Bright, Custom Apartment of an Architect in Porto, Portugal

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Name: Emanuel de Sousa
Location: Porto, Portugal
Size: 1470 square feet
Type of Home: Apartment Terrace
Years Lived In: 2 years, owned

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Emanuel de Sousa actually found this apartment by chance. An architect by trade, he’s worked on a variety of projects, from a luxury townhouse building to a concept store and art gallery, so he was well-prepared for the challenge of renovating his own home. When his sister spotted the place, de Sousa says it was rundown and abandoned, but he was leaving his rental of four years at the time, “so it was almost serendipity,” he says, “to be able to continue in the same neighborhood” while refurbishing this home.

The best parts about this apartment? De Sousa loves being in the center of the city, as well as having a terrace, the morning light from his bedroom, the sunsets in the summer “when afternoon rays of light enter through the terrace and gets refracted by the kitchen mirror, flooding the living room with rainbows,” just to name a few. He spends a good deal of time relaxing in his Eames chair, reading and listening to music, or working on architecture and art pieces. He particularly loves the blend of Porto backyards, city center liveliness, and “‘pinheiro manso’ (stone pine or umbrella pine), a favorite tree of mine, which is very traditional in the forest near the Atlantic sea in Portugal.” In sum, “in summer, with the windows open listening to the birds, it is perfect.”

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Inspiration: Anything and everything around me, my daily life, my travels. Everything becomes “material” to work with or around.

Favorite Element: My favorite is surely the most complicated to get together as well, and possibly also the biggest indulgence. It was the adaptation of a standard counterweight sash window to become the partition of the kitchen and living room, which in the end works as an open kitchen or counter. But from the complication of adapting the window framework into this new function, a sort of curiosity cabinet was born, an homage to the glass display storage (common in Portuguese family homes). These display cases truly enchanted me as a child, and later as an architect, opened up a deep enjoyment and admiration for these cabinets. They were actually originally an entire room rather than a piece of furniture, and here, it really does it all. It’s almost a space in and of itself — it displays everyday life objects along with unique pieces, a collection of my notable objects, which I’m always rearranging, enlarging, expanding.

Biggest Challenge: This three-bedroom, ’60s modernist apartment was readapted in the ’90s for a kindergarten, and oddly enough, they didn’t demolish any walls to make the spaces large enough for classrooms, but they did install two large beams (which you see in the living rooms and bedrooms). Although they are actually obsolete, they became the “trigger” for the entire renovation. Now it’s a two-bedroom home, but the spaces are more generous, more contemporary, and up-to-date with our present daily needs.

Proudest DIY: It wasn’t an actual DIY on my part, but the stainless steel cabinetry in the terrace was put together by reusing an industrial kitchen counter that was dismantled and was almost trashed in another design project I had at the time of this refurbishment.

Biggest Indulgence: Looking at the overall budget, these are the most biggest indulgences in a quite tight budget:

— The Douglas solid plank wooden flooring of extraordinary dimensions, some of the planks were 5m long (and a nightmare to deliver and unload), by the Danish DINESEN. These were an extravagant purchase, but definitely worthwhile and wonderful to walk barefoot on.

— The minimal window frames were definitely quite an adventure, and the large panes were actually brought in aerially with the help of a work site close by at the time. But the end result is brilliant, you almost don’t see the frames, as they are less than 2cm, so it’s almost as if there are no windows separating inside and outside. In the summer, the sliding windows and doors almost disappear, and you get this amazing fluidity between living room and terrace, indoor and outdoor.

Is there something unique about your home or the way you use it? The second bedroom turned out to be the home gym and the guest room, and the odd beams in the end became the perfect imbedded architectural solution for a sort of contemporary workout, from yoga to low pressure fitness to a basic level of calisthenics.

What are your favorite products you have bought for your home and why? I guess it’s always the latest thing we buy, and for now, it’s the Beni Ourain Rug that just arrived directly from Marrakech. It’s a handmade, 100 percent virgin wool, milky-colored rug with entrancing diamond shapes.

Please describe any helpful, inspiring, brilliant, or just plain useful small space maximizing and/or organizing tips you have: All my design and interior projects are based on a basic concept, the “working wall,” which means I tend to convert any given wall or partition into hidden cabinetry. In domestic projects, either small or large, the issue tends to be always about storage, as individuals — no matter what — tend to collect things over time. Giving the wall a function besides dividing space is always a win-win, even if you seem to be “losing” space.

Finally, what’s your absolute best home secret or decorating advice? Never forget mirrors, especially large ones, like floor-to-ceiling, as they work wonders, either in small or large spaces, from creating an illusion of more space to refracting natural light. I tend to use lots to mirrors, either as one more architectural material or as a piece of decor.

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