A-Lab architects Inês Almeida and Luís Fonseca des...

A-Lab architects Inês Almeida and Luís Fonseca designed a unique home in Alvor 

Casa M by A-Lab architects Inês Almeida and Luís Fonseca, in Alvor - 12

By: Beatriz Maio 

From Norway to Portugal: Inês Almeida and Luís Fonseca tell us their story of how they’ve created a home that is inviting to guests and cosy for the family, all while controlling privacy and temperature in the city centre of Alvor

Inês Almeida and Luís Fonseca graduated in Architecture from the University of Porto and, after living in Oslo, Norway, for 15 years, they chose Alvor to build their perfect home and have a change of pace.

They swapped the cold of northern Europe for the Algarve’s mild temperatures and the short, cold summers for long, hot ones, and brought with them new dreams, projects, inspirations and plenty of motivation. 

The radical change happened in 2016, fuelled by positivity and a desire to fit in. Inês and Luís, at the time with a three-year-old son and expecting their second child, had actually envisioned this adventure later in their lives, but they did not hesitate.

Luís was working at the architectural laboratory A-Lab, founded in 2000 in Norway, and Inês had her own architecture company after working in various offices and teaching at the University of Oslo.

However, professional and economic stability did not stop them from proposing that A-Lab expand to Portugal, an idea that the company was quick to accept.

“We created a business plan to see if it was really possible, viable and if it made sense to move, and the company gave us six months to establish ourselves because they felt the time was right,” explained Luís. “Part of the plan was to be close to Faro airport in order to benefit from direct and regular flights to Oslo.” 

Since then, they have developed projects throughout the Algarve, from Vila Real de Santo António, Loulé and Tavira to Lagos, Vila do Bispo and Aljezur, and have ambitions to expand throughout the country.

The couple work in different sectors, having worked on the extension of Casa Vale da Lama Eco Resort, senior living buildings in Tavira and Lagos, and private, single-family homes. They are also the creators of the future Salt Mines Interpretation Centre, which is due to open in Loulé. 

When they first moved to the Algarve, they lived in a tourist condo, but they quickly realised that was not the lifestyle they were looking for. In 2019, they decided to refurbish the top floor of a house in Alvor and moved in, just a few metres away from the plot they had bought to build their future home.

“We could see our house being built, growing day by day; we became familiar with the neighbours and developed a sense of belonging. Everyone was very tolerant during the construction phase,” Inês recalled, sharing how her children used to put papers on neighbours’ cars and doors to warn them about inconveniences caused by the works. 

With A-Lab’s support, the couple started working on the project – named “Casa M” since all the family members have a name beginning with that letter – two years after the move to the Algarve. The process of conceptualising and designing everything ended up taking longer than the construction itself, which, despite starting in 2020 at the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, did not take that long. “If it were a job for a client, there would be less discussion, but since both of us are architects, there is always more debating,” Luís revealed, stressing that the characteristics of the land made the challenge even more enticing. 

The land that Inês and Luís had to work with was “uneven, with one section higher than the other, and a house in the middle”. The hardest part was finding a baseline, but from the outset, they had idealised a central courtyard to act as a place for light, ventilation and air circulation, as well as providing a connection with the outdoors. The same applied to the balcony, terrace and porch. 

The three-storey house, whose rooms all connect to each other, was designed not only to make the most of the climate and its orientation, but also to accommodate the family’s specific needs and preferences. Decisions were made according to how they use the space and how they want to interact with guests. “

We designed the house to be a family home, but it’s also great for hosting,” Inês commented, while Luís, who loves to cook, pointed out that they prioritised the dining area because it is where they spend most of their time. 

The kitchen is not just a space for eating, it is also where they enjoy each other’s company at the table, play games or chat, and where the children do their homework on a desk built into the wall. The view from here is stunning, even though there is a terrace above. “It’s very special to see the neighbourhood in the foreground and the estuary ahead; it’s very soothing. From the upper level, it’s a completely different view; you can see the village streets and it’s visually noisier,” Inês stated. 

The large curtains at the entrance to the kitchen area allow it to be separated from the rest of the house and, in the summer, it is as if they are always “on a big balcony”; but, thanks to the architects’ expertise, the heat does not come through into the bedrooms and living room. 

The goal of overcoming luxury clichés”, optimising time at home, making domestic tasks as pleasurable as possible and economic sustainability were the focus of both architects who, despite having designed the entire house, are still often surprised by it. Depending on the arrangement of the curtains and where each person stands, the family sometimes comes across unexpected sights because, as the couple says, “there’s a lot that changes all the time, both inside and outside the house. The colour of the sky and the clouds also influence the whole atmosphere”. 

From the white exterior walls featuring hollow brick sections that act as bedroom windows, to the pavement that covers the entire floor, with a meticulous pattern applied to a material typically found in Portuguese public spaces, everything was thought out in detail and created with a great deal of creativity. It was the couple’s children who chose the order of each brick for their respective rooms and thus created unique combinations. They are also responsible for the art studio, which they set up in the garage, which Luís and Inês had hoped would just be a technical and storage area. 

“This house is very simple in terms of maintenance and has lots of storage,” said Inês, to which Luís added: “Conceiving a high-quality project doesn’t mean it has to be expensive; we can make the best use of our resources.” Influenced by the years they spent immersed in Norwegian culture, the architects chose not to have air conditioning and instead took advantage of the natural climate through the layout of the rooms and the materials they chose. They also favoured the use of Portuguese products, whether for the kitchen table and chairs, in the recycled wood of the cupboards or in a section of the floor that is elevated to incorporate a sofa, a piece of furniture designed by both of them specifically to fit a corner. 

Besides being a family home, Casa M is also used as a show home for clients to see the different techniques and designs they work with. Inês and Luís believe that allowing clients to visit their home is the best way to explain how one can have a cool summer and warm winter environment without air conditioning units, as well as a safe and private space, even with all the windows open and without curtains. The garage door is also an excellent example of privacy, as it gives full visibility to the street without passers-by being able to see in. 

The project left their Norwegian colleagues “pleased to see the techniques they use applied to another climate zone, as well as the adjusted solutions that create an architectural expression that, in this case, is quite different,” said Inês. 

One year since they moved into Casa M, the family appreciates every little detail and find themselves surprised every day, agreeing that it was “a privilege” to create their own home.  


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