Atlantic Ocean as your Frontyard

This villa is one my first projects while solo architect and my chance to present Third Skin’s manifesto to the world.

The design was inspired by the site, the clients’ paradoxical desire to live “in a modern and open house of Bali with all the cosiness of a traditional Portuguese house”, and by the work of Lautner architecture.

The project embodies my ideas about professionalism and how we should face the practice in order to seek perfection. I know what I’m good at, but I also know that on there areas there are people better than me. So I, as an architect, should cooperate with engineers and specialists and accommodate the wishes of the client. I believe that architecture must be service-minded, because great service results in better designs.

The brief

This couple from Belgium was pursuing the dream of having a great vacation and family-oriented home that would work well for communal gatherings and entertaining.

Winters in the North-central Europe can be tough. According to the European Weather Services, this past winter was one of the coldest, raking in the most days with precipitation and temperatures at or below zero ever recorded. Brr. These chilly (OK, downright freezing) conditions are what drove this family to start looking for a warmer, sunnier life in the Southern Europe.

They choosed Portugal, and Silver Coast in particular, due to the good weather all year around, nice food, lots of beaches and cultural villages and very friendly people. This way, it would be possible for them to easily come for a sunny shortbreak or a long weekend at only a distance of 3 hours from their home in the cold weather of Belgium.

They were looking for a sleek and modern house, large enough to accommodate the big parties the couple enjoys hosting as well as extended visits from their overseas family, but at the same time well integrated in the surroundings and confortable to be used just by the 2, since they have an active life and they can’t program vacations way ahead with all.

The Site: a whole sea in your front yard.

The rocky, picturesque ocean cliffs near Lourinhã, eventually won their hearts and raised their body temperatures. They found a small cliff-hugging lot and searched for a skilled architect who could design something that wouldn’t slip off into the sea.

this project of a detached villa is situated next to a small and traditional coastal village, between it and the Ocean. the plot is a plot of about 4000m2 forming a very wide rectangle  and with a smooth slope in the transverse direction, towards the sea.

As one ventures farther from cities and suburbs, the natural circumstances of a property have greater influence on a house’s design. Trees, soil and the path of the sun are just a few of the considerations that help to shape a house’s plan. This house has a distinctive Y-shaped plan that is generated by natural features both immediate and distant.

The plot was in a agro-forestry area so it is now protected by special ‘building-in-nature’ regulations which meant that our villa could be only three metres high, with a limited volume above ground.

Because the house’s spatial needs required twice the volume allowed by the regulations, we designed it upside down, placing all the bedrooms underground with the daytime functions on top.

With half of the building placed below ground, maximizing daylight became an essential feature of the project.

The process

Can a house convey human feeling through its design? I think so. We make a point to get to know clients to create a home that’s not only functional, but also expresses a more personal, even abstract, representation of the individuals who live there.

the program should adapt to a young couple with plans to create a family and friends get togethers at leisure. To do that I used a lengthy form that asks practical questions, but also random, abstract ones as well. When deigning a new house for this couple, I used the questionnaire to learn that they want a villa with a light aspect and a strong but fluid geometry, with architectural gestures so clear as characteristic, well integrated in the environment, very open to solar orientation and ocean views, able to capture the greenery surrounds and an indoor-outdoor transition very smooth . But I also learned a lot from asking them to complete sentences like “If our house were a country, it’d be …

If your house were a country, what would it be? Their desires were rather contradictory. They mentioned the white and cosiness of Portuguese traditional houses where on entering there is huge fireplace in the heart of the house, but also the outdoor-indoor living and natural materials as wood and stone of Bali and Lautner’s architecture at Hollywood as living qualities they yearned for. They wanted their home to be open yet intimate; modern yet traditional; transparent yet protective; and tailor-made yet flexible. so we expressed feelings and images of the countries in their new house. We were looking for a metaphor to inspire us. I took that to heart, with a slight aspect of home, nicely framed in the environment with window walls throughout the house that open to pull in breezes from the pool and sea and allow a seamless transition to outdoor spaces.

I also channeled my clients’ feelings through another means. The inspiration for the design of a new house can come from many places, such as a client’s interests and wishes, a place’s context or another building. Some clients give me CDs of music to design by; others send me sets of images.


To take advantage of the beautiful sea views, we imagined the distinctive Y-shape of the house, which creates three wings, each glazed on both sides. There’s a wing for living and study; one for cooking and eating; and one for the master bedroom.

In the basement, the Y creates a similar functional clarity: one wing is for the the other bedrooms; and one for cars, storage and cinema room.

the main orientation of the villa to the west coincides with the best views. all windows try to make the most of sunlight during the winter, being filtered through wooden panels when needed.

The materials used highlight the contrasting geometries and the lines of the building in relation to its surroundings , also creating a dialogue between dynamic and static.

they also seek harmony without forgetting the contrasts of color and texture, and appearance are of natural origin, with the intention of getting a warm aspect.

The palette of materials is reduced for all spaces relate to each other and maintain a strong personality throughout the home.

Although its geometric form is in stark contrast to the fluidity of its natural setting, the home’s layout establishes strong connections to nature. A link to nature from each interior space was one of client’s requirements. Another was flow. He wanted a single level that he could easily move through, from living space to sleeping area.

The visual communication spaces played an important role in the development of the project and was an aspect highly appreciated by the clients because, with the exception of the rooms, all the other spaces are never isolated thus achieving a fluid and openness to the outside . the circulation in the villa allows you to enjoy the outside from anywhere and provides fluid communication so as to enjoy the warm weather we are experiencing during most of the year .

The homeowners wanted the best view to be from the dining room, which is pointing to Berlengas’ island. Next to the dining room an open kitchen easily accommodates friends and family, bridging the two sides of the house as its central point. “We find that visitors to our house almost always end up in the dining room/kitchen area, almost as if it exerts a gravitational pull,” Greg says. The living area face West and South, providing views of both the rugged terrain and the vast ocean.

The building is structured to strategically shield the south areas from the northwest winds. The homeowners can stand in the garden or have a glass of wine on the patio with friends without feeling like they’re going to blow away.

High windows and a skylight on the stair landing send light down into the lower level, where are the other 3 bedrooms, but also the garage and cinema room.

The home includes a geothermal system that heats and cools the entire house, provides the home’s hot water and heats the swimming pool. Overall, the project would leverage technology, materials and finishes to ultimately lower his overall utility costs.

One of the homeowner’s favorite features is the geothermal heated concrete flooring. “There is zero maintenance, so I don’t worry when the kids come inside from the pool and drip on the floors, or when … gets footprints everywhere,” he says.

Floor-to-ceiling cabinets just off the entryway provide ample storage. The kitchen appliances and cabinets are on the other side of the unit.


 “The house is fundamentally about engagement,” he says. Through its materials and layout, it engages the family of four, the surrounding trees, the views and the local climate. The home is calm too, he adds. “It sits easily on its site without imposing,” he describes. “It is a subtle, careful house.”