In Pursuit of Silent Living
with João Rodrigues
João Rodrigues is the hotelier behind Silent Living, a portfolio of properties in Portugal designed by architect Manuel Aires Mateus. The four houses – Casa Na Areia, Cabanas No Rio, Casa No Tempo and Santa Clara 1728 – are refined in their simplicity yet deeply rooted in the country’s architectural traditions.
Scattered from Lisbon’s old quarter to the rural east coast and the southern beaches, each space is uniquely in tune to its natural surroundings but shares the common goal of enriching its guests’ lives with a sensory stay that feels like a home away from home.
To start with, tell us a bit about the concept behind the name Silent Living.
Well, we listened to what people had to say when they actually stayed in our houses and created a list of the more talked-about words that represent the ingredients of the properties. One of them was the silence, which not only has to do with the sound itself but also with the feeling inside and all of the materials.
What were the other ingredients of Silent Living?
So, Silent Living is composed of eight ingredients – home, memory, the local, simplicity, a sense of family, nature, materiality and atmosphere.
How did you come to collaborate with architect Manuel Aires Mateus?
I met him through some friends – this was probably 10 or 12 years ago – and as we developed a friendship, we ended up starting to work together. The first house that we did was the house on the coastline, Casas Na Areia. The idea was a weekend house for our children, with a cabana where people could gather and rooms that were quite independent to each other to give flexibility.
And that first house was a massive success!
The house was chosen to represent Portugal at the Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2008, and it made the covers of a lot of magazines around the world due to the materials we used, which started with us understanding what was used 100 years ago to build those kinds of houses – the thatched roofs and the sand floors. I think it gave a lot of expression to the house.
What is it about your relationship with Manuel that you think has made this partnership so rewarding?
Firstly, we basically share the same principles and spirit of respect, and secondly, I love Manuel’s architecture. He is always open-minded to new ideas and he’s incredibly talented in giving the first impressions to the project, and I think that makes a huge difference. We work well together as a team.
You’ve spoken in the past about how a house tells a story. Can you elaborate on that?
If it’s a house on the coast or inland or on a farm or in the city, the atmosphere is completely different and people should experience each of those properties as they are. For our guests, there is the sense of, “Okay, what can we do on a farm like Casa No Tempo? Obviously, we can’t offer breakfast as we do in the city, so we simplify it. We provide picnic baskets so people can go outside and sit close to one of the lakes, for example.
How do you go about sourcing the materials for your buildings?
We never try to impose our houses on the landscape, we always want them to blend in and respect the nature around it. So we strive for the materials to be locally sourced, hopefully not more than half an hour’s distance. This has to do a lot with sustainability but also the sense of historical design. That’s how houses used to be built, many years ago – people didn’t have the ability that we have today to transport materials in from long distances.
Our co-founder Jodie Fried had the privilege of staying at Santa Clara 1728 and loved the stonework in the bathrooms. Can you tell us about that space?
We loved the idea that the bathroom should not only be functional, but could also be a special living space where one person could be sitting and reading the newspaper and someone else could be shaving or taking a bath. We had a look at what type of stone is used in the local buildings and it’s mainly limestone from a place called Sintra, half an hour away from Lisbon. Our bathtubs were carved from a huge block of stone, which took about seven to eight days, and then hand polished by two or three men for another two or three days. It’s a masterpiece.
Your properties are grounded in traditional Portuguese architecture. How do you think Manuel’s work honours that cultural legacy?
Manuel did this in a beautiful way by not only recovering the memory of each house, but giving it a new usage – because architecture is never finished without the people who live there. Times keep changing – hopefully our houses could have been here 100 years ago, and they could be here for another 100 years, so they should in a certain way be timeless and not revolve around fashion.
What can guests expect from a stay with Silent Living?
I think people in society end up losing a lot of their daily routines nowadays. The atmosphere of a house is also defined by small routines that happen during the day – like opening the windows in the morning. Our properties create a nice way to bring people back to a true sense of life.
We’ve had guests write us back, letting us know not only that they loved their stay but how important it was for them and their families in making changes once they returned home, like having breakfast together every morning. And those are the things we want to achieve in the future.
Photography by Rory Gardiner.