

    [Reply to comment]

  15. Bruce October 6, 2010 11:32 am Reply

    Nice place there girlie

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: October 8th, 2010 at 3:55 am

    love ya work brucey

    [Reply to comment]

  16. Mark Squires September 12, 2012 11:38 pm Reply

    Loved your blog, saw it from the coffee piece on Facebook–I visit Portugal often, and this was very well written and atmospheric, as well as instructive! The coffee article was scary!

    [Reply to comment]

  17. Geoff Wulff October 8, 2012 5:14 am Reply

    Hi Emma

    I happened on your blog while trawling through rural country type houses for sale today.

    My wife and I are SAFFAS who brought our kids up in the UK to escape Apartheid South Africa.

    As good baby boomers we are looking for a good affordable retirement home where life was not as fast paced as London, and where we could grow our own veggies and be as self sufficient as possible..

    Having recently had a great holiday in Portugal and experienced a bit of the Portuguese laid back way of life, we thought, why buy in France where anything half decent was pricey?

    This was coupled with my Angolan War experience in 1975 as a conscript in the Cape Town Highlanders [would you believe!] drafted to Angola where we basically shepherded Portuguese refugees to safety in the war that ensued after the fall of the Salazar dictatorship.

    I have to say that your blog gives a dispassionate? view of getting to grips with both the bad and the good…or even very good parts of moving to Portugal… You have made me laugh and wince and I have thoroughly enjoyed finding your blog!!!

    [Reply to comment]

  18. chris January 19, 2016 3:53 am Reply

    is the blog now dead,,is Emma still on the adventure

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: January 21st, 2016 at 11:21 am

    @chris, not entirely dead yet, but certainly sleeping. Still have posts in my head and on the laptop, but no time to share. Modern world living…

    [Reply to comment]

  19. Paul(the Uber guy) September 3, 2017 11:17 pm Reply

    Love your story Emma! I just show this to my wife and we just wow with your adventurous stories.

    [Reply to comment]

  20. James engelbert February 27, 2018 2:38 am Reply

    gday fellow Aussie, what have i done! I just bought an old flat in Alcantara Lisbon – im working to a very short timeline – im not holding my breath! Any tips on good builders?

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: June 24th, 2018 at 3:02 pm

    @James engelbert, wow good for you. No, no builders tips sorry, you have to go very local. You could try posting on the forum at expatsportugal.com, maybe someone in lisbon will know someone… good luck and sorry for the v slow reply!

    [Reply to comment]

  21. Kathleen August 19, 2018 2:41 am Reply

    Emma i loved your story about ur we house.iwould love to get intouch with you.i looking to buy something similar to you but i would need ur advise can you please get in touch
    Thanks a lot.im from Ireland..

    [Reply to comment]

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