It is an impressive landscape, which is shaped by its many lagoons and by the great diversity of its flora and fauna. Wind, jet streams and tides steadily alter the face of this lagoon landscape, and anyone who takes the time to stop and watch will behold a natural spectacle beyond compare.
In the heart of this natural wonder stands a simple, white house. Peacefully and attentively, it gazes out at mudflats, sandbanks, salt works and at the past of a family whose history and lifestyle is embedded in this very place, a family that is remembered here and whose story continues to be spun with care.
The Casa Modesta is a country house hotel with nine guest rooms, private patios with hammocks, rooftop terraces with broad horizons, fig and almond trees, an organic vegetable garden and a pool with a sun deck. Grandmother Carminda conjures up the magic in the kitchen, and meals are enjoyed together at the long table in the dining room. The plain interior of the rooms steers your attention towards the few carefully placed items of traditional local crafts, as well as to the interplay between light and shade, between inside and outside. This leaves sufficient space for the thing that the Casa Modesta does in such a unique way; the atmosphere it creates is a harmonious synthesis of puristic architecture and a warm family environment.
Echoing through the place is the free-thinking spirit of a man whose originality and whose sense of family form the foundations for the Casa Modesta. As such, the house is a very personal expression of the love that Carlos and Vânia Brito Fernandes, the host and architect respectively, had for their “Grampa”. During our Interview, Carlos went back in time to the days of his childhood:
“Our grandfather Joaquim Modesto de Brito was born in 1931 and died in 2000. He was a fisherman and was known as “O Campeão” (The Champion) to his friends. He was our inspiration behind the Casa Modesta project because the house is full of memories of him. Therefore, the house is dedicated to our grandfather, the man who taught us so much.
Grampa was a special person. He had had a tough childhood; my great-grandparents were very strict and they almost never allowed him to play with his friends…Then he married my grandmother Carminda and decided to transform all the land that he owned, the cars, the house and his entire life into a unique colourful playground so that he could feel free. And so he began to decorate the garden, creating concrete paths edged with small rocks; with small ponds decorated in the middle with recycled objects, and trees were adorned with his collection of colourful glass bottles. My grandfather had three VW Beetles in his favourite colours, yellow, blue and red. Every June, the entire family made a road trip along the coast between Casa Modesta and Minho. The cars were decorated like a Christmas tree with stickers, dolls and all manner of objects, with the whole family’s cases stacked on the roof.
Grampa had a seafront property with a wooden “palafitic” house not far from the Modesta land. When the high tide came in, the house was right in the middle of the lagoon, surrounded by water. Friends and neighbours arrived with fresh seafood and many stories to tell each other while waiting for the tide to go out again….Grandpa listened to the radio all day long. He had put one on the rooftop of the house in order to make his fishermen friends listen to the music and news while they were fishing in the lagoon. He had a sketchbook where he registered the weather conditions every day and where he drew sketches of the boats he built.I loved his house an I have a lot of wonderful memories about the moments we shared with our family and friends out there. “
The previous family house on the Modesta land built by Joaquim which dated back to the 1940s, consisted of two buildings and was rebuilt from scratch. Only parts of the old walls have been kept, but the contemporary new building still keeps the spirit of the original family home. The main premise was to retain the volume of space, the proportions of the rooms as well as all the elements of the old house, i.e. the outdoor staircases, the flat roof-top terraces, the cistern, the covered patios and the wood-burning stove.
With Casa Modesta, Vânia Brito Fernandes, co-founder of PAr – Plataforma de Arquitectura – designed the prototype for a house that translates ancestral legacies into a contemporary language, the CASA CHÃ ®. It is a type of house that explores the architectural legacy of the region in a modern way, but which remains faithful to traditional building skills and local materials and which integrates memory as an architectural discipline into the creative process.
The social and economic network of the neighbourhood played a pivotal role for the developers; in the case of the Casa Modesta, the architectural reference to context became a model initiative for the neighbourhood. Long before work got under way on construction, the ageing residents of this suggestive lagoon landscape, fishermen, hairdressers, farmers, all old friends of “O Campeão”, had a say in the development of the Casa Modesta. Gentes de Quatrim – People from the local area – is the name of the extraordinary project on neighbourhood participation, captured by João Mascarenhas in a set of highly expressive photos.
Anyone who stays in the Casa Modesta experiences a house which is capable of telling its story without having to say a word. And this unpretentious approach has a striking effect. “Our door is always open to welcome the people who come here with the same sense of joy that we had when we ran into the open arms of our grandparents when we were young.” The history of the Casa Modesta is one of great architecture and subtle aesthetics, of local culture and tradition, of intimate family ties and of happy childhood memories. And of what might just be the most stunning sunrise on the Algarve. In a nutshell, the Casa Modesta is two things above all else – A love story. And another little wonder of the Ria Formosa.
Text: Britta Krämer, April 2017
Credits of all family pictures and drawings: Carlos Fernandes, Joaquim Modesto de Brito | Credits photos of Casa Modesta: Carlos Fernandes/Casa Modesta, Angela Zacarias, João Carmo Simões | Credit photos “Gente de Quatrim”: João Mascarenhas Photography