A Hidden Fireman’s Pole Is Just One of This Portuguese Home’s Many Delights

A Hidden Fireman’s Pole Is Just One of This Portuguese Home’s Many Delights

By Caitlin Wheeler
Balancing the need for privacy with a neighborhood connection, this introspective residence in Lisbon invests in useful—yet playful—details.

The Bartolomeu Dias Building is down the street from the Jerónimos Monastery and the Belém Tower, both UNESCO heritage sites known for their elaborate, Manueline (early 16th-century Gothic) architecture. It has an enviable rooftop view overlooking an expanse of red tile roofs and the mighty River Tagus. Aurora Arquitectos found the location both an inspiration and a challenge.

A sharp increase in tourism, housing speculation, and gentrification made it difficult, says Sérgio Antunes, co-founder of Aurora Arquitectos, to maintain the "sense of neighborhood" the owners wanted. To this end, the team closed off the first floor facade from busy Bartolomeu Dias Street and moved the social spaces—the kitchen, dining, and living areas—to the top of the house, where family and guests could take advantage of the view. The lower floors became the private areas, bedrooms, and study spaces. 

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While shutting the facade off from Bartolmeu Dias, Aurora opened the back of the house to Beco da Ré, a narrow, pedestrian-only street lined with irregular buildings, chairs, and clothes hanging to dry outside, giving it, says Antunes, the "atmosphere of a countryside village."

The children’s playroom has an enormous window and glass door opening onto the quaint street, giving the children direct access to outdoor play. When needed, large exterior panels close, completely sealing off the house to ensure security. 

Similarly, in the front vestibule of the home, a huge interior door can be closed to hide the family’s first-floor private space.

Opened, the door reveals a sun-lit hallway lined with glossy-white floor-to-ceiling cabinets and a glimpse of the view out the back playroom window. To the left of the vestibule, a wooden built-in shelf for keys flows directly into a built-in wooden banister, beckoning visitors up the staircase. 

A three-story, white-washed well of shadows and light, the stairwell is punctuated by a white wire-floored balcony floating above and a variety of artistic moments on each floor: the built-in wooden banister, a geometric cutout in a wall, a dangling light fixture. The staircase opens up onto the kitchen and dining floor. 

"The staircase has a more serious and robust appearance through the rooms," says Antunes, "but it is more transparent and light-filled in the social areas."

The simplicity of the rooms sets the stage for unique details. In the children’s bedroom, large white doors in the wall again hide surprises. Behind one is a Kelly-green bathroom; behind the other, a bright blue vestibule for the fireman’s pole, which falls into the children’s playroom below.

To expand the visual impact of the small primary bath, Aurora placed large mirrors along the slanted ceiling walls, so that the bathroom itself—the floor, the fixtures, the light from the window—is reflected, creating a kaleidoscope effect.

The other, even smaller bathroom, is made special with dark tile and a fantastic marble sink. "It is a Portuguese marble from the region of Alentejo called Verde Viana," says Antunes. "It is a wonderful stone."

The simplicity of the home also allows the windows and the view an even greater significance. Here again, Aurora has a playful approach. Antunes describes the very large window in the living room as a "couch window," one that "you can sit in front of to enjoy the view towards the Tagus River during winter while being warmed by the fireplace."

In contrast, he describes the box window in the laundry as a "device window," placed to ventilate the space "through a little door made of stone."

Built entirely of reflective green marble, Antunes takes pleasure in the appearance of the window in the facade itself. "A little green eye," he explains.

Related Reading: 

A Tiny Lisbon Home Draws In Daylight With a Central Void

Cutouts and Heightened Ceilings Revive a Portuguese Apartment

Project Credits: 

 Architect of Record:  Aurora Arquitectos / @auroraarquitectos

 Builder: Mestre Avelino 

 Structural Engineer:  Zilva Engenharia, LDA

Civil Engineer:   Zilva Engenharia, LDA 

Consultants:  GesConsult 

Photography: do mal o menos   / @domalomenos

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