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Lessons in Sparseness: A Black and White House in Rural Portugal with Echoes of the Shakers

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Lessons in Sparseness: A Black and White House in Rural Portugal with Echoes of the Shakers

October 22, 2018

Here’s a house that fits all the right notes for us this fall: a family house in the rural town of Lardosa, Portugal, with bone-white walls, matte black details, oil lamps, and simply hewn wooden shelves. The project is by Portuguese architect Pedro Duarte Bento, who got his start as an associate in the New York City office of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill before moving back to his native Portugal to establish his own firm.

Among our favorite projects by Bento: a sparsely appointed weekend house for a family in the Portuguese countryside. “The front of the house faces the village’s street, and in its back side has a small farm filled with orange trees and an acre or so of an olive grove facing Serra da Gardunha, a modest mountain range towards north,” Bento says. “It was empty most of the year, already for several years in a row, desperately needing a gutted renovation or else.” The result feels part old New England Shaker, part European gothic. Here’s a glimpse.

Photography courtesy of Pedro Duarte Bento.

A lesson in sparseness: A wide, sculptural doorway leads into the kitchen. Because the interiors are so spartan, Bento chose the limited materials with care: white-washed plaster walls and matte concrete floors that have a subtle visual texture.
Above: A lesson in sparseness: A wide, sculptural doorway leads into the kitchen. Because the interiors are so spartan, Bento chose the limited materials with care: white-washed plaster walls and matte concrete floors that have a subtle visual texture.

The project entailed “transforming a family house in a rustic property into a seasonal residency,” Bento says. “Strategic non-structural walls were open to allow a continuous and interconnected space in the ground floor. The house’s exterior façades and its perimeter footprint remained unaltered.” The finished space is only 1,290 square feet.

The kitchen, with poured-in-place concrete countertops and backsplash (“single pour,” Bento says) and a rough-hewn wooden island.
Above: The kitchen, with poured-in-place concrete countertops and backsplash (“single pour,” Bento says) and a rough-hewn wooden island.
By the small gas cooktop is a well-appointed pegboard, which holds kitchen shears and even a silver pitcher.
Above: By the small gas cooktop is a well-appointed pegboard, which holds kitchen shears and even a silver pitcher.
In an otherwise austere kitchen, necessary storage doubles as design, as in the knife rack beside the cooktop. The sculptural vent hood cover and the base for the range are both made of thin steel, painted with primer and matte white paint, and made by a local metalworker.
Above: In an otherwise austere kitchen, necessary storage doubles as design, as in the knife rack beside the cooktop. The sculptural vent hood cover and the base for the range are both made of thin steel, painted with primer and matte white paint, and made by a local metalworker.
Bento chose waxed woodwork as a third main material, and it’s a theme repeated throughout the house. Here, it forms ad-hoc open storage in a niche beside the European-sized refrigerator.
Above: Bento chose waxed woodwork as a third main material, and it’s a theme repeated throughout the house. Here, it forms ad-hoc open storage in a niche beside the European-sized refrigerator.
The dining area and living room beyond. “Doors and windows were preserved with their original varnish finishing and hardware from the 1970s,” Bento says. All of the furniture was existing in the house, including the wood hutch and dining chairs, both “believed to be from the 1960s,” Bento says.
Above: The dining area and living room beyond. “Doors and windows were preserved with their original varnish finishing and hardware from the 1970s,” Bento says. All of the furniture was existing in the house, including the wood hutch and dining chairs, both “believed to be from the 1960s,” Bento says.

The hutch holds a “1950s Vista Alegre fine china porcelain dinnerware of 90-something pieces. All in perfect condition, so I’ve been told,” Bento says.

Adding to the olden-days feel: a glass oil lamp. (To source something similar, see 5 Favorites: Scandinavian-Style Oil Lanterns for Long Winter Nights.)
Above: Adding to the olden-days feel: a glass oil lamp. (To source something similar, see 5 Favorites: Scandinavian-Style Oil Lanterns for Long Winter Nights.)
In the living area, attention is focused on the lower half of the room, with a simple woven mat and a low, waxed-wood bookshelf built into one wall.
Above: In the living area, attention is focused on the lower half of the room, with a simple woven mat and a low, waxed-wood bookshelf built into one wall.
In one corner, an Alvar Aalto lookalike stool serves as an end table. Against the wall is an extension for the dining table that doubles as “vague wainscoting.”
Above: In one corner, an Alvar Aalto lookalike stool serves as an end table. Against the wall is an extension for the dining table that doubles as “vague wainscoting.”
The north annex, previously a storage room, now has black-painted floors and ceilings, in contrast to the rest of the house. Here, a simple bedroom and study is trimmed in waxed wood, with a low, Shaker-like hanging shelf for books. The bakelite wall-mounted light above the bed was existing, and moved from another part of the room.
Above: The north annex, previously a storage room, now has black-painted floors and ceilings, in contrast to the rest of the house. Here, a simple bedroom and study is trimmed in waxed wood, with a low, Shaker-like hanging shelf for books. The bakelite wall-mounted light above the bed was existing, and moved from another part of the room.

The olive branch is tradition in the area, said to bring peace into the household. “There are lots of olive trees there. The amazing thing is that, through a neighborhood community, they still produce their own olive oil,” Bento says.

Removable black hooks turn the simple lengths of wood into storage.
Above: Removable black hooks turn the simple lengths of wood into storage.

We like the bare, unfinished look of some Portuguese interiors spotted lately. Here are three more:

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