Miguel Sobral wanted a house in the village of great-grandparents, in the area of Valeflor, Mêda, but “could not be any house”. It had to be “a refuge to turn off and be in contact with nature” that would integrate to the fullest in the landscape and “refer to an imaginary universe, almost unreal”. An environmental engineer “with a particular taste for the arts”, he knocked on the door of the architectural studio of João Mendes Ribeiro – author of works such as the contemporary art center Arquipélago or Casa da Escrita – and presented him with the challenge, accompanied by an invitation to visit the land. The architect had four hectares at his disposal – he chose to occupy only 25 square meters, strategically under a chestnut tree “that clearly marked the territory”.
Named after this tree – and also available for short stays – Casa no Castanheiro is an authentic modern hut, “a modular structure apparently simple and light, made of wood and cork, and designed to make the most of the landscape”.
“Contrary to what happens in cities, space was not lacking there, but the architect opted for the opposite situation and constrainhimself to what he calls minimal housing space,” says the owner, continuing: “The funny thing is that this minimal space becomes giant. Although it is very conditioned, there is a glaze that allows constant communication with the outside and, as the windows have no window frames, it seems that there is no glass and that all nature is inside the house.”
“Betting on this idea of minimal space, we wanted there to be no room,” adds João Mendes Ribeiro. “The room is the chestnut tree canopy, it is the outer space.”
The tree itself serves as a shade and shelter, but “the construction itself does not even touch it” – it was designed not to interfere and there were even cuts that had to be made in the elevation already in the course of the project, so as not to sacrifice any branch. “The chestnut tree is already very old, has lived a lot of what happened there, and is now protecting the house”, says Miguel Sobral, ensuring that those who visit the place will find completely different scenarios, depending on the seasons. “In autumn, the tree is loaded with hedgehogs with chestnuts, the leaves go from green to yellow and there is an incredible contrast with the black of the house. In winter, the leaves fall and the sun has total freedom to enter and heat the space. Already in summer, there is a lot of shade and the leaves are a natural blind.”
Inside, the 25 square meters were made the most of it and give to a couple with a child, thanks to the mezzanine made over the bed, which is accessed by some stairs. On the other side, in open space, is the kitchenette equipped with stove and refrigerator and, more guarded, the toilet with shower – shower that accompanies the total height of the house and has an elevated window. Instead of TV there is salamander, air conditioning, wi-fi and an outdoor deck. Breakfast is also included and is left in a basket at the agreed time.
Living in Porto, Miguel Sobral inherited the connection to Valeflor from his father, and before that from the great-grandparents, the original owners of the land where the small house now stands, camouflaged. “It’s a special land because it already leaves the village and has a privileged view of the Marofa mountain range,” says the 43-year-old owner. “On the one hand it is very isolated, there is not even public lighting on the access road, but on the other we have many attractions next door, such as the historical villages of Marialva and Trancoso, and the engravings of Foz Côa, about 40 minutes away. We talk a lot in Alentejo and Minho, and Beira Interior ends up being a little forgotten.”
With very general coordinates instead of a specific address – “Valeflor, between Trancoso and Mêda” – booking the hut is the ideal pretext to explore the region. “The adventure begins at the time of booking,” concludes Miguel. “You get a code and you have to go find the house.”