Hidden Beauty: House in Messines

By: Sara Alves

Photo: Fernando Guerra

House in Messines is the latest flagship creation from Vítor Vilhena’s architecture studio

In São Bartolomeu de Messines, in inland Algarve, everyone has heard about the contemporary house that has suddenly thrust the quiet village into the spotlight.

However, in reality, Casa de Messines (or House in Messines), surrounded by valleys and hills, was designed to be concealed from wondering eyes and fully integrated into the surrounding nature. This 300sqm detached house is located on a three-hectare property with views over an extensive protected area and ecological reserve, as well as two water reservoirs: the Funcho and Arade dams.

“[The project] was always clear in my head, ever since I first saw it,” says Vítor Vilhena, the architect and Lagos-native who designed it. The house was built on an existing dilapidated building and the old, massive spans were preserved, as they can be fully opened and allow for natural light and ventilation to filter in. “We were only able to develop the villa on such a picturesque location because of the previous construction. We tried to respect the pre-existing building references and its traditional architecture, while giving it a more contemporary look,” he explains.

“It’s a marvellous house that comes from a deep love for architecture. More than time and money, there was freedom and creativity in designing it. It reflects the understanding and my relationship with the client, and it’s already a flagship for our studio. It’s a project with a unique space and surroundings and which, in my opinion, fits in perfectly”

Vítor Vilhena

It should come as no surprise that such an innovative house has caught the eye of renowned international brands, such as Cartier or luxury car-maker Jaguar, who have requested permission to shoot for their products there. Recently, House in Messines was the focus of an episode of the series Secret Homes, by British channel ITV, which showcases some of the most intriguing houses in the UK and the world.

“Around 50% of the house was incorporated into the plot, as if it was ‘sprouting’ from the ground. It was a very interesting particularity inherent to it that we wanted to maintain,” reveals the architect. Despite the new architectural approach, “the idea was always to preserve the old structure and look.”

Another special feature of the house is the large social area, which promotes fluidity and harmony between the living room, dining room and kitchen. There is also a kitchen support area, a hall with roof access and three suites with a line of hidden closets, laundry room, outdoor parking, a terrace with a suspended pool on the rooftop and an area for the owners’ dogs with underfloor heating.

While any perspective from every angle of the house is “exceptional,” the 360 panoramic view from the suspended pool is breathtaking. To reach the entry door, you have to walk underneath the pool, which can only be accessed from inside the house. For the unique roofing, Vítor Vilhena chose a typical Algarve material: the traditional tijoleira (tiles) from Santa Catarina, which is handmade and “while rustic, it pairs perfectly with the house’s contemporary feel.” The architect believes that the “typical traditional and the modern contemporary [philosophies] can co- exist in harmony.”

The 100sqm living room is another highlight, as it can capture the sunrise light and has the panoramic view of the mountain. “When all the windows are open, they are fully incorporated into the wall”, which creates the illusion that there is no division between inside and outside. “It’s as if the living room was set in the nature, with a full and uninterrupted view of everything,” says the architect. “It becomes whole in a single space,” allowing for “better fluidity.”

Designing dreams for 20 years

Vítor Vilhena has a degree in Architecture from the Lusíada University of Lisbon, and his portfolio features hundreds of works with his signature. At time of the magazine’s publication, he had 25 ongoing projects. He mainly works on developing housing buildings and single-family homes, but he has also carried out other projects, such as holiday villages, hotels, schools and private hospitals in the Algarve.

“Even before finishing university I was already working. I would study at night and work during the day. Along the way I worked with many other architects,” he recalls. But 1999 was a decisive and memorable year for the architect. “I got married, became a father, quit my job and founded my own studio in Odiáxere, Lagos. I wanted to manage my own space, develop my style and forge my own path,” he says. In March 2019, he moved his studio to the Lagos marina, where he leads a team of nine.

Vilhena describes his architecture style as contemporary, although he always favours the use of traditional materials. According to the architect, his biggest concern is always “shape and purpose,” but the main goal is to develop a “contemporary and functional architecture, and which respects both tradition and the environment.”

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