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Casa Modesta – Between what is Contemporary and Traditional

“The whole contemporary trait of our days is the coexistence of times: of the beginning and the end, a living bond – which can only be broke down. The whole contemporaneity – the periphery (…) Contemporaneity is, in itself, a selection. What is authentically contemporary is what in time is regarded as eternal and, for that, in addition to being a testimony of a certain time, is always appropriate and contemporary – of everything.” The Poet and the Time, Marina Tsvetaeva.

The notion that we have of time depends on several factors: the job, the rhythm of our lives or the latitudes where we find ourselves in. In this Algarve, the notion of time is substantially different and, at Casa Modesta, we certainly experience some other time. Not just a time of other times, but also a morose time that turns life into something more full and makes our senses much sharper. The odours, the tastes and the visual aspect create the perfect combination between what is traditional and what is contemporary in this modest and elegant house.

In the morning, the city’s smell is replaced by sweet odour of locust and pomegranate in a temperate and mild weather, which poses an invitation for a swim in the placid waters of the greenish blueish pool. Sallvador Mata D’El Rei — the mascot of Casa Modesta — barks as he wants to join the bath, while at the same time warns that the lunch is almost ready. The lethargy slowly starts to take place and conquers our whole body, which only appears to pay attention to the tiny details of this old family house. In the room, the design of Álbio Nascimento and Kathi Stertzig of The Home Project. Carlos Fernandes, one of the owners, and Nuno Lopes, his boyfriend, spotted the work for the first time in an exhibition at Berlin’s Guggenheim, and they immediately thought about inviting them to create pieces for their rooms, some in cork, like the lamps, the little stool that transforms itself into a night table –, or the long stool leaning against the wall inspired by a prototype made by grandpa Modesto. The fishnet curtain made by ant Manuela slowly opens itself and, in the background, our glance gets captured by the landscape of Ria Formosa.

As a matter of fact, the initial concept of this house, which comprises nine rooms, is still the same from the time of grandpa Modesto, who particularly enjoyed social gatherings, with family, neighbours and friends. In the reception’s wall there’s an exhibition of his drawings, among them a self-portrait, the grandma Carminda, who is now 83, the mom Modesto and the fourth-grade test. The grafonola on the top of furniture shows how much grandpa enjoyed music, “from the moment he woke up to the last sunrays”. Modesto was an open sea fisherman, but he also used to fish in Ria Formosa. “People from this area came here to sell shellfish, in the same spot where we now conduct our workshops. This was a house that gathered all the neighbours and the community, once or twice a day, depending on how things went in the sea. This was the people’s house for a couple of hours”, Carlos said chuckling. In the breakfast room, the wall is ornamented with family plates, belongings of grandma Carminda and grandpa Modesto, whose parents built the house in the beginning of the 40s. The whole project that encompasses Carlos, the sister Vânia (one of the architects), the mother, the father Joaquim, the grandma and the brother Pedro Fernandes – a physio at Yin-Motion, who often provides spa treatments to the clients – was conceived to pay tribute to grandpa. Carlos reveals that “this is where we were raised, I went to Lisbon when I was 19, my sister was 12 and my brother 14. We may say that this is our lost paradise”, recently joined by Nuno Lopes. Nuno arrived with a sui generis apron conceived by Joana Rocha, a designer and friend of Vânia, who made the most out of the fabrics present at the house, among them mussel bags, to create unique objects. Nuno has yet to find his place but he is very happy with the decision. “I slowed my rhythm in order to enjoy a couple of more laidback days in a lifestyle that is totally different. Let’s say that I do not miss the city, time is different here, it ticks slower and it gives you the feeling that the day is actually longer”.

The balconies facing the lagoon capture the view to make it part of the property, increasing the area with private leisure spots, inherent to each unity, prolonging them to the lagoon, to the horizon. In these areas, the balconies are part of the traditional legacy and, in past times, had two quite important roles, fruit drying and an observation point of the sea conditions. Part of those fruits constitute the breakfast and incorporate the granola commented by the musician Jay Jay Johanson, who stayed for the night. The hardest thing is to choose something among the vastness of flavours of this region. The breakfast has a radius of 15Km: the yoghurts come from São Braz de Alportel, the cheeses from a factory in Olhão, the fruits directly from the garden and the granola is confectioned by Guida. This way, the whole table is filled with smells and colours in a composition made by passion fruit, avocado, locust cake, watermelon, lemongrass tea, pomegranate juice and different sorts of bread emblazoned with delicious jams. Yes, indeed, going back a bit, Jay Jay Johanson slept in Casa Modesta. He played a show at Teatro Municipal de Faro, part of his tour that is celebrating the 20th-year anniversary of Whisky and also presenting the newest Bury the Hatchet. Jay Jay spoke on how surprised he was when he arrived at Casa Modesta, saying that it is a place that he has to come back to and “stay for 10 to 15 days. It’s the perfect place to relax and start a new creative process”. He loved the architecture and all the tiny details, among them the aforementioned breakfast. “These fruits, when they arrive in Sweden, they are already missing the original look or taste. Here one can feel perfection”. The musician also talked about the inspiration that the place aroused in him. Actually, despite the glamour that everyone thinks it exists, he barely has time to sit down when he is on tour. “It’s all about the sound-check, the hotel, the airport. But when we go to new countries and new cities we try to spend a few days more there. I had never had the chance to explore this area before, but is now part of my list, it inspires me”.

Think Global Act Local

The reawakening of the Quatrim do Sul community was one of the key aspects during the edification of this rural tourism accommodation, having already won two prizes, one of them the Green Key award of Condé Nast Johansens Awards for the Best Green Hotel of Mediterranean Europe. It has a small sewage treatment facility, which allows them to reuse water, solar panels which decrease energy consumption and the cleaning agents are almost all biological. Even the soaps, included in the rooms – made from olive oil and wax – “are reused as fabric softener”, Carlos revealed.

The second award came from the jury of the American online platform Architizer A+, which took the Modesto family to New York. Conceived by PAr Plataforma de Arquitetura – constituted by Joana Carmo Simões, Susana dos Santos Rodrigues and Vânia Brito Fernandes – the space was idealized based on the concept of casa chã. This way, architecture not only operates with what already is in place, but also with the region’s cultural trait. One of the premises was the use of natural materials from the region, which, according to Vânia “is something that fits the way we work”. They reinterpreted ancestral legacies through contemporary thought processes, based on materials such as clay, brass, quicklime, cork and wood “in an architecture that creates a synergy and an engagement with local economy”, Susan said, adding that they transformed this traditional house by using a stance on contemporaneity that can be applied to the way people are living nowadays. For the project, they also had the opportunity to draw the major elements of furniture, abiding by the very same logic, experience and principles of its architecture: local materials, whilst reusing existing thought processes. According to Joana, “the furniture is always simple, it responds to a function, it fits the room and creates an atmosphere”, as it is the case of cork blocks: three, horizontally, create a bed, two, vertically, a block, and three, vertically, a chair. Regarding the prize itself, Carlos was the one who motivated them to apply for it. “Since the number of applications was too high, the thought of winning the jury award never even crossed our minds when the final shortlist of five came out”, Joana revealed. Then they had to fly to New York to receive it. “We’ve talked about it quite recently. Generally the three of us don’t have the chance be in an environment that is not work-related at the same time. The opportunity to see other works and projects, in an entirely different city, was something magnificent for us as a collective,” Vânia revealed.

Food at Casa Modesta

“I always have the feeling that I’m carrying UFOs”, Carlos affirmed as he was carrying a fish casserole, previously prepared by Sandra Patrão – a childhood friend – at the Live Cooking workshop. In a succession of several layers: croaker, shrimp, mussels, sweet potato, onion, peppers, tomato and aromatic herbs, the ingredients manage to keep their flavours in a dish that is proud of a very healthy way of cooking. Using the garden and the regional products, Sandra started with a tiny amount of olive oil, saying that, when she is preparing the casserole, the tip is to start with the mussels, the onion comes next, as well as the aromatic herbs and garlic. “After all, mussels and garlic are the perfect match. It’s a natural antibiotic and we should use it regularly”. Next, it’s time for the vegetables and the sweet potato, – healthier than regular potatoes – the several types of fish in different layers, a bit of salt (not that much), pepper and paprika. The casserole is then sealed, steamed, and all the flavours are harmoniously entangled.

Two days of the week are devoted to cooking classes. Guida, the perennial friend, takes care of the breakfast, and most of the meals, whose inspiration comes from her grandma’s kitchen. It includes several formats, Home Cooking conducted by Guida, whilst the Live cooking consists of a live demonstration of how a kitchen works, carried by Sandra, and there is also a cooking class for the customers who want to take part in it.

Birdwatching, cycling and walking

The customers of Casa Modesta can be divided into the sort of tourism that looks for architecture and nature. 75% come from abroad, mostly from Germany, France, Spain and US. Indeed, one feels amazing while at Casa Modesta, and those who love the summer and the hot temperatures, thinking that the surrounding beaches are the only reason that justifies a visit to Algarve, have to stop doing it. The fall and the winter also have their own appeal and, from November to February, bird migrations turn this into a paradise for birdwatchers. There are trails for those who enjoy going for a walk and bicycles for those who prefer pedalling. The Ecovia starts in Sagres and, from Quatrim do Sul, goes through Fuzeta, Tavira, Cancela and spreads itself by the sea until Vila Real de Santo António. According to Carlos “there are people who arrive in Algarve and already have a bicycle at the airport and a service that takes their bags to the hotel. With two wheels they get acquainted with this area”. We became fans of the tour, solely surrounded by natural beauty and the quietude provided by the sweet fly of the birds. A long and relaxing tour, in a feeling that extended itself with a book in the late afternoon, in a hammock with a view to Ria Formosa…

She was born in 1976 and has been a journalist since 1994. She has taken several journalism courses at CENJOR (Protocol Center for Professional Training for Journalists) and several courses in contemporary art, the latter being the Postgraduate Course in Curatorship at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities University of Lisbon. She is a founding member and director of the magazine Umbigo with which he developed a curatorial project. Jury and curator of the Contemporary Jewelery exhibition "On the Other Hand", commemorating the 5th anniversary of the PIN (Portuguese Contemporary Jewelery Association). Also for the magazine Umbigo made the edition of the book "Coordinates of the Body in the Contemporary Art", a collection that reunites a series of artistic works being that many of them were developed purposely for the same; in a set of works that represent a small sample of the philosophical and aesthetic concerns of a group of artists.