March 20, 2020

Floret Arquitectura and Lost & Found Home Design Porto Refresh Historic Portuguese Building

If buildings can be said to have lives, then the structure that today houses the Exmo Hotel has, until recently, led an utterly ordinary one. Over the past six or so centuries in Porto, Portugal, it has been a house, a bank, an insurance firm, a warehouse, and a dispatcher’s office—a bourgeois resume reflective of the city’s own history as a center of trade and shipping. “The story of this building is simple, with neither exceptional characters nor exceptional architecture,” says Floret Architecture’s Adriana Floret, who led the building’s recent transformation into a four-star boutique hotel, along with interior design firm Lost and Found Home Design Porto’s mother-daughter duo Linda Vaughan and Nikki Faria. “What matters is the accumulation of life stories and architectural interventions over the cen­turies,” Floret continues. “Its monumentality results from the sum of small things.”

A guest room’s iron furnishings are custom. Photography by Ivo Tavares.

Floret’s task, as she saw it, was to reveal those layers of history and add one of her own, with as light a touch as possible. “We aspire to invisibility,” the architect says. The idea is to make any additions reversible so that future generations can give the building a new identity if they so choose. That philosophy is part personal, part institutional: Because central Porto has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, changing the exterior of buildings like this one is difficult, and even interior renovations are closely monitored. This 12,000-square-foot project, however, presented a unique challenge. Although the medieval masonry structure and neoclassical facade dating between 1780 and 1820 remained intact, the old interior wooden structure had been lost in a 1970s hatchet job. Floret kept the concrete slabs from that renovation, along with a beautiful modernist spiral staircase by architects José Carlos Loureiro and Louís Padua Ramos, but otherwise started fresh inside. “Our strategy was to eliminate some of the excesses of the 20th century, allowing for a better reading of the marks of each era,” she says.

Showers are lined in micro-cement. Photography by Ivo Tavares.

Those marks offer fascinating glimpses into the city’s past. One guest room, for instance, features a 14th-century window seat called a namoradeira in Portuguese, from the verb namorar, which means to court or flirt; it was intended as a place for young ladies of the house to see and be seen by male passersby on the street below. “Creating a sense of place is of paramount importance for us,” Vaughan adds.

The medieval window seat in a guest room was ori­ginally intended as a place for young ladies to see and be seen by passers-by on the street. Photography by Ivo Tavares.

An even more exciting discovery for Floret were the marks engraved by masons on stones in the original six-story structure. They identified which stones had been hewn or placed by which worker, allowing them to charge accurately for their work. Many of the marked stones likely came from even older structures, such as defensive walls encircling the city, since the reuse of building materials was common in that era. “They are the traces of more than 500 years of anonymous workers. This is the kind of thing that moves me,” Floret notes. Her renovation gives hotel guests the chance to share that awe at the extraordinary weight of ordinary history. 

An arched window overlooking the hotel’s bar also dates to the 14th century. Photography by Ivo Tavares.
The spiral staircase by architects José Carlos Loureiro and Louís Padua Ramos dates to the 1970s, when the structure was a bank. Photography by Ivo Tavares.
The concrete staircase is surrounded by granite blocks. Photography by Ivo Tavares.

Project Team: David Afonso; Marta Moraes; Ana Carmo; Maria D’Orey: Floret Arquitectura. Synapse: Lighting Consultant. Techonis Global Consulting Services: Structural Engineer. MEP, Civil Engineer: A400-Projectistas E Consultores De Engenharia. Lúcios Engenharia E Construção: General Contractor.

Project Sources: Through J. Pinto Leitão: Oak Flooring (Guest Rooms). Aromas Del Campo: Sconces. Padimate: Shower Fittings. Throughout: Lucios Construtora: Custom Iron Furniture.

Up next: Japanese Ceremonial Teahouses Inspire Ryusuke Nanki’s Culinary Exhibition in Tokyo

> See more from the March 2020 issue of Interior Design

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