A bigger splash
Tiles of the unexpected in the Portuguese capital
Paulo Mendes da Rocha has a hand in a lavish renovation in Lisbon’s Lapa
Azulejos, or patterned tiles, have adorned Lisbon’s churches, palaces and houses since the 16th century. They are as central to the Portuguese capital as salted cod and custard tarts, and provide a visual guide to its history, each decorative style indicative of a particular decade. Businesses small and large, from side-street ateliers and stall holders at the Feira da Ladra flea market to established dealers such as Cortiço & Netos (which has more than 900 vintage styles in its collection), trade in the celebrated ceramics.
On the crest of a hill in the salubrious district of Lapa, one particular tiled façade shines brighter than the rest. It’s covered in striped tiles that, when their corners are put together, form multicoloured squares and stars. They are from the 1930s, and the same designs appear on the Elevador da Bica, the funicular station in downtown Lisbon. These, though, look as good as new thanks to a renovation last year that transformed what was a shabby apartment block into a family home.
In many districts of Lisbon, word of mouth or a plain white sheet of paper in the window indicate when a property is up for grabs. Local architect Inês Lobo heard the block was for sale and she took her clients, a Portuguese couple with three children, to view it. They fell in love with its splendid views and with Lapa’s sleepy feel and bought it straight away.
The renovation was set to begin when a chance meeting changed everything. The owner, on a work trip to São Paulo, stopped by Galeria Leme to see some art. There he was introduced to the gallery’s owner Eduardo Leme and its architect, Paulo Mendes da Rocha. When he heard Lobo was involved in remodelling a house in Lisbon, Mendes da Rocha agreed to collaborate. The pair have been friends for 20 years; he was familiar with the schools and civic buildings
THE BACK OF THE PROPERTY IN LISBON’S LAPA DISTRICT HAS BEEN COMPLETELY REMODELLED IN CONCRETE AND NOW FEATURES A POOL TERRACE AND AN ORIGAMI-LIKE CORNER WINDOW FRAMING VIEWS OF THE ESTUARY