In the coastal town of Melides, Portugal, architecture and woodworking studio Madeiguincho recently completed a 260-square-foot tree house surrounded by towering, 100-year-old pines. Founder Gonçalo Marrote designed the tiny retreat, named Columba, for Maria Viegas Neves, who lives full-time in Porto and sought to build a place on her aunt’s property where she and her two school-age sons could spend their summers.
"My sons and I usually stay in different houses each summer," says Maria. "This year, we stayed at Columba—we’d watch the sunset from the roof, have a drink on the porch while preparing dinner, and when it would get chilly, we’d go inside where it was warm and cozy—it was perfect."
Wrapped in Japanese cedar, Columba features a lower level with a living area, a kitchen/dining area, and a bathroom. A wooden ladder leads to the upper level, where there’s a bedroom with a skylight and a door that opens to a rooftop deck. By elevating the structure, Marrote created space for a sheltered outdoor area. "We raised the main platform by about eight feet, creating a covered ground-level terrace beneath the house that allows for all types of usage," says Marrote.
The shade from the elevated structure joins the shadows of two pine trees near the house. "All of our decisions for the Columba tree house were made considering these two magnificent centenary pine trees—they were our main inspiration when it came to the design and construction."
The site specifically inspired the second-level bedroom and rooftop deck. "There’s a dialogue between the house and the pine trees," explains Marrote. "The bedroom at the top creates a direct connection with the treetops. The skylight allows the residents to admire the trees while in bed, and light from the house illuminates the trees at night. When you’re on the rooftop deck, you’re standing right beside the trees, and you understand their scale."
Marrote built the interior walls, kitchen cabinetry, counters, and built-in furniture from birch plywood. He laid the floor with pine, and finished the bathroom with thermo-treated pine. "Columba is made almost entirely of wood, which connects the house to nature," says the architect.
To mitigate sunlight, Marrote used Japanese cedar to create awning-style window shutters. "This really helps, since the summers in Melides are extremely hot, and the winters are cold," says Marrote.
As enchanting as the rooftop deck, the built-in furniture, and the wood finishes are, the steel slide that runs along the entrance staircase might be the home’s most charming feature. "The slide is fun and functional—we always try to incorporate the idea of childhood memories in all our projects," says Marrote.
But Maria’s favorite aspect of the tree house is the bedroom and the rooftop deck. "Whether you’re inside looking through the ceiling glass, or out on the deck, you can peacefully contemplate the landscape and the starry night sky," she says. "We watched the sun rise and set between the pine treetops—there’s nothing like experiencing Melides in a wooden tree house."
More projects by Madeiguincho:
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